According to the technical director of accessiBe, being responsible for web development for a website accessibility company requires curiosity and passion.
At the age of 16, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Niv Penso started writing scripts for himself, in order to automate repetitive tasks. “I fell in love with the idea of being able to write a line of code and then it would run and run for a few seconds and I would get output immediately,” he said. Penso also remembers his dad bringing a PC into the house: “I was all over the place, trying to figure out how to install things, how to install new games,” he said.
He turned his passion into a career in web development. Today technical director of accessiBe, Penso works with its customers to develop websites accessible to people with disabilities, since only 2% of sites are currently accessible.
When Penso realized this would be the field he would work in, he started reading a lot, at a time when there weren’t as many how-to guides online. He would join his father at work at the bank and try to find out more about the developers there, asking all sorts of questions. During his last years in high school, he studied Java and Pascal and other programming languages. The turning point was when he joined the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Corps, where he was for almost five years, progressing as a software developer from junior developer to senior developer.
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Any advice for anyone considering getting into the field? “If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, then don’t do it, especially in development,” Penso said. “Otherwise, it can make your life miserable.” If you go, he recommends understanding “the principles of what you’re working on. Be curious.”
In his current role, he must oversee the design review or code review, to ensure his team is following the correct guidelines. “We software developers, we all know that when we build a small project, everything works well and smoothly. But when we start building a big system and try to scale it, that’s where poor architectural design would affect you three months later,” Penso warned.
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His company’s goal is to “make the internet accessible by 2025 for people with disabilities,” Penso said. This can include when visually impaired people access a website and “add plug and play software that can install on their website,” he said. “This is often when you bridge the gap between the website with assistive technology. To make sure any website would be able to install our plugin.”
On a typical day – he works in the office, after a brief period working from home during COVID – he starts around 11am. Some people work at night, others in the morning, he said, but there is usually a daily team update session. “The main idea of this session is to make sure no one gets stuck on anything,” Penso said. “And if they are, we can track it and resolve it as soon as possible.”
After this session, he has code reviews and design reviews. “There are a lot of code review and design review sessions and organizing architecture sessions. Also, sometimes we have an interview if it’s like recruiting season.” During interviews, another developer will join Penso.
Every once in a while he “needs to take a user story from the back login and maybe have another couple minutes of practice and give my two cents to the growth of the codebase, but that doesn’t happen not necessarily all the time,” Penso added.
The most interesting things about the job, technologically speaking, are how to understand websites and how to convert them to be accessible, he said. The goal is to do this in a scalable way. 98% of websites are currently not accessible. “We have a critical mission here to figure out how we can extend it and make sure anyone who wants it accessible can use our widget or wholesale tool. And install it and bam, from there, their website will be accessible,” he said.
He also wants to make media, such as PDFs and Excel files, accessible, which is an interesting challenge, he said, because the technology has not yet been developed for this task.
The biggest surprise for Penso is “that a lot of people aren’t aware of the importance of accessibility and the proportion of the population that depends on assistive technology,” he said. “Our job, in addition to providing tools or applications that would solve this problem, is that we can increase awareness.