Join Corey and Stephanie as they discuss the evolution of Microsoft Edge and how it’s different from Internet Explorer, how websites should render on all browsers in 2020, what Stephanie focuses on in her role as a program manager at Microsoft, how Stephanie’s career evolved from a graphic designer to front-end web designer, why it’s impossible to learn everything about the web and you should just focus on your niche instead, The Web We Want initiative and Stephanie’s role in it, how Stephanie prepared for her first public speaking opportunity, and more.
Stephanie is a Design Technologist and Program Manager for Microsoft Edge Developer Experiences. She comes from a background in design and after initially spending 6 years focusing on a career in web design, has spent the last 4 years working on Microsoft Edge to improve developer tools and the browser. Currently she helps run an initiative called the Web We Want that focuses on identifying problems developers face in their day-to-day work and is passionate about HTML, CSS and inspiring a new generation to get involved in the web.
- Microsoft company website: https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-edge/
- Corey’s websites https://gaslighting.me/ and https://stop.lying.cloud/
- The Web We Want: https://webwewant.fyi/
- Smashing Conference: https://www.smashingmagazine.com/events/
- beyond tellerrand: https://beyondtellerrand.com/
- An Event Apart: https://aneventapart.com/
- webhint: https://webhint.io/
- Stephanie’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/seaotta
TranscriptAnnouncer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Cloud Economist Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
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Corey: Normally, I like to snark about the various sponsors that sponsor these episodes, but I'm faced with a bit of a challenge because this episode is sponsored in part by A Cloud Guru. They're the company that's sort of famous for teaching the world to cloud, and it's very, very hard to come up with anything meaningfully insulting about them. So, I'm not really going to try. They've recently improved their platform significantly, and it brings both the benefits of A Cloud Guru that we all know and love as well as the recently acquired Linux Academy together. That means that there's now an effective, hands-on, and comprehensive skills development platform for AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and beyond. Yes, ‘and beyond’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting right there in that sentence. They have a bunch of new courses and labs that are available. For my purposes, they have a terrific learn by doing experience that you absolutely want to take a look at and they also have business offerings as well under ACG for Business. Check them out. Visit acloudguru.com to learn more. Tell them Corey sent you and wait for them to instinctively flinch. That's acloudguru.com.
Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I'm Corey Quinn. I'm joined this week by Stephanie Stimac, who is currently a Microsoft Edge developer experiences program manager, which almost but not quite fits in a tweet. Stephanie, welcome to the show.
Stephanie: Hi, Corey, thanks for having me.
Corey: So, who are you and what do you do exactly?
Stephanie: Currently, I am a program manager for Microsoft Edge developer experiences. And so my journey has been a little bit different. So, I've been at Microsoft for four years, and it's only been within the last year or so that I've transitioned into actual program management work. And on the developer experiences team, what that means is I am looking to engage with developers and find out what makes working on the web hard. What obstacles are you encountering, and what's preventing you from also using Edge or switching to Edge? And really trying to dig into their problems and make things easier for them.
Corey: So, in the interest of full disclosure, I, many, many moons ago, had a foot firmly in the Windows world. This was back in the Internet Explorer 6 days, which should explain entirely too much about why I'm angry all the time. And in those days, there was Internet Explorer for Mac, which was eventually killed. And since I wound up moving over to the Mac universe and the Linux universe, I haven't really paid much attention to the goings ons of Microsoft.
Then they had their sort of Cloud-focused renaissance that changed the focus to, “Oh yeah, you actually do get to care about Microsoft again.” And people started talking to me about Edge. And when I asked what that is, the answer that basically can be distilled down to, “Oh, it's their web browser.” And whenever I asked, “Oh, so it's a rebranding of Internet Explorer?” Everyone got super angry and stopped speaking to me. So, what is Microsoft Edge for those who followed, I guess, a similar track to my ridiculous one?
Stephanie: Yeah, let's go back. So, there was Internet Explorer, and that was running on a browser rendering engine called Trident. And, let's see, I want to say six or seven years ago, a new version of Edge was released. And that was the Edge HTML rendering engine, and that was actually based on Internet Explorer's rendering engine. So, it was still Trident, but it had just gotten rid of all the old legacy code and all that legacy baggage that made Internet Explorer a little bit difficult to work with. And so that was Edge HTML.
