To work with Shiny New Things, work with Dusty Old Things

by Dan Zambonini

Mmm.... Biscuits...

Most web developers don't do what they do for the money. There are less stressful and less complicated jobs that offer higher monetary rewards. Developers want to solve interesting problems. Developers want to learn, to experiment, to make cool things happen. It's not about prestige, and it's certainly not the job title. In fact, if anyone ever asks what you do, giving your job title is a sure-fire conversation killer. Here's a tip for developers: say that you're a Biscuit Designer. That's a much better conversation starter (I'm not sure of the language barrier issues here, but Biscuit == Cookie).

And with that in mind, I can thoroughly recommend that if you ever get the chance to work with museums, then go for it. Museums have evolved into the perfect playground for developers.

For a start, there's the data. If you're going to try something new and exciting, it helps if you have access to a vast collection of quality, detailed data. By their very nature, museums appreciate the value of high-quality, consistent, standards-compliant, granular data and metadata. Their Collections Management Systems (which catalogue objects within a museum) can contain hundreds of thousands of data records, containing every type of data imaginable: geographical co-ordinates, time and date information, people, thematic and subject information, copyright and usage, physical information (dimensions, weight, materials), and so much more. By just using the geographical data alone, you can create some amazing applications, but combine this with the temporal and other data, and the world is your oyster.

Then there's the people. I often feel that there's an affinity between developers and museum staff – maybe because of the 'love, not money' aspect of the job. So there's no pretense, no ego. The museum community also fully embraces the opportunities of the web; there are specific discussion forums, mailing lists and at least one annual conference (Museums and the Web). People are therefore generally clued-up on new technologies, and are open to pushing the boundaries. Some organisations would be wary of trying out Semantic Web or Social technologies, but most museums are pro-active in adopting them.

I'd be interested to find out: as a developer, which other areas of work interest you? What kind of data do you like building applications on top of? Are you more interested in specific 'aspects' of development (e.g. accessibility, interface design, architecture) than the subject of the work?