#003 - Eric Bailey

With Tribble

Profile image of Eric Bailey

Eric is a user experience designer at thoughtbot, a respected writer and valued contributor to the accessibility community. He’s based in Boston, Massachusetts.

Andy: Let’s do the important intro first. What pet have you brought along with you today?

Eric: Ah, you got me. I don't have Tribble with me today. He's actually my close friend's cat. I am, however, listed as both Tribble's emergency contact and next of kin. Pet sitting is serious business where I live.

Andy: This is a fascinating world that I think you might be in a unique position to give us all some insight into, Eric. But before that, tell us some more about Tribble. He’s a handsome cat.

A stripey cat lying on his back with his cute-as-a-button pink nose
Tribble is such a handsome chap. Just look at him. 10/10.

Eric: He's the best and I love him dearly. He's a craigslist rescue kitty, but it's been so long since then that I'd be very surprised if he remembered anything of his past life. He's… not the brightest bulb in the box. Some might see this as a disadvantage. But honestly, because of it there's no guile, long-term grudges, or any other kind of bad cat behavior. He's just a small, sweet little dude who only wants to hang out with you.

Other fun Tribble facts!

  • If you pick him up and support his bottom feet, he'll put a paw around the back of your neck like an old friend. What a champ.

  • He'll play fetch! There's a secret, to it, though. You can't make eye contact with him when he's returning the thing you threw, otherwise he'll drop it. Why is it this way? Nobody knows.

  • He favors me over his owner during the Winter because my circulation is better. I'd be lying if I said I've never abused this fact for extra cuddle time.

  • If he's in a playful mood you can Force Push him, where you loom over him, make a slow pushing gesture, and he'll topple over despite no physical contact. If anything would be Force-sensitive, it'd be cats.

  • He sometimes can only fall asleep if you're touching one of his paws. Excuse me, it just got dusty in this interview.

  • He used to be afraid of the floof he's chilling out on in the photo I provided. But he overcame his fear and now it's a favorite napping location. Sometimes something unfamiliar is scary only if you haven't gotten to know it!

  • I've known him for the better part of a decade and I've never never heard him hiss. What a gentleman.

  • We once introduced him to a pineapple and he didn't know what to make of it.

We also sometimes play a game with him called Cat Stack, where we see how much junk mail we can pile on top of him before he's not into it. The current record is 22 pieces of mail. It's a great game and I highly encourage everyone to give it a try.

A stripey cat sits proudly on a grey floof
Tribble has overcome his floof fear and looks very proud

Andy: Ok, so Tribble maybe the sweetest dude cat in existence? I say dude cat because my cat, Delilah has a similar forgiving nature and is also very good at fetch. She also has a habit of biting you, but we’ll forget that for now.

Gosh darnit, the sleeping paw thing choked me right up. Folks who think cats aren’t sweet should be forced to read that line.

Have you ever considered getting a cat of your own one day, or would that be offensive to Tribble?

Eric: I really would like to get a dog at some point, but I don't think pet adoption is possible in the short-term. Both my partner and I are allergic to dander, and we both have pretty active schedules. I'd get the shots in a heartbeat, but it would be cruel to not be home on a consistent schedule.

Maybe once we move out of the city and things settle down some? Until then, my phone is chock full of photos of other people's pets. Yep, I'm one of those people.

Andy: Today I learned what dander is! I’ve always been averse to getting a dog because I was worried about leaving them at home alone, but these days, now I’m working remote, I’m certainly considering it. I haven’t proposed it to the Council of Cats yet...

So, let’s talk about you and the web. What do you do on the web and what got you interested in it in the first place?

Eric: I lost a bet.

Seriously though: I've always been interested in art and computers, and was lucky enough to be born right when this whole internet thing was getting off the ground.

By day I'm a designer at thoughtbot and by night I do a lot of writing and work on semantics, accessibility, and Inclusive Design practices. I learned what I know about coding because of control issues a desire to get closer to the materials of the web. I'm definitely one of those "I want to know how the sausage is made" kind of people.

A stripey cat on his back presenting his belly on a red, leather chair
Pet a cat’s belly with caution. I think it’s safe to pet Tribble’s belly though.

