Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

NaBloPoMo Q&A 4: The Web Biz

Zazzy asked:

I’m studying web development. Do you have any tips for crossing that hump between moderately-talented-amateur to professional (or you know, semi-almost-professional)?

I’ve worked in the web biz since 1995. Back then, there were no courses in web stuff. No degrees. So the people who got hired were the ones with “killer homepages” (to use the parlance of the time).

Since then, the web has blossomed into the newest form of mass media, colleges have begun offering courses and degrees in web design, and the entire industry has reinvented itself a time or two.

And you know what’s changed when it comes to making hiring decisions? Exactly nothing.

This goes for coders and designers, fulltimers and freelancers. It’s all about the work. Either you have good work and you’ll get hired, or you don’t and you won’t. And all the degrees and work experience and personal recommendations in the world will not help you if your homepage blows. (Aside to Zazzy: I’m not dissing your homepage! I’m just giving general advice.)

I’ve been in on hiring decisions at many web companies over the years, but my methodology hasn’t changed. Step one is to check the candidate’s URL. If he doesn’t have one, he’s out. If she’s applying for a coder position and her site doesn’t validate, she’s out. If he’s applying for a design role and his site is ugly, he’s out.

If your work passes muster, then the interview happens, and the usual interview advice applies. Be cool, tell stories about the work you’ve done, the decisions you made, and how you’ve learned. Be funny and friendly and relaxed. Show that you can work with a diverse group of crazy people like me.

But you’ll never get there if you can’t show the work. So focus on your homepage relentlessly. If you don’t have anything to put in your portfolio, contact a local organization and offer to work for them for free. Make a site for a friend. Just make sure it kicks ass.

And a tip: The clients/jobs you get in the future will be like the ones you take today. So make sure you’re working in an area that interests you. Do one gig for an orthodontist, and the next thing you know, you’ll be the go-to person for local orthodontia sites. Good if you like that stuff, bad if you don’t.

Good luck! Thanks for the question, Zazzy! Who else has one?

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.