Virginia DeBolt

Virginia DeBolt is a former educator, who became interested in web standards and how they are taught while teaching web design classes.

Like many of the people involved in the early standards movement, DeBolt became involved in the web almost by accident. A tutor asked her if she would take his class in HTML,as he wanted to teach the subject but no-one had heard of it at the time. Therefore he needed to fill the class in advance. DeBolt took the class and was hooked.

I wanted to know how DeBolt went from learning HTML to help out a tutor who wanted to create a class on the subject, to becoming involved in the standards movement. She told me that her approach to web design was always as an educator. This helped her to see the value of web standards, and she credits Designing With Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman as making her a "true believer". Working with others on standards projects, led to her being invited to work with the W3C, with WaSP, and the Web Standards Sherpa,

“I was never the big name at the top of the organizational chart in these efforts, but word of mouth kept getting me invited into more and more projects.”

DeBolt's path into writing about web standards started with the web design class she took. When the tutor leading that class at Austin Community College moved on, She took over the classes. This led to an her receiving books sent from publishers hoping that she would choose them as course material.

DeBolt started to review the books on the blog she started in 2001 called Web Teacher. She told me of these reviews,

“Mostly I was unhappy about how they did things from my perspective as an educator. Publishers took note and began asking me to do things like write a student’s guide or review a table of contents.”

She went on to explain the issues with those early HTML and CSS books, from the viewpoint of an educator,

“In those days, my biggest complaint about the books was that the first half was all HTML with font tags and attributes for everything. The second half of the book was all CSS. In other words, forget everything you just learned and start doing it the right way with CSS. I thought that the CSS to style every HTML element should be taught WHEN YOU LEARNED THE ELEMENT.”

DeBolt then went on to write a book proposal that would teach HTML and CSS in the way the she advocated. She went on to write two books using this approach, Integrated HTML and CSS and Mastering Integrated HTML and CSS In her eyes she was writing curriculum, and in a way that made sense to someone who had taught students in person. She said,

“Soon enough, all the big names were writing their books that way – teaching the CSS along side the HTML. It was a small, private celebration for me to realize that sense had finally prevailed.”

DeBolt also served as a contributing author on books, including those written by Dori Smith and Tom Negrino, and the InterACT with Web Standards book. In addition she served as technical editor on several books, all of which can be found on her website.

As more authors began publishing books that DeBolt felt fully integrated the languages, DeBolt published fewer book reviews and instead moved to writing tips and instructions on various topics. She used Web Teacher to write about the things she was teaching, covering accessibilitu, blogging platforms and Dreamweaver as well as Web Standards work.

DeBolt credits her Web Teacher blog as being the thing that made a difference in her career. Like many of us at the time, writing about the web and web standards led to other things. Book deals, jobs, and conference speaking opportunities came from sharing what she knew about teaching these subjects via her blog.

Virginia DeBolt interviewed by Rachel Andrew. Published