Email Q&A from Tony

This past week I received an email from someone looking to break into the web industry:

I have an extensive IT background as well as a photo/video background and I’m figuring out if this translates into the web development field. I already have a Comp Sci degree. I was in IT for a long time. I’m trying to figure out if someone with my background can make the move to this kind of career.

How did you get into this line of work?
What do you like most and least?
How much training does it take to get into this field?
What is a regular day like?
What is a crazy day like?

I decided to share my answers with the community.

How did you get into this line of work?

I started learning HTML at a young age. My parents got a new computer with Windows ME on it. It came with a program called Tripod that allowed you to create a free website, much like Geocities. After that initial interest in the Internet, I didn’t come back to creating my own website until college.

One of my majors at Penn State was Film/Video where I was really interested in film writing and critique. I decided I wanted to start a blog as a place to keep my writing and share it with the community. So I started with WordPress with a free theme I found. From there, I wanted to customize the look and feel of the site, so I learned more and more about HTML/CSS.

One thing led to another and I wanted to customize more aspects of the site, so I learned more about PHP. After learning PHP, I created my own portfolio CRUD CMS, and started making more sites for friends. Finally, after school, I got my first web developer job in the suburbs. This was right around the time that WordPress 3.0 came out, and it was the basis of learning more and more PHP.

Working on a platform like WordPress, with few limitations, I was able to focus more on honing my HTML/CSS skills and found that area to my liking the most. Since my first job, I’ve moved around to two other companies, learning from the people there, and continually trying to get better.

What do you like most and least?

The thing I like the most and the thing I like the least are actually two sides of the same coin. The open nature of the web allows anyone and everyone to participate in it, which can be both good and bad. The good is that the community at large is willing to share their knowledge and work with each other with projects like WordPress or on sites like GitHub or StackOverflow. The downside is that because these resources are readily available, the barrier to entry is very low, so people simply seeking to making money and not contribute or refine their craft are all too familiar. All in all, the good outweighs the bad. The field is still very young, and interacting with clients who have a background in the space is becoming more frequent. Ultimately, the big players at companies who still value print, or other older media, will soon retire and allow for more forward thinking people to step in.

How much training does it take to get into this field?

As I said in the previous question, the barrier to entry into the space is very low. If you can demonstrate basic skills with any language, companies will be willing to hire you. As long as you show that you are actively trying to become better, you’re not afraid to ask questions, and you have a good work ethic, then you should be fine.

What is a regular day like?

Regular days really depend on the company you work for and the clients you have. In the past, I would spend days working within a team, building sites from scratch and launching them on a tight timeline. Currently, I spend more of my time on smaller projects on existing sites. What both share in common are working within the team dynamic. The client will typically dictate to a project manager something they need or want. Then the tech leads on the project will talk about the best way to move forward, quote the work, get approval, then the project is started.

What is a crazy day like?

Crazy days don’t happen too often. Crazy days typically revolve around a piece of code not working properly, and spending hours and hours trying to fix it. More times than not, this involves dealing with some cryptic legacy Internet Explorer issue. All in all, you’re still working at a desk with people you like, so the crazy days are still tame in comparison to other jobs. Crazy days are good sometimes though. They offer an opportunity to change something or learn something so it doesn’t happen again. Soon, you’ll learn all the strange quirks of the browsers, and the bugs won’t materialize anymore.

posted in: Community, Personal

1 Comment
  1. Chris Langille

    Hi Pete,

    Thanks for sharing stuff like this. Always interested to see the behind-the-scenes stuff from designers/devs. I’m just diving into web design now so stuff like this is always helpful!

    P.S. found you over on Tom McFarlin’s site (i’m also in Philly area)