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Career Story: Self-Employed Web Developer

Self-Employed Web Developer

Job Title: Web Developer

Type of Company: My company designs and develops web sites for individuals, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations.

Education: BS in Computer Science, Framingham State College (incomplete) •• Certificate in Computer Networking, Northeastern University

Previous Experience: I held various publishing-type jobs in the technical or engineering industries. I started as an office assistant for a small computer company, where I learned word processing and developed procedures for automating many tasks that were formerly done using a typewriter. In addition to my jobs as proofreader, technical editor, and typesetter, I built on my computer skills over time by learning how to program macros and other scripts and how to make full use of the computer-based tools available. My unique combination of publishing and programming skills, especially in technical industries, prepared me very well for a career in website development.

Job Tasks: I'm self-employed, so I'm not just a web developer. I am also the project manager, the bookkeeper, and everything else that is required to run a small business. The core of my job is programming, whether I'm working on a new web site, a web site redesign, or maintenance of an existing web site.

For a typical web site, I'll work with a graphic designer, who is responsible for how the site will look. I take the design and do all of the programming that makes the web site work. I use HTML and CSS (cascading style sheets) for the overall coding, and I also use other scripting languages such as PHP and/or JavaScript as needed.

Once a page prototype has been coded, I do extensive testing to be sure it works correctly on a wide variety of computer platforms (such as Linux, Windows, Macintosh, and various mobile devices), using a wide variety of browsers. For my most recent project, I tested the site on over 80 different combinations.

One of my specialties is database development, which goes beyond basic web site development skills. Not every web programmer is interested in database development, so I also work with other web professionals to add my skills to theirs on a project-by-project basis.

Of course, I also have to communicate with others, including clients, designers, prospective clients, search engine optimization professionals, copywriters, marketing people, and others. I go to networking meetings and participate in online networking groups so I can stay current with my industry.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: My favorite part of the job is taking the design and turning it into a working web site. For me, it's like bringing a picture to life.

My least favorite part of the job is what I call "the business stuff" -- the bookkeeping, the paperwork, marketing, dealing with the occasional problems, and so on.

Job Tips:
1. Learn what the standards are, in design, in coding, in accessibility requirements, and so on. If you use the current standards as your guideline, you have the foundation for a successful project.

2. Stay current! Keep learning, keep reading, and keep trying new things. You don't have to try every new program or trend that comes out, but at least be aware of what's happening in the industry.

3. Figure out what you like to do best, whether it's coding, design, search engine optimization, copywriting, e-commerce, or whatever. It's better to excel at what you do, and to work with others as necessary, than to deliver a mediocre product. You'll be more satisfied with your work, and you'll have much more fun.

Additional Thoughts: Good web design is harder than it looks. It takes more than a copy of Dreamweaver and Photoshop. And all of the constant changes in the industry can be frustrating. But it's never boring, and there is a lot to be said for that.

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