As with many of the more interesting and wonderful parts of my life, blind luck was a contributing factor. I was in the right place at the right time, and I made the most of it. When I came into the Web group, I was ready for a change from my previous position, and they needed someone with my skills.
When I joined the Web group, I was a Technical Writer. I had had nearly four years experience in writing and translating technical documents. I learned HTML because my boss wanted our writing to reach a broader audience (and reduce calls). By the time I moved into the Web group, I was converting most of my writing into Web pages, and was very comfortable with HTML.
I wasn’t brought into the Web group just because I knew HTML, however. There are many people out there who can do that. They needed someone who had experience with end-user interaction and could handle our Webmaster mail. They also needed a technical writer to document current CGIs, processes, and applications. Finally, they needed someone who was known in the company to handle incoming requests.
I was not a Webmaster
One important thing to note, I was not hired as a Webmaster. Because my primary focus was going to be on the writing the group needed, I was hired as a Web Writer. (My boss gave me the title Web Setter, but I got it changed to Writer.)
At my company, we look at the Web Development team as consisting of three major components:
- Graphics and Design
- Writing and Content Development
Each of these fields has a position associated with it. Web Engineers do programming, Graphic Artists do graphics and design, and Web Writers and Web Producers do writing and content development. A Webmaster knows something of each of these components.
When I joined the Web group, I knew design, I was a writer, and I could write Perl and shell scripts. In order to get promoted to Webmaster, I had to show proficiency in both graphics and C programming (we write all our CGIs in C).
The most extensive training I took was in C programming. I learned C and then wrote two simple CGIs to show that I could apply that knowledge. At the same time, I practiced with Photoshop until I had several graphics of publishable quality for our Web site. Once I had done that, I was promoted to Webmaster.
If you want to be a Webmaster or Web Developer, it is not enough to know HTML, even if you can make every whiz-bang feature of HTML 4.0. This is what I would recommend to get a job as a Web Developer:
- C programming, Perl, PHP, ColdFusion, or some type of programming
It’s good to know Perl, but you should try to differentiate yourself. If you know C programming and can apply it to CGI, then you know how the server interacts with your programs, and are not simply making library calls.
I learned C first, and then Perl, PHP, and ColdFusion. Any one of these languages will enable you to program your site and create dynamic Web sites.
- Basic and Advanced HTML
Chances are, the longer we go in this field, the more companies will have tools to help you create HTML. However, if you don’t know what the HTML tags are and what they do, then you will have a hard time fixing problems that come up, especially when you have to convert someone else’s HTML.
You should be able to use a good graphics program like Photoshop. Paint Shop Pro is fine, but most corporations do not use it. You should also be confident in your ability to put together a graphic. You don’t have to be the next Van Gogh, but you should know how to do it.
- Design and Layout
Know basic and advanced design principles, both of the Web and in print. If you can lay out a page that looks „cool“ people are going to forgive your lack of programming experience. However, remember that what is cool today will be deadly boring tomorrow.
Content isn’t king, like it used to be, but you should still be able to put a coherent sentence on the page. Use spell checkers, and grammar checkers if you have to, and know your limits. If you know you can’t spell, then spell check even your name. Also, have other people read your work before you go live, they will catch the „too“ for „two“ and other errors.
This is still a new profession. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Job postings often ask for all types of things when they might be looking for you. You know that you are the perfect person for the job, they just haven’t hired you yet.
Web Design Jobs
When you’re looking for a job in Web design or Web development, it’s easy to get hung up on the title of the job you’re looking for. For example, I get requests all the time from people who want to become „Webmasters“ and „Web Designers“. The tricky part is, they may already be set up to get a job in the Web industry, but since they won’t look at anything that doesn’t have the title Web Designer, they can’t seem to get or find a job.
But there are lots of jobs available in the Web industry. You just need to learn how to look for them.
Web Design Job Titles
The first trick to finding a good Web job is to examine the job titles. Obviously, if the word „Web“ is in the title, chances are it’s a Web design or Web development type job. But there are other titles that might be Web related that don’t sound that way. For example:
- Writer or copywriter
- Editor or copyeditor
- Information architect
- Product or program manager
- Graphic designer
- Layout artist
- Digital developer
- … and so on …
Finding a Web Design Job
First, look at the job title. If it has Web in it, keep going. But even if it doesn’t, if it sounds anything like one of the above job titles, keep going as well. Look in the description of the job for the word Web or HTML or another Web technology that you know. If it says that the job is to be a copyeditor for an online presence, then chances are you’ll be working in the Web field. True, it’s different to be a copy editor than a Web Designer, but we’re starting small.
If you can get in for an interview as a copyeditor for a Web site, then your job is to nail the interview. This essay isn’t going to talk about how to do that, there are other Web sites for that.
Web Design Job Alternatives
But there is more to Web design than just finding a job at a company to build their Web site for. Many people do Web design in a non-corporate setting and do quite well for themselves. For example:
- Web writers – these are generally people who write Weblogs supported by advertising. Depending upon your topic, the interest level, and your number of readers, you can make a lot of money writing on the Web.
- Running your own Web site – If you have another sideline interest, such as a massage therapy business or perhaps you sell widgets at the local farmers market, you can get into Web design by building and maintaining your personal site. These sites can get very complex and interesting, and since you’re doing it yourself, you can do as much or as little as you want.
- Web reviewers – similar to Web writers, a Web reviewer would write reviews of books, art, movies, or whatever and post them to a Web site. The nice thing about doing this is that you can start as small as you like and just keep reviewing items in your genre as you have time.
- Freelance Web Designers – this is fairly self-explanatory. You design Web sites for other people ona freelance basis. The most important thing here is to find something that sets you apart. For instance, you may cater to a very specific industry, so you know all their jargon and terms. Or you might provide additional services such as Ajax Web applications.