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Q&A with Leonie Watson

Accessibility engineer at The Paciello Group

I'm L?onie Watson. I'm an accessibility engineer at The Paciello Group (TPG), and accessibility consultant working on Gov.UK. Through TPG I do a lot of work with the W3C, where (amongst other things) I'm co-chair of the Web Platform Working Group. I blog on Tink.UK and sometimes write for Smashing Magazine, and others.

How did you become a digital consultant, what is your background?

I'd been interested in computers through the 1980s as a kid, and began playing on the web as it began to take shape in the mid-1990s. At the time I was a drama student and didn't have any intention of working in technology, but chance resulted in me working for one of the first ISPs in the UK in 1997 and from there I taught myself how to create websites.

I lost my sight in 2000 and when I went back to work it was as a consultant for a digital agency called Nomensa. They specialised in digital UX and accessibility, both of which were still new things in those days, and with a background in web development I found the technical aspects of accessibility very compelling.

Where did you study? Looking back, would you recommend your path to beginners?

My first undergraduate degree is in performing arts, my second is in computer science. If you talk to a lot of people who were around during the early days of the web, you'll find they come from a wide range of different educational backgrounds – chemistry, psychology, history and so on. There wasn't really an expected educational pathway, and that may still be true today although I think a formal education is perhaps more of an expectation these days.

It's always helpful to study the subject you want to make into your career, but with some exceptions I wouldn't insist it's a necessity. Having knowledge of other subjects and disciplines is sometimes extremely useful – my performing arts experience certainly helps me when I give talks at conferences, even though I'm talking about code and not Shakespeare!

What are the books helped you to improve your professional skills?

One book I thoroughly recommend is Apps for all: Coding accessible web applications, by Heydon Pickering. Heydon has done the remarkable thing of writing a book about coding and accessibility that is both entertaining and extremely informative.

What is your ideal work environment? Do you work at studio or prefer to mix a few activities?

Everyone at TPG works from home because we live in different countries. We're a small tightly knit team though, so we're in regular contact on Skype, email and Twitter most of the time. I enjoy working from home – I'm usually online most of the time because I enjoy connecting with friends, colleagues and contemporaries around the world to talk about things – sometimes serious, sometimes not so much!

Who are the people you admire most?

I have enormous time and respect for the people I work with at TPG, including Steve Faulkner (@stevefaulkner), Karl Groves (@karlgroves), Henny Swan (@iheni), Patrick Lauke (@patrick_h_lauke), Ian Pouncey (@ianpouncey), Billy Gregory (@thebillygregory), Hans Hillen (@hanshillen) and Gez Lemon (@gezlemon). Beyond TPG people like Heydon Pickering (@heydonworks), Jamie Knight (@jamieknight), John Foliot (@johnfoliot), Alastair Campbell (@alastc), Bruce Lawson (@brucel), Dan Brickley (@danbri) and too many more to mention! There are a lot of brilliant people doing a lot of wonderful things out there on the interwebs.