Career Story: Self-Employed Web Developer And Computer Support Provider

Self-Employed Web Developer And Computer Support Provider

Job Title: Web Designer/Developer And Computer Support Provider

Type of Company: My company (which I started myself six years ago, and which my husband joined me as partner in two years ago) provides computer support (repairs, troubleshooting and training) to home users; people who work for themselves; and small non profits (e.g. a local temple). We also create and maintain web sites for the same audience. Web work is now the majority of our business.

Education: BA in Classics & English, Harvard University •• MLS, Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences

Previous Experience: I began working in the publishing industry, first for a magazine, then a book publisher, and then as a freelance writer and editor. While my children were young, I decided to get a masters in Library Science, where I ended up focusing a lot on tech-related parts of the library world, including database programming and creating web pages. I worked briefly as a corporate librarian in an environmental consulting firm, left the paid workforce for a few years, and slowly started up my own business providing computer support and training, adding web design and development a few years later.

Job Tasks: My job is a tremendous mix of activities. On a given day, I may sit at my desk coding web sites all day, or I may run from one client to the next trying to solve urgent problems. Most of the time, it's a mix.

I spend a great deal of time communicating with clients by email or phone, and increasingly, through a remote connection to their computer. For example, in the past few days, I have had several encounters with a client who is a professor, and relies heavily on her computer. She has asked for help creating PowerPoint templates; removing tracked changes from a Word document that had become corrupted; restoring a lost internet connection; and getting her backup system up and running. I've been to her house, talked extensively by phone, and also connected to her computer remotely to fix things for her or demonstrate how to do things without having to travel to her. Meanwhile, another client wanted help installing some additional RAM, and, while I was at her house showing her how to do it, she asked for help solving a home networking mystery. Meanwhile, I have a client who is building a new web site. I've already reviewed the draft of the content she wants to publish and helped her rewrite it extensively to make it more appropriate for the web; I've just received her next draft to review -- that's tonight's work.

In the background, nearly every day I tend to small-to-medium sized requests from our longest-term web client, for whom we program, tweak and update a large, database driven site. The project is constantly evolving, so new challenges appear weekly. Right now, we are helping the client launch a new, nicely formatted email newsletter. In addition to providing the technical template for the newsletter and handling the database of recipients, we are trying to figure out how to integrate this mailing list with the already existing mailing list of the larger organization to which this client belongs - all without sending unwanted emails and landing either organization on a blacklist of known spammers. In short, I do all sorts of things, switching from one topic or area to another multiple times a day.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: I really enjoy two very different aspects of my job: first, I love to create order out of disorder - to fix something that's broken, to show someone how to do something faster and better, to organize information on a web page clearly and neatly. Second, I really enjoy interacting with all the different people that my job entails, especially when I am able to solve a problem for them or show them how to do something they weren't sure they could master.

Job Tips:
1. This is a great job for someone who gets bored easily and loves to learn new things. There isn't a single day when I don't have to research a problem and learn something new. It also helps to have a good memory for small details.

2. It is not enough to be good at fixing computers or creating web sites: you have to be interested in people; be a good, patient listener as well as a good questioner; and you have to enjoy and be good at explaining things to people. It's not a good job for a stereotypical shy, quiet "geek"!

3. This is not a great way to earn a lot of money: I sell my time, and there are only so many hours in a day, and only so much anyone will pay me for each of those hours. I do it because I enjoy it: it's rarely boring, and usually very satisfying work.

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