I’ve been thinking a lot about the job title of “web developer” lately.
When I landed my first job as a real web developer in 1998 I was really excited. I had become pretty adept at slinging around html to make awesomely static pages using tables. I was proud to boast to my friends that I was a web developer!
After about 3 days I was introduced to connecting a website to a database using Perl. Then using Apache variables and PHP and, well you get the idea. The learning was fast and furious. After 6 months my head was spinning. I took a job as some sort of webmaster/developer/sysadmin hybrid at a tiny startup in Gloucester Massachusetts where I was FTE #2.
Lets fast-forward a decade.
Web development is a narrowing niche. If all you can do is make traditional websites you may be in the same boat as a company that defined itself as a “newspaper company” instead of a “company that disseminates the news”. You may need to re-imagine yourself and your career.
What if you started thinking of yourself as a person that helped people achieve their digital desires? Is that different? What if their desire was a tweaked out mobile site – could you help? What about an Android app? How about automating some horrific manual process that they aren’t even aware can be automated?
Stop being a web developer and try thinking like a digital problem solver.
That doesn’t mean you need to stop being a kick-ass web designer, there’s a lot of problems that a better website can help solve. But what if you hand off the most awesome website ever created and nobody can find it – can you help? If you can’t help, do you know someone who can? What if the new site is so awesome the orders pour in too fast – can you help?
When was the last time you saw something that made you think, “That’s silly that their doing it that way, why don’t they just do X?” I see stuff like that all the time. When that happens you can either become an indispensable part of the solution or walk on by. Which do you usually choose?
Brandon Houlihan says
The more experience I get the more I start to think about design in this same way. There will always be technology to learn, best practices to follow and classic design principles that always work, but when it comes down to it my clients are asking me to solve problems for them.
One of the ways I do this is through design, but design alone isn’t enough. In some ways thats scary, but it pushes me to learn more about different industries and how they affect what I do. Having design tunnel vision will get me know where so I like to think of myself as an “interwebs guy”.
On a related note I think a lot of our industries are meshing together. I don’t know how you can be a designer these days without having a good grasp on development and some general knowledge about copywriting and marketing.
Phil Buckley says
Agreed. Defining yourself too narrowly in the tech industry is like hanging out a sign that says, “I am a commodity” IMHO
Karl Sakas says
@Phil — My favorite line: “Stop being a web developer and try thinking like a digital problem solver.”
We just hired a new web developer who has solid programming skills, but who also clearly gets the big picture. That extra bit made all the difference.