More than ten years ago, I coded my first homepage and uploaded it to a Web
space my former school provided. I graduated there a while ago and to make sure
that my former schools mail address does not get deleted, I have to log into
their web services once a year. However, every time I do so, all things tech are
getting worse. Shortly after I graduated they banned Smartphone, about a year
later they restricted students internet access not only, which is from an
educational stance an okayish thing to do, by blacklisting certain sites but by
providing a locked-by-default access where students have to ask for a code to
get an hour of internet. When I logged in yesterday, the user and group pages
one could usually access via
groupname.tld are gone and I think this decision is wrong.
I wouldn’t bother that much about my former schools decision, when I haven’t literally started my career in tech on that, nor do I think it is a specific decision they alone made, so I’ll try to put this in a broader context. Let’s split this up into two sections.
How I Got into Frontend
Well, I already blogged about this in last years September: “Calculator Programming or how I got Into Cozy Coding Sessions”. To sum this up, I started messing around with Tumblr themes, Wikis as well as with Assembler and Python around 2008. I gathered my first project experiences designing web pages for groups my former school had and for myself. A friend of mine teached me CSS in the summer holidays of 2008 and we worked on most of the projects together until we both graduated.
Nowadays I have gathered quite some experience around the stack, worked as a full time and full stack software and system engineer, had Frontend gigs for multiple companies, made some Logo Designs, UX and UI designs. Whatsoever, my main focus is still Frontend, since that’s where I feel most comfortable and knowledgable. It feels bold to say, that this wouldn’t be as it is, without having had access to the Webspace my school provided, especially since we haven’t had a Computer Science class.
Locked down Systems & Overwhelmed by Tech
I think it’s always easy to point with fingers at school executives who may or may not be tech savvy and who established such policies while ignoring a broader context. I haven’t had the possiblity of talking to them yet, since I’m barely in the region of my former school anymore and writing an E-Mail, let’s leave that here since they don’t usually reply to tech-related mails by me anymore, though I am one of the persons who knows their network set-up the best, I mean I was part of the team who built it a decade ago.
Do People Still Use This?
So the first question I asked myself, was, if people used the Webspace in 2019, since the user homepages aren’t accessible anymore there’s no (Spoiler: there are ways, but they’re obviously not legal as in they require bypassing the security) way to verify that. What I know is, that they were barely used when I was a student, but there were actually 10 to 20 users (2% of total students).
Normally I would argue that it doesn’t make sense putting effort in a service only 2% of the users are even actively using, but since a school isn’t a company and has a educational purpose, this argument isn’t the best to make.
As I said before, there’s a broader context to this. One one hand tech became a locked-in and closed-down thing after all. Large parts of my childhood consisted out of repairing, upgrading and tinkering with computers, nowadays most technical devices aren’t meant to be repaired at home at all. On the other, nobody bothered about privacy and security for many years, from my perspective, it feels like people even cared more about those things ten years ago than they do know. Which isn’t the fault of the users at all, but more a conclusion out of the shifting paradigms replacing privacy aware programming approaches with what the social web has become today. And of course, there’s a lack of awareness for these things.
I feel like the possibility of tinkering with tech and repairing it oneself shaped an different understanding of technology than the one we’re having today looking at this horrible “magical”, “amazing”, “unibody” buzzword bingo of locked down systems which aren’t meant to be understand. My point is not, that system shouldn’t work out of the box, require less configuration and are easy to learn in terms of usage, but that it’s sometimes not possible anymore to repair and getting to know a system, like an iPad, on a deeper level without having a background in this, since you can’t just open that device easily, at least not without being afraid to damage it.
The restrictions my former school has made were followed up by a discourse which can be narrowed down to a widespread tech-skepticism and to some extend, to a situation, where teachers felt overwhelmed by keeping up with the demands of a fast-changing 21th century in terms of technology. I feel like I, being a part of the initial DevOps team years ago, made some mistakes as well. We provided a decent infrastructure without providing enough resources for people to deal with that infrastructure, despite having held a talk once a year where students could ask questions.
I think that IT service providers not only have a responsibility to maintain systems, but especially in a educational context, to provide knowledge as well and raise awareness for privacy and security issues. Another crucial thing would’ve been documenting the systems in a easy to work with and easy to maintain way. Probably all of us did better jobs on this than in that project.
Goodbye, 2000s Internet!
After I wished Tumblr, where I hosted my first blog, farewell in December, now my first homepage, on the first professional server I administrated, ever went offline and having those two things in mind, probably the two last remaining sites I maintained out of the 2000s Internet went offline.
I mean, I still have the source somewhere on one of my older backups, but I still feel a bit sad about this decision, since, technically, I owe my career to all of that.