Andy: I relate to a lot of that response. I also have control issues strong feelings because I used to just do design, but picked up code because I was getting sick of other people’s poor implementations of my work!

I must say, you’re a darn good writer, Eric. I’m glad you’ve linked us all up to your work because it is good as heck!

Right, you’re going to have to give us more information about this bet that you lost…

Eric: Thanks Andy! I really enjoy your writing as well. I've been linking to your progressive enhancement piece every chance I can get (see what I did there?).

As for the bet, it was a crap joke. I honestly have a very difficult time thinking of anything I'd rather be doing as a job. I feel really fortunate to have both gone to school for, and landed jobs in the industry I wanted to work in.

Let's turn the tables for a second: how did you get into working on the web? It seems like we're into a lot of the same things, so I'm cat-level curious.

Andy: Wait a minute, is this a rule violation? I don’t think there are actual rules to be honest…

I have a weird and wonderful journey into the web which I’ll go into in a later episode/article, but let’s just say the web isn’t my first choice or necessarily even my passion. But, what I love about the web is how open it is and how we can do something like this with very little effort. Self-publishing has enabled a lot of good and long may it continue, with actual urls (A swipe at Google there).

Accessibility is a big deal to us both and I enjoy our frequent discussions about it. I’d say we tackle it in a similar, pragmatic way to each other. The accessibility community can seem a little hostile to a newcomer though. Have you any thoughts why that may be?

P.S thanks very much for the kind words. I’m a big progressive enhancement fan!

Eric: I'm pretty optimistic that the view of the accessibility community being hostile is changing. I think it's a part of an overall sea change the industry is going through, where a lot of the knowledge hoarding, "RTFM you n00b"-style development practice is getting phased out. Stack Overflow introducing a Code of Conduct is a sign of that, at least to me.

I think more experienced accessibility practitioners can come across as short for a couple of reasons. A lot of basic accessibility work is just good fundamental markup use. You start to hear a lot of the same questions repeated over and over again if you do it for long enough, as this knowledge is wholly disincentived in the current job market. Everyone wants proficiency with whatever framework is currently the new hotness instead. Because of this, I try not blame newer developers for not knowing about things like the <nav> element. Really, it's the market's fault.

What does make me angry are arrogant senior developers who do know better who publicly brag about not caring about the practice at all. Some of these people work for prominent companies and are extremely popular on social media, so their behavior is modeled as acceptable.

Another reason I think that the hostile reputation exists is because the work is so vital. A lot of websites and web apps are the equivalent of a car made out of papier-mâché. They look flashy from a distance, but completely falls apart if you try to drive it in anything other than ideal conditions.

Obviously, you can't go buy a car like that in the real world because nobody would allow it on the road. So why do we think it's acceptable for our digital products? A lot of this grouchy attitude I chalk up to sublimated frustration with that status-quo—doubly so when you know the web is accessible out of the box.

Back on the optimism front, I do think education is getting better. I'm always happy to see notes about assistive technology support in documentation and styleguides, and lessons about accessibility showing up in learn to code sites. I've also seen it as a skill listed on a lot of résumés and portfolios for newer developers and designers, which definitely makes me happy.

A stripey cat plays with some red yarn while looking at the camera
Just look at this cat. What a handsome chap with his yarn.

Andy: I’m agreeing so much that I’ve got neck ache.

I empathise with both sides (eugh I hate that, but it helps illustrate the point). I totally get the grouchiness because the industry chases the latest shiny thing as a priority and flat out ignores the actual important stuff. It’s been said before by very smart people, but it very much feels like an avoidance tactic.

Let’s be real here: what use is a complex build setup if the end result won’t even survive mild levels of strain. It’s like all of the effort is aimed at bragging to our peers rather than focusing on making excellent experiences for the people who visit our websites.

I hope efforts by yourself and the wider accessibility community continue to push this definite shift forwards. I’m trying to do what I can to help in a small way too.

I’m optimistic for sure.

Eric, this has been an absolute pleasure, thank you. How can people find you and support what you do on the web?

Eric: No way, thank you!

All my my social media nonsense is listed on my personal website. I've conveniently linked directly to it using the magic of this newfangled thing called the id attribute.