And I don't want to say it was a rebranded Internet Explorer because it wasn't quite, but it was a new browser. And then within the last year, we ended up switching our rendering engine to Chromium because one thing that we were having a hard time with was just keeping up with all the new features that developers wanted in a modern browser. And when we adopted Chromium, what that also meant was—so the old Edge was tied to the Windows operating system and only got updated, like, every six months. And that just wasn't great for developers when you're waiting for a fix in something in your browser, and your website's not rendering right. You can't wait six months for that.
And so, with Chromium, that only caught us up with all the modern web features that developers had been asking for, but it also allowed us to change our update cadence. So, now we have four different channels, so we have our Dev channel, our Canary channel and our Beta channel. So, Canary gets updated every day, and then we have a stable release that goes out every six weeks. So, we're not tied to Windows anymore.
Corey: Pardon my ignorance because I tend not to play in these waters too much, but it feels to me like originally, it really, really mattered what browser you were using for anything in particular. And this was, of course, back in the early nascent days of web apps, where you had a whole bunch of fully-featured applications running on a computer, but you had websites, and then you would pull up things that were basically your local newspaper, and it would say things like, this website works best in Internet Explorer four, or Netscape Navigator two-dot-whatever-it-was, and you sort of stare at that and look at it for the longest time and it felt like it was a very prescriptive approach. These days it seems that whenever I encounter a website that doesn't work super well on a particular browser, that's an aberration and it is certainly not the norm to the point where it is almost tweet-worthy whenever that happens. So, would you agree with that statement?
Stephanie: Oh, absolutely. We're in an era now where there are so many different tools available to developers to test different browsers to make sure that things are working. So, yeah, there's no reason a website should not be working in a browser today. Something should not only be working in Firefox or Chrome. The only reason I could see that happening that would be an acceptable answer is if maybe you're trying some new experimental web tech, and just letting people know this may not work because I'm using this new thing that maybe hasn't been standardized and isn't really common yet.
In that case, I can see it being acceptable. But so yeah, there are some companies that internally still rely on old technology like ActiveX, or just things that aren't supported anymore, and so you can get away with that more if it's internal and not external facing because for a lot of these companies, it's really, really expensive to try and migrate to a new system and move all these old legacy apps off this legacy tech. And so, again, in that situation I'd say that's acceptable. But otherwise, if you've got a website that you just didn't take the time to test in another browser, I don't think that's super acceptable.
Corey: I will occasionally grant affordances for this. For example, the web app that I use to record this podcast with folks who are not in the room—which is basically everyone now that that becomes a deadly risk—only claims to support specific versions of Chrome, the end, and I sort of understand that given the weird intricacies it has with making sure it does high fidelity recordings on both sides, setting up a VoIP call, having the right permissions model. I don't like it, but I tolerate it for the recording piece. I completely failed to forgive them entirely for the fact that I can't modify my account, check billing, change plans, book recordings, et cetera, also unless I'm using Chrome. That's just inexcusable.
But the fact that it at least only biases for one browser for a very specific app that requires that much systems integration, cool, I'll allow it, angrily. But I had no tolerance for this in a world of my bank demands I run a specific browser. Well, sounds to me, at least in this decade, like I need a new bank rather than I need a new browser. And it does seem that the release of Edge, in many ways, goes along with that in a similar timeline, with Microsoft itself reinventing itself for a cloud era. It went from a company that, to be honest, I despised into a company that I've come to begrudgingly admire on a whole bunch of different axes.
And using Chromium, for example, rather than its own custom internal rendering engine that it decides is better than everyone else's and they shove it down people's throats, it felt like for a while—and please don't take this the wrong way—that its biggest weakness was the word Microsoft at the beginning. Even now, that is not even a concern given some of the, frankly, stellar moves that we've seen Microsoft undertaking in the past five to six years.
Stephanie: Oh, absolutely. I think one of the cool things about Microsoft right now is just all the teams that I work with, and their willingness to really be an open-source, and work on those projects. And that's one of the cool things about working with the Chromium project because it is open-source, and all these conversations that used to happen—before my time, so I'm making an assumption here—but I would assume all these conversations occurred in secret and private and trying to come up with new competitive features that would further your market share and then sort of lead to gaps within the web platform and cause those interoperability issues and now we're working so closely with the Chromium team, a lot of these discussions happen in the open and they happen where people can participate, not just people on browser teams, but where the public can see it. And I think that is really cool to watch browsers sort of work in this way and advance the web platform by listening to the community and not just kind of deciding, oh, this is what we're going to do without talking to anyone.
