Web Directions @media Interview: Yahoo’s Tom Hughes-Croucher

Craig speaks to Tom Hughes-Croucher, a technology evangelist presenting “An Introduction to Server-side JavaScript” at Web Directions @media in London, 8-11 June 2010.

Note: Do you want to attend Web Directions @media in London, 8-11 June?

@media boasts an amazing lineup of speakers including jQuery creator John Resig, SitePoint authors Rachel Andrew, Bruce Lawson and Simon Willison, and British designers Andy Clarke and Mark Boulton. Craig will be there too, but don’t let that put you off!SitePoint readers are eligible for a £100 discount on @media tickets. Simply enter the code SitePoint when you register at the Web Directions website.

Craig Buckler: Please tell us a little about yourself, your work, and how you became involved with web directions @media.Tom Hughes-Croucher: I work for Yahoo! as a technology evangelist. That means I get to test out the latest technology we have and see what I can break. It’s pretty fun. I also have the opportunity to travel around the world and tell people about the new stuff we are doing, as well as do a lot of education around best practices in web software development. I love being able to give something back.I know Patrick [Patrick Griffiths, founder of @media] from when I lived in London (yep, I’m a Brit). It was great to hear John [John Allsopp, Web Directions co-founder] was helping out with the conference after Patrick decided to take a break from technology stuff. I’d previously worked with John a little bit on the Australian government hack camps while at home here in San Francisco. I’m a huge fan of helping people work with their government so I built a few YQL tables to help the Aussies do some interesting mash-ups with the data. CB: You are presenting “An Introduction to Server-side JavaScript”. What can people expect from your discussion?THC: I’m split, there is an awful lot to talk about because things are moving so fast. So I’m going to do the presentation in two parts. I’m going to present an overview of what exists today, and then I’m going to look at a specific case study of some things Yahoo are doing with SSJS. I’m actually unreasonably excited about this. As a front-end developer for the most part, being able to write JavaScript everywhere gets me hot under the collar and that will come through fairly clearly in the presentation.CB: Server-side JavaScript seems like an obvious solution for web developers, but few people currently use it. Why do you think that is?THC: It’s actually much more widely used than people realize, but I think there are two main things that have catapulted it forward.The first was the advent of more professionalism in JavaScript. Increasingly in the last couple of years people have been taking JavaScript much more seriously. With evangelists like PPK and Yahoo’s own Doug Crockford people have really started to think about what they can do with the JavaScript. People read Crockford’s book and realize that JavaScript is a really beautiful language hidden inside many years of cruft. It’s moving away from being the “language we have to use because of web pages” to something people enjoy coding in.The second shift is a bit more recent, but the new batch of JavaScriptengines: SquirellFish Extreme (Safari), V8 (Chrome), Carakan (Opera) have really changed the game. Firstly they all use Just-in-time (JIT) compiling of JavaScript which means they are fast. Really, really fast. Secondly, they are competing. There wasn’t any competition when it was a one-horse (IE) or even a two-horse (IE and Firefox) race. This gives us a great environment for Server Side JavaScript (SSJS) because now we have compiled JavaScript that’s of a comparable speed to other languages. Ryan Dahl, who started the Node.js project, had some really provocative slides at JSConf. Node.js is already faster than the equivalent event driven servers written for Python and Ruby in many scenarios.CB: Do you think developer’s perception of SSJS is changing and do you expect it to become a mainstream technology like PHP or ASP.NET?THC: I think it has a core quorum of enthusiasts. However those enthusiasts are pushing the ecosystem faster than any other I can remember seeing, especially on Node.js. There are already a dozen MVC frameworks available as Node.js modules which are heavily based on existing frameworks from Ruby and Python such as Rails, Mustache and Django. I think because of that, SSJS has a lot of potential to eat into existing server side markets. Mostly because once people realize programming JavaScript can be enjoyable they like the idea of not having to code in multiple languages. I don’t think I know anyone who likes PHP; they like the ease with which PHP allows them to do stuff.Once we can convince people JavaScript on the server isn’t like the horrible mess of DOM coding in the browser a lot more people will be willing and eager to switch. In 5 years I think SSJS will be a major trend in Web computing. CB: Have you presented at an event of this size before?THC: I’m becoming a bit of ringer. I present at a lot of conferences these days.Web Directions @media will be part of a two month tour I’ve been doing. I started off in Australia giving a keynote at WebDu and I’ll be finishing in Santa Clara giving a Keynote at Velocity. There have been a lot of stops on the way, but I’m really excited to be back in London and seeing a lot of familiar faces again.CB: Are there any awkward questions you like us to avoid asking at your presentation?!THC: Why did I quit blighty and add to the brain drain?Seriously though, I think the awkward questions are the most important. I may not have all the answers but often when someone asks me a really hard question it’s because it’s an area that we need to do work on. More than that if it’s a question no-one knows the answer to it’s important we find one.CB: Many thanks Tom.See Tom speaking at Web Directions @media in London, June 2010. Use the promotional code SitePoint when you register to receive a £100 discount.

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