Christian Heilmann

Web Developer and Professional (Part 1 of 2)

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007 at 8:50 pm

Lately there has been a lot of movement in our market again. A lot of people started new companies, venture capital magically re-appeared and as with every spring our inboxes brim with offers from head hunters wanting to call us about the next big opportunity we might be missing. It is fun to see that happening and I am very much reminded of 1999 when the situation was the same but we were even more clueless about what we do as we are now.

The new interest in our skill-set also made a certain persona re-appear that I considered extinct: the unprofessional web developer.

No, not the old standards chest-nut

I am not going to rant now about people who don’t take the technical aspect of web development serious. There are enough articles out there that describe why it is simply a good idea to follow standards and that it is important to know your impact on accessibility, maintenance and usability.

What I am talking about are web developers who are becoming “technology divas� – applicants that are very gifted but impossible to hire as they’d be poisoning the team spirit.

Personally I’ve been in this job for a long time and before joining the “new media� I had a steady flow of jobs I was just not cut out for (bricklayer, packer in a chainsaw factory, ice cream maker, pizza delivery boy, bus driver…). During these jobs I learnt a few things that might be interesting for us to remember right now. The following are not laws or absolutes if you want to get a job but they sure helped me reach and keep the job and position I am in right now.

Don’t be too smug about your knowledge

You get hired for your knowledge but you get promoted for your company relevant experience. When companies look for new employees they look at their skill-set and their experience in the market. When it comes to being promoted (and by that I don’t mean pay-rises) it is a different story.
You can be the most amazing developer in your field but if you cannot communicate and distribute this wisdom to others, you are not a lead developer or should get a manager role. The main reason to promote people is to acknowledge and foster their internal experience; how they dealt with the current environment and helped it improve or at least work more smoothly. Inner workings and systems of companies are always a lot different to the world of web development advertised on blogs and “best practice� conferences.

Share the wisdom

Our market and work environment is unique, and in a much larger fashion that you might be aware of. When you talk to people outside the web development market and tell them that you publish your findings for free and that your employer is cool with that you often see deer-in-headlight expressions on their faces.
In high pressure environments like estate agents or investment banking knowledge means you have an advantage over your colleagues, in web development it means that you attract far too much work to deal with. Web development is such an undefined and confusing environment that sharing your findings and recipes for success shows that you care about making it more accessible for everyone and easier to work in. A lot of people working in new media really don’t want to learn about its nuts and bolts, all they want is an expert to hand the work and responsibility over to. It is a great thing for a manager to have someone on the team that is known as an expert people outside the company listen to. However, being the technology expert on a throne also makes you accountable and it is immensely important to have a fallback as you do want to take your holidays and the office should not grind to a halt when you are home sick.

Everybody is dispensable – including you

Part of this “technology expert� status is make-belief though. It feels damn good to be the expert and seemingly hold the power in your little world, but when it comes down to it, there is really not much we impact. I’ve seen a lot of colleagues in very important and central positions leave companies without a proper exit interview, handover or being replaced with someone with the same skill-set. And guess what? Life went on, the company did not go bust and there was neither fire nor brimstone falling from the sky. How we perceive our importance to the company is based on the fact that we are geeks – we care about what we do – a lot. If you look at it from a different angle none of the stuff we do really impacts immediately what is delivered. A great marketing campaign is still a lot more tangible a win than making the corporate web site work on Safari.

Continued in part2

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