Corey: So, forgive the, I guess, sheer ignorance that is packed into this question. I am not a front end person; if you ever seen any of my code that is not front end, you can understand why that is. It's bad there; it's worse when it actually impacts users. So, I always thought that Edge was not going to be something that I could ever participate in because when I am on the road—remember back when we used to go places? It was great, maybe someday we'll do it again—the only computer I ever took with me was my iPad.
But just checking this in preparation for this show, it turns out that yeah, Edge is available for iOS. Now, in my naive idiot corner of the world, I thought that every browser that you could spin up on iOS was forced to use Safari under the hood. So, it just effectively is a different window dressing for the exact same browser. Is my understanding dramatically misunderstanding something? Am I mostly on the money or something else entirely?
Stephanie: I'm going to have to fact check this, but yes, I believe here mostly on the money. Yeah. We might have some more, like, Microsoft-y privacy features, but I am pretty sure that yeah, it is just WebKit under the hood.
Corey: The fact that I can sit here and say, “Well, I don't like using Chrome and I'll use Edge instead because I prefer the—from the privacy story is way better with Microsoft than it is with Google.” The fact that I can say that and it's not sarcastic, would have absolutely blown my hair back 15 years ago to hear me say—I feel like I want to—like, time-traveling angsty me from my childhood who wants to travel forward and just slap me so hard the candy comes out. But you're right. Everything you say is absolutely aligned. I would have no problem running Microsoft Edge in a way that I struggle mightily with the idea of running Chrome. In the interest of full disclosure. I switched a couple years ago over to Firefox, now that it seems to not be eating RAM for breakfast anymore, preferring instead to leave RAM-devouring to Slack.
Stephanie: Yes. Can I just give a shout out to Firefox really quick because I have a great set of developer tools that… I still do front end code in my spare time, and they just have some great front end tools that aren't rivaled in any of the other browsers right now. So, I just want to give a shout out to Firefox because they're doing some great work there.
Corey: I went through the terrible mistake, I suppose, of doing some front end manipulation stuff for a couple Lambda@Edge functions I use on the AWS side. For example, I took a Chrome extension, with the help of people who are good at things, and shove that into a Lambda@Edge function because I could never remember the URL for the AWS status page. And it always lies and tells you things are fine even when they're not, but now I have a quick URL that points to that called gaslighting.me, or stop.lying.cloud, depending upon your tastes.
Stephanie: [laughs]. You know, one thing I want to say about staying up to date with all the technology out there, someone actually messaged me the other day, and they're trying to become a developer, and they were just struggling with, “What do I focus on? And how do I just stay up to date? And how do you stay up to date?” And one thing I've learned in working on the web platform and just seen the breadth of the web and all the different niche areas is there is no way to be an expert in all of it.
Corey: And that's, I think, part of the issue is it's too easy to wind up being angry and opinionated about things that, A) don't really matter that much, and B) even if they do, it's about others people's choices in ways that don't directly impact you. I care about a number of things when logging into a bank's website, for example, but which framework they've chosen has never been anywhere near the top 500 items on that list. It just doesn't matter all that much from a customer-user-facing perspective. If you're working on something and building it yourself, sure, I can see making those arguments, but past a certain point, I just don't care.
Stephanie: Absolutely. I think one thing we do have to be mindful of, and there was just a whole discussions about React this last week and performance, and one thing that I try to be mindful of now, especially—and Alex Russell has kind of—I've heard him talk so much, I've kind of been drilled into my brain about using frameworks or even just building something from scratch, caring about performance and making sure that you're testing on low-end devices for people who don't have access to a brand new iPhone and fast devices, that is still something I think more developers need to pay attention to. And I don't know how much of picking a framework actually affects performance, but I do think it's something developers just need to be aware of when they are building.
Corey: In what you might be forgiven for mistaking for a blast from the past, today I want to talk about New Relic. They seem to be a relatively legacy monitoring company, and I would have agreed with that assessment up until relatively recently. But they did something a little out there: they reworked everything. They went open source, they made it so you can monitor your whole stack in one place and, most notably from my perspective, they simplified their pricing into something that is much more affordable for almost everyone. There's even a free tier with one user and 100 gigs per month, totally free. Check it out at newrelic.com.
