How To Be a Web Developer – Part 9: Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Developers

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This is Part 9 of our How to Be a Web Developer Series. If you’re just joining us, here’s what you’ve missed so far:

Over the past nine articles, I’ve shared a lot of tips and information about becoming a web developer, but it seems that for new developers (and, if I’m honest, experienced developers as well), the greatest obstacle can be ourselves. Staying motivated, having confidence in your skills and value, and setting boundaries with clients are all challenges that have to be practiced rather than researched.

Fortunately, though, you can learn from other people’s experiences to help shape your own journey. For this final installment of the How To Become a Web Developer series, I am grateful to a number of experienced web developers who have graciously answered a question for me, “What do you wish you had known when you were starting out?” In other words, what words of wisdom do you have for new web developers? Below are their insightful and, I think, inspirational answers that I hope will help you!

Knowing Your Limits

Don’t to be afraid to try new things, but don’t be afraid to walk away either. Sure this is a platitude that covers just about everything, but I think it’s particularly true in this industry. If you try something and you suck at it and you hate it, that’s okay, just move on. But if you don’t try (whether it’s a new type of coding, a new platform, a new job) you will never know and that’s never a good feeling. The flip side of this is not to waste a bunch of time and know when to move on from what you’re doing. Sometimes this might be ‘bridging’ to something else that will lead to something more permanent, be it a passion or a career (or the holy grail—both!). Other times it will be just taking a leap. Either way you do it, life’s short. Take chances and don’t waste time if you can help it!
Rachel Murray, greenbee-web.com & kind-eye.com

Understanding Client Goals

In your initial conversations with the client, ask about the goals the client wishes to accomplish with their website, and not so much about the technology they want included.

If you know that the client wants to increase online sales by 10%, reduce phone calls about hours and location, or be viewed as an expert in their field, you can suggest features and functionality for the site to accomplish those goals. Unfortunately, clients frequently ask for specific pieces of technology… and they may not know exactly what they’re asking for, or whether that will help their website.

My favorite example of this was a client of mine who asked for a blog added to her site. This client and I had worked together for a while, and it was like pulling teeth to get her to update her website. I couldn’t believe she was asking for a feature that needed to be updated regularly. So I asked her, gently, what she thought a blog was. She told me, “I don’t know, but I went to a seminar on search engine optimization and they said I needed one for better placement!” When I explained that a blog required regular updates, at least one a week, she exclaimed, “I don’t have time for that!”

Once you know the client wants better search engine placement, that can lead to a productive discussion about how that can happen within the client’s time and budget constraints. Throwing a blog at the problem wouldn’t have helped this client at all!
Jen Kramer, jenkramer.org

Getting Help When You Need It

Don’t sell yourself short, and keep your eyes on the prize. When times get tough and you think about throwing in the towel, focus on why you came into this line of work. And don’t forget about the wonderful community that women coders constitute across the bits and wires that connect us. There are things we each rock at, and things we struggle with. When a big hurdle gets in the way of completing a project, embrace that network, ask for help, and form collaborations. Help others when questions come your way. Find your place in the community of women web developers—through forums, networking events, classes—and embrace it. We may be tucked away in our own workspaces, seemingly apart. But together, we form a village.
Kate M. Gilbert, WordPress Developer, WPSuperService Inc. wpsuperservice.com

Feeling Like an Imposter

If you have “impostor syndrome,” accept it. I’ll encourage you to go one step further, even, to embrace it. Talk to more experienced developers and ask them if they’ve ever felt like they don’t know enough, or if they’ve ever felt like they’re “faking it until they make it.” If they’re being honest, they’ll likely tell you that they often feel they don’t know enough. The best developers I know balance a hunger to learn shiny new things with a solid grasp of just what they need to get their best work done. The nature of the industry is that it’s impossible to know everything because everything is always changing. When learning something new or working on a project, notice what excites you most. Look for opportunities to dive deeper into that thing. It’s okay to become a specialist in something, as long as you’re open to learning more. The number one skill you need is the ability to keep learning when you need to. If you’ve got that ability, then you’ve got 80% of what you need to be a good developer. You may always feel like an impostor or like you’re falling short. But many of the developers you admire feel the same way. Do what they do: get out and write code anyway!
Johanna Bates, DevCollaborative.com

Worrying About Doing Things “The Right Way”

“When I first got started, I just assumed there was some secret society of web developers who knew the ‘right way’ to do everything. If I coded a challenging element one way, I was afraid a more experienced developer would stumble across it and automatically know I was an amateur. I wasn’t sure what was typical in the industry for everything from invoicing to asking for design files. Every step of the way, I was afraid I was making obvious mistakes; that one day when I was a real web developer, I’d do things the way all the real web developers did them.

“As it turns out, there is no secret society (in case you were wondering). There are almost always multiple ways to solve a coding problem, and most other developers aren’t looking at your code at all, much less analyzing it for mistakes. Also, every web developer has their own process and while there are a few basic best practices to keep in mind (contracts, for example), everybody does it differently. Most of the time when I see a web developer or client doing something different from how I do it, I just assume they know something I don’t. It can feel like everybody is watching for you to give yourself away, but ultimately, no one cares what you’re doing as long as you are professional and kind and competent.”
Hope Connell, hopeconnell.com

Closing Thoughts

As you can see, feeling like an imposter or worrying about whether or not you should accept a job slightly outside your skill set is totally normal. I know I felt better about certain things just hearing other developers talk about having the same issues that I do.

I am so grateful to the women who took time to contribute their advice in this article. I also appreciate so many smart women who have read this series, sent me encouraging emails, asked me questions, and, I hope, are embarking on an incredible journey of turning coding skills into work that they love!

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