Category: personal

Passion and purpose

I recently gave my second ever lecture to students about my work – not an audience I’m used to! I talked to business students at Weston College as part of a Corporate Social Responsibility module.

Jon stood outside the front of Weston College

How I ended up working in digital accessibility and sustainability isn’t a straight line.

How many of you knew what career you wanted to get into when you were young? I wanted to be a postman. I thought Postman Pat’s got a pretty cushtie job, delivering people joy and drinking cups of tea in the countryside with his cat. Later, I thought I wanted to work in electronics. I’d take apart things like the family radio as a kid and put them back together. (Yes, they still worked!)

Back in my school, we did a test, which unsurprisingly suggested I’d make a good engineer. Felt to me a bit like “You like driving? You like people? Okay: taxi driver.” I mean no disrespect to careers advisors (or taxi drivers), but it helps to have an idea what you want, not just what you’re good at. I hope that careers advice in schools has evolved since then to help young people to start to understand their passions as well are what skills they’re good at. I say “start to understand” because I think this is often expected at too young an age. There are people who go their whole life without knowing what they really want to do, or want out of life.

Eventually, I’d do a project at university working on accessible music software that enabled Disabled musicians to compose and perform music. It was something that I could do as a techie geek to do some good for people, enabling them to access something I love (making music) that perhaps they couldn’t otherwise do. I’d left university with an idea to build web software for Disabled people. I started learning about it online, I joined a little online forum and learned a lot from other really helpful people. I soon became an expert in web accessibility, creating websites built with accessibility in mind.

So, I talked to students about my meandering career path, passion and purpose, digital accessibility, sustainability and ethics, and tried to impart some good advice from it all.

Here’s a bit about what I came up with…

🩺 Look after your health.

I’ve recently had a bit of a health scare (an ectopic heartbeat), which has caused me to make some changes. It should go without saying, but people are generally not as good at looking after themselves as they are looking after others. Make sure you balance work, life and your own health.

🧭 There’s no one right way.

Life changes. You will constantly change. Don’t expect to know all the answers. By all means have a plan, but going with the flow is a valid path through life and work.

There is no one size fits all. Everyone is different. People have different values, drives, needs and preferences. Accept people for who they are and what they give. That goes for yourself, too. Our stories matter. They’re part of our identity. And embracing and respecting each other’s identity is important.

Have a think about what “your way” might look like. Find what works for you. Try things and see what fits. Find a “workstyle” to compliment your lifestyle. Accept that your way is valid. It’s taken me a long time to begin to accept that the way I think about work is the way I believe things should be.

❤️ Be true to yourself.

You should never feel the need to hide from the truth. If you’re true to yourself, you never have to worry about being caught lying about something, or being something you’re not.

❣️ Understand what’s important to you.

Have a think about what values are important to you. But remember that what’s important to you now might not be so important to you later. Priorities change. Values tend not to.

❓ Understand why you do what you do.

By aligning what’s important to you with what you do in work, you’ll find a much greater sense of purpose, meaning and belonging. There’s strong evidence that having purpose and a sense of belonging has a significant impact on your overall health. Purpose provides meaning and nurtures drive in work. It helps you to focus on outcomes and impact rather than trying to be “productive”.

😊 Enjoy what you do.

You’ll spend a lot of your life working. If you’re not excited about what you’re spending your time doing, you’ll find yourself getting bored and disillusioned. If you find you don’t enjoy what you do, it’s a strong indicator that something’s not right.

🤝 Build and use your network.

If you don’t like thinking of it in those terms, build relationships and don’t be afraid of asking for help. You don’t have to be a certified extrovert to network. And I still find asking for help difficult, but I have a greater awareness of when I need help.

What about you?

What would you tell your younger self about work or your career path?

11/11 – Don’t mention the war

460 Squadron RAAF crew

I’ve just spent the 2-minute silence contemplating my late father’s involvement in the Second World War, how proud I am of him, and what he thought of the Britain in which he passed away just two weeks ago.

Dad always told me that he “fought in World War II for Europe”. He fought for peace, he was pro-Europe, and had many European friends. Heck, even our family’s ancestors came to Britain from Germany centuries ago.

On this day, please don’t use the First or Second World War as justification for Brexit, or make the wars about patriotism and national pride. While we should be glad and thankful that the Allied forces united and won those wars, those who “fought for their country” really fought for freedom and democracy for all people, mustered by the rhetoric of patriotism and national pride. They fought against fascism, signs of which we are sadly seeing increase worldwide.

The wars were awful and millions of people died, so let’s not allow wartime to be humanity’s heyday.


Hello, friends! It’s been so long, I thought it was about time I updated you on what I’ve been doing.

Solid ground

Do you remember that roller coaster ride I referred to when I joined OmniTI? Well, it just kept on going! And after a year of doing the transatlantic telecommute, I felt the need for solid ground. I left OmniTI in September.

I worked on some great projects while I was there, with big brands and alongside wonderfully talented people. I learned a lot, made some new friends, and had quite a bit of fun thrown in, too! Thank you to those who shared their knowledge and humour with me.