Corey: So, one thing I'm curious about is you've transitioned from working in design to working in program management aimed at developer experience. First, that feels like a strange transition. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Stephanie: Yeah. So, I went to university for design. My major was Digital Media Design, and I really fell in love with the web, but I never ever considered myself a true web developer. I could code some basic HTML and CSS when I graduated, but I was also sort of that era that learned how to use Flash to build websites, and so the only code that I needed to learn was ActionScript to make things animate and provide interactivity that way. And right after I graduated, Flash basically died as a [laughs] web design medium—
Corey: Yes it did, along with the batteries that it killed.
Stephanie: [laughs]. Yeah. And so I was pretty proficient in this technology that was suddenly not relevant at all. And I had a couple jobs where I was a graphic designer and did some print work. And that was fine, but the thing that I really loved to do was, like, work on wireframes for web apps, and sort of design web experiences.
And so my first job, I ended up at a startup in Bellevue and ended up designing the user interface for their 2.0 release of their app and I really, really enjoyed that. And I was only there about a year because it was a startup, so pay wasn't that great, and hours were not maintainable. And I ended up at a communications agency as a designer, and this is where I sort of fell in love with the web, and really gained all the skills that I had for building websites. And Microsoft was a huge client of this agency, as they are for a lot of agencies in the Seattle area.
But after a couple years, I became the digital expert at this agency, and so I was responsible for every aspect of the web design process. I would do the user research, and then I would do the wireframes, and go through the client review with that, and the information architecture, and then I’d do the visual design, and then I would code it, and then if we needed some deeper functionality that I didn't know how to do, we would bring on a true developer. And I was at that agency for three and a half years, and I got a message on Twitter—of all places—from a PM on the Microsoft Edge team who was looking for, he was looking for a PM but I was going to be doing design work. And so I didn't want to turn that opportunity down at all. I was looking for something new because it was just kind of time to move on from that agency.
And I ended up getting hired onto the Edge team, and for the first three years, a lot of my job was kind of like what I did at the agency, but with developers being my customer. And so I had my coworker, Melanie Richards, who's still on Edge and has also sort of made the same transition as me, we were both the designers for the web platform team and focused on building things for developers, and we would do projects around our developer portal and design code demos for new web platform tech that would only be an Edge. And then Melanie transitioned into a traditional PM role, and I was really struggling with making that transition for a while because there was some fear in my mind that if I became a PM, I wouldn't be a designer anymore. And that's actually not the case; I'm still a designer. So, about a year ago last May, I made the transition to not designing anymore, and have been in this PM role where I focus a lot on finding those developer problems. So, my main focus has been an initiative called The Web We Want that I run with my coworker Aaron Gustafson, and that has sort of taken up all my time.
Corey: Is it a conference? Is it a website? Is it something else entirely?
Stephanie: So, yeah, it’s something else entirely. There's sort of two components to The Web We Want. So, The Web We Want is a open platform to gather feedback from developers about problems they encounter on the web. Or maybe not even problems, just feature gaps that they've been struggling with and they just think there should be a native solution for. And so the question that we asked developers to answer, “Is if you could wave a magic wand and change anything about the web platform or dev tools, but would it be?”
And that all gets posted up onto our website, which is webwewant.fyi. And the thing I love about this initiative is it's not Edge specific. So, you're not just giving feedback for Edge. You're giving feedback for the whole of the web platform. So, we're working with people on Chrome, Firefox, Igalia, and Samsung Internet, and I think, maybe one other partner, I can't remember. But all these people are looking at what is being submitted to this website, and we're starting to look at these things and assess how to move forward with some of them.
But the cool thing about The Web We Want is there's this whole online component, but there's a focus on the web community; it's about what they want. And so we've partnered with Smashing Conference and beyond tellerrand and An Event Apart. And we actually run a forty-five- to hour-long session where people who have submitted their ideas to The Web We Want actually have a chance to present either in person, or if they can't attend in person they can do a screen recording, and it's them just pitching their idea in a quick three to five-minute lightning talk, and walking through this problem or feature that they've encountered on the web and why they think we should go fix it. And so, it's been really fun to engage with the web community that way, and I love running that session at events because you really get to see how passionate people are about the web and what they're doing. I've seen some detailed case studies—I mean, detailed for a five-minute lightning talk—about this problem, and they get into the nitty-gritty, and it's really inspiring to see so much passion. And so that is The Web We Want, and that's been taking up my time, and I absolutely love it.
