I am Alex Russell. Ask me anything.

Alex Russell is a software developer working on Chrome, Blink, and the Web Platform at Google. He serves ECMA TC39 (the standards body for JavaScript) and is an elected member of the W3C Technical Architecture Group. You can find him blogging at Infrequently Noted on browsers, standards, and many different tech topics.

Ask Alex Russell about:

  • Chrome
  • Working at Google
  • TC39
  • ECMAScript
  • Blink
  • Web Platform at Google
  • Contributing to OSS
  • And more…

Comments (74)

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Surma's photo

Obligatory: Would you rather fight 1 horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?

Alex Russell's photo

Dragging the web platform into the mid-naughties, one spec at a time. Progressive Web Apps are my jam.

100 duck-sized horses, for sure. I probably wouldn't beat them all, but at least I'd be able to get partial credit.

Raymond Perez's photo

Hi Alex,

What's your opinion on today's value of a computer science degree? If I want to work for a company like Google is it required?



Alex Russell's photo

Dragging the web platform into the mid-naughties, one spec at a time. Progressive Web Apps are my jam.

I'm one of the few people at Google I know who doesn't have a degree of any kind, and for a lot of years that was hard.

One of the things I've come to value over the years is the ability to pierce abstractions (in both directions). The best engineers make the smallest cuts for the biggest impact, and they can do that because they can "see" more of the system. I'm not sure you need a degree (I'm proof that Google hires folks without them), but you do need to be able to wrangle with complexity above and below your "layer". Living your whole career in JavaScript or Java without ever diving down to the layers below will be limiting no matter where you chose to work.

Jeremiah Parrack's photo
  • What are a few things you do to manage your time?

  • What are some things that contributed to your success?

  • What are a few of your favorite functions that you wrote that contribute to your workflow? ( maybe a bash function or a script that opens your entire work environment)

Alex Russell's photo

Dragging the web platform into the mid-naughties, one spec at a time. Progressive Web Apps are my jam.

I manage my time by acknowledging that I only get 8-10 hours to work in a day. My younger self worked constantly and it was a terrible idea. I did worse work, slowly, and had less impact because I didn't give myself the constraints that gave me perspective. Setting hard limits on work time is something Frances Berriman taught me, and I'm forever grateful for it.

To the extent that I'm successful, it has been luck and perseverance (in that order). Anyone who is even moderately successful and thinks "hard work" got them there is delusional. Nearly everyone works hard...it doesn't distinguish you. What distinguishes you is random chance falling your way. In my case that was parents who had computers & were supportive; also being born white, male, middle-class, and in a family that valued education. Yes, it's important to take the chances you get, but in general I view "how to succeed" stories and advice through the lens of survivorship bias -- and from there, it mostly looks like bunk.

The things I helped develop that contribute most meaningfully to my workflow on the web...um, probably ES6 Classes, Promises, async/await, and Custom Elements.

Bob Elliott's photo

What's your opinion on Firefox Quantum? Have you tried it? Does Google Chrome see it as a threat?

Alex Russell's photo

Dragging the web platform into the mid-naughties, one spec at a time. Progressive Web Apps are my jam.

Have been following Quantum development occasionally and use Firefox regularly, so it's been great (as a user) to see those improvements rolling in. I can say that the Chrome team has been studying the performance of FF Quantum and we're particularly impressed with their improvements in the style engine (the thing that turns CSS into styled elements in the page).

Quantum (and other systems like it) are premised on the notion that there's a lot of parallelism available on modern hardware that our software doesn't use. We've been busy parallelizing parts of Chrome for a few years now (GPU Rasterization was a big improvement in this area), but it has been incremental (rather than a "big-bang" release like Quantum).

There's a big open question in browser and systems design, particularly as regards mobile: do we actually have more cores? If you're moving from a world where the GPU is mostly idle and you're making web pages live on a single CPU core to get everything done, then the answer is very obviously "yes"...but that isn't where Chrome is today. In most of our traces from busy Android devices, we see the OS de-scheduling work (meaning that there are lots of threads and processes contending for the same cores). In some cases, we've even removed parallelism to speed things up. All browser vendors are looking hard at this problem and trying to optimize as best they can.

In terms of competition, I can speak for the whole Chrome team when I say that we think a healthy, vibrant, competitive browser ecosystem with lots of great choices is best for users and for us. We're excited to see FF improve and will keep working to improve our engine. Competition really does deliver outstanding results when it's allowed to work.

Walter Wheeler's photo

Hi Alex, Do you still think Progress web apps are the future of mobile apps in 2018? Why and why not?

Alex Russell's photo

Dragging the web platform into the mid-naughties, one spec at a time. Progressive Web Apps are my jam.

"still" is an interesting frame.

PWAs are really about quality. The add-to-homescreen banner is about the browser going "hey, this looks modern and meets our quality bar, let's tell the user it would work as an app". That sort of quality differentiation is very much the future of the web -- particularly on mobile.

MOST websites are terrible on the average mobile phone on the average mobile network. We absolutely need to get better at helping users discover the ones that aren't and direct their attention away from unusably slow content. To the extent that PWAs are a part of that, yes, I think they're going to be part of the answer.

As for apps, that's a long game. Who knows what'll happen there. What I can say for sure is that the effects we wrote up here are very much still playing out; the brands turning to PWAs are only getting bigger: https://medium.com/dev-channel/why-are-app-install-banners-still-a-thing-18f3952d349a