My Interview with a new website developer

New web developers join our ranks every day. I always find it nice to connect with them, because:

  • It’s easy to forget how far us experienced hands have come (there’s value in experience).
  • It’s easy to forget how big of a role luck plays in all of our successes.
  • Conversing with developer newbies brings a fresh perspective to old questions.

Below is an email Q&A I participated in recently with a friend who is new to the code dev biz.

 1. Where did you get your education? How long did you study for?

Most of my professional tech learning has been in the School of Hard Knocks (e.g. I would say, “Sure I can do that!”, and they’d say, “Great!”  Then I’d learn how to do the work.).  I did get a boost early on, somewhat accidentally, when I took a graduate level Flash course at the U of Minnesota – the teacher was fantastic and taught me the basics of how code works (in Flash, but it has been applicable in PHP, javascript, etc. as well).  I’m eternally grateful to that teacher, because I had been trying to learn to code for years and mostly was flailing in my quest.  He kind of pushed me over the hump.  Over the last 15 years in the biz, I’ve become more skilled and more confident.

The reason I took that Flash course is because I was in grad school working on a Master of Learning Technology (while working full time in the MBA program at the U of Minnesota).  I never finished that degree, because i didn’t see the point of finishing it – In the coding world, skills matter and talk walks.  But I did learn a ton and made some good friends while in the program.

Prior to grad school (a lifetime ago), I got my undergrad degree at Millikin University in IL.  I majored in Communication and minored in Political Science.  My first career out of college was in politics (and government…but all the exciting government jobs are political ones…).  From there, I did some substitute teaching before moving the Minnesota on a whim, working at the U, and then quitting my job (learn more about that quitting experience in this NSFW song I wrote).  

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been taking an SEO-related course on SEMRush.com, which is a paid SEO tool.

2. What initially interested you to get into web development?

I’ve been curious about computer technology since my teens.  My first experience in web dev was on Geocities, which allowed for a surprising amount of customization using html, javascript, and css.  Then later, I spent a lot of time customizing my MySpace page, which allowed for CSS-only edits, however, you could still do a lot with that using css background embeds from other sites (images and animated gifs).

3. I know of Bootstrap, but are there any other web development/design tools you use often? Or maybe even languages other than HTML, CSS, and JavaScript?

I build almost 100% in WordPress on the Beaver Builder platform (Beaver Builder is a suite of theme+plugins).  You can read all about why I use Beaver Builder in this ridiculously-long article.  Knowing/learning PHP has been very valuable over the years, as PHP is the core of most of the WordPress stuff.  I’ve learned to hack my way through jQuery, CSS, and javascript – which is sometimes required when making customizations on WordPress themes and plugins.

Also, learning a bit about databases using phpMyAdmin as my tool of choice, has been super helpful when troubleshooting random WordPress and server issues.  So a little bit of understanding of SQL never hurts but has been only sporadically-useful over the years.  The good news is that AI can now do a lot of the heavy-lifting with all these languages.

4. How often do you have to collaborate with coworkers on projects?

I have one employee, and we collaborate on something about once per day.  We meet every morning – sometimes for a few minutes, and sometimes for up to 40 minutes or so, depending on what issues/questions/needs we have.  We let each other know when one of us is blocking the other’s progress on a project – that way we can prioritize our daily work accordingly.  My employee manages his own calendar and triages our support inbox.  Honestly, I don’t follow too closely what he’s working on, but I like to get a high level overview of the big projects every morning (hence, it only takes a few seconds to say, “I’m still working on X”, and oftentimes that’s all that’s needed.  I try to be very clear with my needs in the business (e.g. when I need stuff delivered, when I have questions or concerns), and I ask him to do the same.

I communicate a lot with our customers during the sales process, which can be as much as a handful of times per month or as little as once per year.  I view every contact with our customers as both an opportunity to build our relationship (which makes things more fun for everybody) as well as an opportunity to learn more about what they need (e.g. an opportunity to build our respective businesses together)

5. What are some notable pros and cons of your position?

I set my own hours, build the business how I want, and work with the customers I want.  For example, sometimes after starting a project, a customer will do something that is a poor fit for the way we work – In those cases, I’ll often button up our project management process for them and charge them more for future work.  They probably don’t notice a difference on their end, but it helps us on our end to manage clients/customers.

On the “cons” side, the buck stops with me (a double-edged sword, because oftentimes that’s the best thing about the job).  So I’m responsible if something falls through the cracks, my ego takes a beating if we screw something up and piss off a customer, I need to smooth over miscommunications from time-to-time, I manage all the billing/invoices/payments, etc.

6. Is there anything you wish you would’ve known before getting into web development?

Yes: I would have started my recurring business model 5 years sooner!  About 75% of our business is recurring monthly/annual revenue contracts for things like support, maintenance, security, backups, and hosting.  I bet if I’d started my recurring model sooner, we’d be at 100% recurring biz at this point. 

We intentionally don’t work on huge projects, because having many smaller projects spreads the risk out amongst a larger pool of customers.

7. What is your outlook for future openings in web development?

I think people will need people for a long time.  Even with AI, it’ll only change the way us humans are needed and the ways we interact.  For example, AI makes communicating with ESL folks (think India, Pakistan, etc) much simpler, since they use AI to rewrite their emails. 

We’re just now getting started building our SEO business after 15 years!  We’re late to the party on SEO, and, frankly, I think SEO will almost completely disappear in the coming years as AI search results take over (and Google moves all their ads to their Google-AI-generated results.  But that doesn’t mean our SEO skills won’t be valuable – we’ll just need to port those skills over to Google’s ad model when the time is right.  Or maybe I’m completely wrong on all this… Tech changes all the time, and it’s my job to simply understand the tech landscape today and guide our customers accordingly.  Thankfully, nobody expects us to predict the future.

8. Are there any particular projects that you are proud of that you can share with me in some way?

Honestly, the thing I’m most proud of this year is my guitar repair hobby!  I’ll be publishing my first blog about my guitar repair adventures soon.  I’ve fought through all sorts of misconceptions and fears to do some rather serious guitar repairs this year – it’s been a real confidence-builder for me! 

On the biz/web front, I’m proud that we’re finally getting into the SEO biz – again, I feel like I’m very late to the game, but better late than never!  Plus, I know lots of people in the biz that we are beating to the SEO game, so…

I think it’s important to continue learning, whether that’s in tech, in therapy, in relationships, via books/movies/classes.  Plus keeping as broad a perspective as possible, which is difficult with the way media works today…Some books and resources that have had an outsized influence on my life include:

I hope all this inspires an idea or two in your life – Please reach out if you need anything,

Toby Cryns

Toby Cryns is a freelance CTO and WordPress Guru. He also writes for WPTavern.com.