Corey: That brings us to one more topic I wanted to cover with you where historically sessions at events and whatnot—it seems sort of antiquated, now that we're all locked down—to be clear, at the time of this recording it's the very end of April—so given how quickly these events tend to outpace ourselves, if you're listening to this wondering why we didn't talk, I don't know, about the giant meteor that is now bearing down on us—who knows what we'll be dealing with, that is why. But as of this time, there's a pandemic on, and we aren't going to events anymore. You've been killing it on Twitter with the live streams of bartending every day, of teaching us a different quarantini recipe. That's amazing, and I'm wondering how much of that ties back to your stage and speaking engagements.
Stephanie: So, yeah. I'll just give a little bit of backstory about my relationship with public speaking because two—oh, I guess it's almost three years ago now, I was supposed to co-present with a co-worker on the Edge team about a tool called webhint that I worked on. And I was absolutely terrified. I never—I hated public speaking. I hated talking in meetings, just someone who never wanted to stand in front of people and give a presentation.
And so that all changed about a year ago. I was down in San Francisco for Smashing Conference; the Edge team had a booth and I was just there to sort of promote, download our new Chromium browser. And I was at the speaker dinner and ended up talking to a couple of the speakers about, “Oh, yeah. No, I've never spoken but this call for proposal came through, and the conference theme is about luck and how has luck sort of played a part in your career.” And they encouraged me to submit the talk, and I felt somewhat heartened by the fact that they had told me that, “Yeah, if you don't get nervous before you go on and talk, that's not something to be proud of. Everyone gets a little bit nervous.”
Corey: Right, if you're not nervous, it probably means you're about to give a pretty crappy talk.
Stephanie: Right. And so I was like, okay, I have all these world-class people in my industry and telling me, “Yeah, do it.” And so, I ended up submitting the CFP, and a week or so later, I got an email and was accepted to the conference. So, I was like, “All right, this is happening.” I spent, oh, three or four months practicing my talk every single day because I wanted to make sure that I was prepared. And it was my first conference; it was in Scotland; I ended up giving the talk in front of 200 people and afterwards I was like, “Oh, I'm still alive.” And so—
Corey: You get high on the adrenaline. You're thrilled, you submit for other ones, and then oh, no, the whole process repeats.
Stephanie: Yeah, exactly. And during this time, I had actually been running these Web We Want sessions at conferences, so I was getting used to standing up in front of people. It was only 20 or 30 people sometimes, but doing the live streams kind of helps me prepare a little bit for public speaking down the road. I was supposed to give, like, six talks this spring, but because of the pandemic, they all got moved. But before the pandemic, I gave two talks, and kind of got that out of my system.
And I almost feel like my quarantine cocktail hour is me sort of getting that out of my system, and still practicing talking in some way because generally I'm not very good on the fly. I want to know what I'm saying. And so it's been fun to do those every day, and not only just have a fancy drink, but there's all sorts of interesting history around different cocktails, and so it's fun to go research all the origins of these things and the different alcohol and whatnot. So.
Corey: It's definitely worth tuning into if you haven't already. Hopefully, by the time this airs, we'll be back out going into real bars, but in the event that they're not, where can people find you for this?
Stephanie: So, I usually stream on Periscope, which is connected to my Twitter account. So, I'm seaotta, S-E-A-O-T-T-A, on Twitter. I don't have a set time, but if you don't want to catch the live streams, I've also uploaded most things to my YouTube channel, so I think if you just search ‘Stephanie Stimec quarantine cocktails.’ It'll come up. And the whole thing about my episodes of quarantine cocktails is I'm in quarantine; usually I have just done a workout and I'm coming straight over to my home bar to make a drink and just kind of like a little bit of a hot mess. I'm not scientific about it. Occasionally we'll pour too much alcohol into one of the drinks and then be like, okay, well, I guess we're improvising, and so it's kind of a hot mess express situation, but it's a lot of fun. [laughs].
Corey: Excellent. [laughs]. It's nice to bring a little personality to these things.
Stephanie: Oh, absolutely.
Corey: It's hard to see sometimes. But it winds up at least telling stories and reminding folks that there's a human at the other end of the line. And that's increasingly difficult when we can't actually go out and see said human.
Stephanie: Yes, absolutely.
Corey: Stephanie, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I appreciate it.
Stephanie: Thank you for having me, Corey.
Announcer: This has been this week’s episode of Screaming in the Cloud. You can also find more Corey at ScreamingintheCloud.com, or wherever fine snark is sold.
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