Is it right for you? Are you right for it?
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“Soooooo,” the old curmudgeon drawled as he chewed his pipe stem, “you wanna be a Web Developer, eh? Well, it might not be quite like you expect, ya know… Yessiree, I reckon not…”
Still—no guts, no glory—and there are plenty of gluttons for punishment. One sees all the classic newbie questions in the developer forums. Where to start? Which one is best? What to get? What to learn? How to make it work? This article is for new, and not so new, aspiring developers. My goal is to help the reader avoid some pitfalls, start right, save a bunch of time, and hop over some of the learning curve. The first step is learning to ask the right questions first, “Can I run a real business? Can I deal with people? Can I market my skills? Can I make any money?” —before all those software, scripting, debugging, and web server questions.
The Big Picture
First and foremost, one should understand that being a web developer is more—much more—than just knowing how to design a theme and code web pages. It’s a vast, multi-disciplinary practice. Few, if any, people will be good at, and enjoy, all of the many facets of the trade.
There are many things that eat our time and frustrate our passion, but they must not be ignored. If one can’t handle all of these, one should not freelance, but seek employment.
- Building and running a business
- Marketing yourself
- Getting contracts
- Accounting, paying taxes, etc.
- Dealing with clients
- Legal stuff (contracts, copyright law, etc.)
- Project management (scheduling, control, and tracking)
- Development, deployment, and maintenance (client satisfaction)
- Unfailing attention to every little detail
The following are some of the more pleasant things we need to learn before attempting to sell web design and development services.
- Building an efficient workspace
- Developing efficient work procedures
- Choosing the right tools (hardware and software)
- Installing and understanding local development servers (IIS and Apache.)
- Original design (going beyond copy-cat templates)
- Writing (spelling, grammar, and style)
- Coding (in several scripting languages)
- Following standards (both writing and coding)
Regarding the above lists, most people who are, or would be, web developers are tech-minded, and will love the second group, and detest the first. Yet the first group (the non-fun part) is essential if one expects to make any money. Aspiring developers need to pause and seriously consider their motivations before proceeding:
- I’ll work at home!
- It’ll be really cool and fun!
- I’ll make lots of money!
- Building all the required skills, reputation, business, and client-base is hard work, and it takes years to begin to accomplish the above goals.
- Dealing with clients who don’t know what they want, won’t provide any content materials or give any feedback is not fun.
- A public web site, of any kind and for any purpose, is legally a “publication,” just like books, magazines, and newspapers. Do you want to be a publisher? To study intellectual property law, copyrights, digital security, child protection laws? Naive people believe that “free speech” comes with no responsibility… Wrong!
- Do you really have that much patience? If not, don’t freelance. Find a big-city shop where you can do one thing, do it well, and leave the business matters to the owner.