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How to build faster websites

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Ahead of his talk at Generate London on 21 September we caught up with Patrick Hamann, a web performance engineer at Fastly, who is on a mission to build a faster web for all. 

What does your role at Fastly involve?
Patrick Hamann: Fastly is an edge cloud platform that underpins some of the world's largest brands. My role predominantly focuses on R&D; working with teams within Fastly to utilise client-side technologies and web standards to improve the performance and delivery of our products and – most importantly – our customers' services. Some current projects include initiatives around browser performance monitoring, metrics and Service Workers.

Before you joined Fastly, you spent time at both the Guardian and the Financial Times. How did they approach web performance?
PH: Performance is no longer a post-deploy add-on or checklist item. It needs to be a constant effort that every person in the organisation considers, from design through to delivery. This is something these news organisations realised very early on, introducing practices such as building monitoring infrastructure to measure and compare performance against competitors, prioritising the delivery of content over other features and utilising technologies like Service Workers. 

What's the biggest obstacle to a fast experience online right now?
PH: One word: JavaScript. I guess I should elaborate on this slightly: The web is at the peak of a JavaScript obesity crisis. The average web page now delivers around 500kb of script. Script which takes more than a second to just parse – let alone execute – on a low-powered device and greater than five seconds to get to a state which the user can interact with the page. Therefore, the only way to improve the user experience of our sites is to measure, optimise and reduce our JavaScript – above all else.

WebPageTest runs a free website speed test from multiple locations around the globe using real browsers and at real consumer connection speeds

What are your favourite tools to optimise web performance?
PH: I am a strong believer that you cannot optimise what you haven't yet measured. So my toolbox is heavily weighted to measurement and profiling tools. For synthetic measurement, I’ll always reach for WebPageTest and browser developer tools (network and performance panes) first. However, nothing beats measuring real user experiences too (R.U.M), so a good knowledge of the browser performance timing APIs helps as well.

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