R and R

To recharge my batteries a bit, I decided to take a little time away from the Web and computer keyboards. I visited a few friends around the UK, spent a relaxing couple of days on Lundy Island, and got myself to Accessibility 2.0 and PHPNW ’09. I may have also made it to a gig or two along the way!

In the background, interesting discussions were afoot, and a fantastic opportunity presented itself. Which brings me to…


For the last couple of months, I’ve been setting up a new web design and development co-operative with some friends of mine: Alan, Andrei, Chris and Jon. In December, we launched Analog.

They say working with friends or family is a bad idea. The way I see it, I want many of the same things out of my working relationships as I do out of my friendships. I like to be around friends because they’re people I’m happy in the company of. I trust them, and respect their opinions. A healthy work relationship will have many of these same traits: fun, mutual respect, honesty and openness.

When we got together as a group in September, Chris summarised his work aspirations as, “Good people. Good work.” And that was it in a nutshell for me. I have huge respect for the people I work with at Analog. They were work colleagues, and even clients, before they became my friends. I know I can work with them, and build great things. If you don’t know them, let me introduce you quickly:

Alan Colville is a talented experience designer who worked with Jon Tan and I at Grow Collective. When he’s not inspiring me with his insights into user behaviours, he’s amazing me by running up mountains and biking down them!

I’ve known Andrei Zmievski for several years through the PHP community – he’s one of the core developers of PHP. He’s an incredibly clever chap, a gifted photographer, and I look forward to one day sampling the product of his home brewing!

I first got to know Chris Shiflett when I helped Jon with Chris’s blog redesign. He’s an accomplished web developer and an authority on PHP security and HTTP. When we’re not being web geeks, we’re exercising our perfectionist tendencies by being grammar nerds.

I’ve been working with Jon Tan for several years now, at Grow and OmniTI. He’s a fab designer, and passionate about his craft. Not only have we made a good team, we’ve also become good friends. With many a tale of travel and type, you’re never bored around Jon.

I usually write about accessibility on this blog. The holding page has a few talking points I could cover, not least the improved semantics of HTML5, and the accessibility features of ARIA. I’ll write more about these soon. For now, I hope that one page shows that accessibility doesn’t have to come at the cost of beautiful design.

Thank you

It’s already been fun at Analog – stalking people, launching Easter eggs, and wrapping up Christmas presents, like #grid… I’m really looking forward to what this year has in store for us. Here’s a thank you to the wonderful people of the Web who helped us get Analog off the ground.

Thank you, Carolyn Wood for being absolutely stellar, and helping us put our vision into words for our web site. Incidentally, the holding page scores pretty well on readability tests, which makes me happy!

Ta very much,, for being a great place to get practical help with HTML5. Special thanks to Bruce Lawson who’s a super chap for helping me out with one particular HTML5 peculiarity.

And thanks to everybody who helped us celebrate our launch, especially Jared Smith, for making my day with his kind comment. We’re so chuffed to have had such a warm welcome from all around the world. It made a great way to end the year, and carry us through into 2010.

We will remember them

In May last year, I took a trip to Dronten in Holland where my father took part in several remembrance services for those who gave their lives in the Second World War. The Dutch really celebrate their freedom, May 5th being their Liberation Day, which marks the day The Netherlands were freed from German occupation in 1945. It was quite emotional to be part of several ceremonies and festivals where people who fell, many nameless, were remembered and celebrated.

Unfortunately, we were unable to go to Holland again this year, but our friends sent us a link to a video of this year’s commemoration day in Dronten (4 May, 2009), which shows a fly past by one of the last two Lancaster bombers still flying.

So today – as we do on November 11th – I remember our heroes, and I’m proud to include my own father among them.

“We will remember them”

They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.


  • We Will Remember Them – a UK site dedicated to servicemen and women who have gave their lives in defence of their nation.

Photo: Avro Lancaster – RIAT Fairford 2008 (Danny McL)

Joining OmniTI

Right, now that the cat’s out of the bag, I’m happy to announce here that I will be joining Jon at OmniTI to form part of their interface design team as an accessibility engineer!

Essentially, I’ll be doing the stuff I love: accessible interface design, consulting and training, and quality assurance (“pedant duties”). And I’ll be doing it from within the loving arms of one of the Web’s cleverest companies. To echo what I said the other day, working with the people at OmniTI over recent months has been great. Even though I’ve been working remotely, I’ve been surrounded by really clever folks, which means it’s always a learning experience, and always fun. Hopefully, some of them feel that they have been learning from me, too.

I’ve always sat somewhere between the back-end development geeks and the front-end creative types. In my new job, I will be concentrating on interface design, but I will be working closely with other teams to help ensure accessibility is built into the applications built by OmniTI. It’s perfect for me, and I’m really looking forward to it.

What a way to round off the year! I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of cool stuff in store for 2009. I hope you all have a great Christmas, and I’ll see you on the other side of New Year!