From Fall 2020 to Spring 2021 I gave a talk about backlogs. It’s based on the story of the time someone assigned me 313 accessibility issues from an offshore audit. I believe every developer –at some point in their career– finds themselves pinned beneath a weighty backlog and because it’s such a universal experience, part of the job, I think it’s a topic worth discussing more frequently. And the parallel to a physical log jam was a portmanteau too perfect to pass up.

In the talk I explore how to break down work in a large backlog and introduce a tactic that I call “multidimensional audits”. There’s value in moving issues out of the bug tracker and into modern day spreadsheet tools so you can visualize your large problems from different angles. This helps make the backlog more digestible and visualizes different pathways for getting the work done (and isn’t limited to Accessibility audits).

Towards the end, I offer thoughts on how we might improve the Accessibility audit handoff process. Accessibility audits aren’t so much the problem as I think there’s a constraint (a bottle neck, a pain point) specifically in the handoff process that unintentionally creates a lot of friction. If we can improve that, I think we can reach the ultimate goal of having a more accessible website all while preserving employee happiness and autonomy. In the talk, I propose four solutions:

  1. Avoid extensive audits, start with a handful of core templates first
  2. Deliver issues in small packs of related issues
  3. Gamify the experience by progressively increasing the difficulty
  4. Give a s#!% about accessibility before legal shows up

That’s the high-level gist of the talk. It’s one of my favorite talks so far with how it came together. Behind the scenes, I ended up rearchitecting how I typically construct talks. Typically my talks are five disparate ideas that I try to smash together. I like those talks, but it’s a bit of a disjointed ride and lots of smaller points get left on the cutting room floor. This time, inspired by a book I read on TED talks, I decided to start with a small scope. A talk that could be three bullet points on a single index card, a talk that could be twenty minutes then extended to forty as needed, a talk based on a single concept, but anchored to a story from my life.

Inspired by Mina Markham’s talks from her experience on the Hillary campaign, I feel like anchoring a story to your life is a good way to ensure your talk is always yours, and not a list of regurgitated facts. Inspired by Donna Lichaw’s The User’s Journey, I tried to think about my talk as a narrative arc. I tried to maintain a cohesive visual style and I also experimented with the concept of “horseshoe” loopbacks, inspired by DOOM’s level design, using anchor slides to bring the audience back to a familiar place and underscore certain ideas. It’s esoteric and no one will notice, but I loved it.

I enjoyed how this talk came out and hope to do one like it again soon. And I mention it in the talk, but thanks again to Danh Hoang and the late Christopher Schmitt for helping me on the talk.