Foreword: This is a personal cathartic rant on self-appointed job titles, especially ones like “Web Developer”. It seems anyone who designed a site for a family member, or was lucky to learn HTML in the Angelfire/Geocities days are allowed to call themselves a web developer, and usually without much fanfare and questioning. It was fine a few years ago? — but now (With HTML5 nearly becoming fully complete); It’s being overused and diluted. It might even be the case you work as a web developer or do contract work to make some money in your free time, and that’s fine. But lets step back a bit and reconsider.
Lately I’ve been having trouble with the term, and never felt comfortable with being called one.
TL;DR version: I am a T-Shaped Skills type of person, and tend to shy away from labels, categories, and stereotypes. That said, I was always content with being called a massive Nerd. I always liked the term Nerd, but even that is becoming diluted amongst the success of The Internet. I always liked Generalist, and would happily call myself one. Thus I am no expert. Thus I don’t specialize.
I want to start a discussion about the younger generation now who are calling themselves ‘web developers’ in their Twitter profiles, and bandy the term around without much thought. The problem with attacking to a title like this, is it’s too specialized (Especially if you’re young). My gripe is not with web development? — It’s with people being afraid to say:
I am not an expert
I have no idea what I’m doing
There’s still a lot more to learn
We’re living in times now where a lot has changed. Web developer for some simply means “I create websites in Bootstrap” HTML/JS. I get that. It’s natural to automatically assume it doesn’t mean anything too complex.
I just want to talk about “web developer” against the backdrop of modern big tech, and the increasing complexity of technology, and how technology has a ‘need’ now to bleed over into every nuance of our lives.
The confusion takes place when we seek to make a living from coding, and can’t seem to separate the act of coding from all those other obligations in life. In really simple terms, life is coding, and coding is life. When I studied Computer Science at college, I coded in my free time, and when I worked in retail (pressing buttons on a computer screen; I went home to a computer). The text editor was always there, with a blinking cursor. I was no more a web developer than somebody who could read and write.
Just like learning how to read and write - coding should be thought as a mandatory subject at schools. Very few people get high-paid jobs on the mere grounds they know how to read and write. The same thinking is rarely applied to coding. Coding is sometimes a disgustingly high paid job, and my tagline on this blog is I will code for free-wifi and bacon sambos. Coding and web development is not a dark-art. This is good news too.
You see, web development is a simple affair. It's usually some combination of a text editor, some out-of-the-box work-flow / environment, and a bit of creativity. Coders should be happy with being able to code without much setup, and there's nothing to stop young people registering their first Github account and getting started with code straight away. I want to discuss the oft-overlooked aspect of why we decide to code in the first place, and the socio-political-economic factors that inevitably will influence some aspect of the code we write.
Little about the act of making changes in a text-editor and seeing those changes reflected in the browser has changed (The tools have just grown up a bit). What has certainly changed is the following. These are the 'new normals' of our time:
- Exponential growth of on-line publishing services (More content management solutions than there are people)
- Tools have 'grown up' and are more advanced. Even writing HTML has being automated away (HAML/Emmet)
- Everyone has a voice, and can be 'discovered' for their talents. (Social media)
- Github made releasing software absurdly easy
- Free software is the new normal. It's no longer magical like the hobbyist days of DHTML.
- Traffic, exposure, and recognition for new projects is the new normal (Everybody's a hipster and wants to see what's new. Also - On the internet, we all have that ten minutes of fame)
- The barrier to entry for everything (music, trade, politics, communities) is not only removed - but has disappeared.
- Internet culture has spilled into ordinary AFK culture / IRL culture. The net is the new normal. The net is no longer shady/weird (But selfies are generally seen as narcissistic).
- The proliferation of mobile/hand-helds. Emerging marketplaces. The next billion devices.
- The suits have arrived. Web development isn't a hobby. It's big business.
- Cottage industries turn into global industries (Etsy / Ebay).
- Small online communities snowball and become huge (The 4CHAN effect)
- Various bad actors are already controlling The Internet and there is no such thing as privacy. What are you doing to stop it?
- Despite the internet seen as generally anarchic and utopian - it's still a giant shopping mall.
- Unbundling, disruption, wearables, soylent, 3D printers, are common terms to be found in newspapers now.
- Newspapers are a novelty item to behold. Hypermedia and hyperlinks are the new normal. "Daddy what's a column? - it's like a blogpost, son"
- Access to capital is not a hard problem anymore. Want money to make potato salad?
- Dichotomy, injustice, and debt is rife and rampant. New revolutions are the new normal. Authority figures are distrusted more and more. Lots of greed, hate, etc. And it's all being uploaded to Youtube...
- New movements are appearing and it looks like they're staying. Occupy / Anonymous / Hacktivism.
- Digital currency not 'weird' or shady anymore. It's the new normal.
Every now and then I force myself to consider the above factors and have some perspective about using 'web developer' as a job title. I run into all those factors daily when I code. Coding is nothing more than a means to an end. Web Development as a discipline has changed from 'how to code' to 'what are you coding, and what is the long term impact of that'.
I long moved past the novelty of playing a tremendous symphony of HTML/CSS/JS/PHP/NODE in the browser. It's one thing to toy with code and show off - but another thing when your livelihood, long-term-goals, the world stage, and increasing weirdification the internet has on society/cultures starts to affect you - you might have to walk away from "web developer" and look for something else to call yourself (Like I did). Web Development is not some spooky forest-dweller art form. It shouldn't be decoupled from ideation, problem solving, and socio-political-economic factors.
On one hand, web developers do nothing more than make websites. On the other hand - there is the confusion of web development with all these (which are entire blogposts in themselves):
- Having kids
- Mortgages, Bills
- Net Neutrality
- Lack of Privacy
- Thought rigidity (creative blocks)
- Health problems
- Bucket lists (lifelong dreams)
- Companies to start
- Investors to meet
- Tweets to read
- Books to read
- People to meet
- Talks to give
- Canvases to paint
- Gardens to grow
- Places to visit
Coding is part of my nervous system, and whilst I shun the term web developer, I would happily call myself a Netizen, i.e A citizen of The Internet - where the same loose, consensus-based, peer-reviewed rules that work in everyday living apply just as much online, like
Web development happens against the backdrop of all those topics above. If you’re uncomfortable about this, or don’t necessarily feel that way?—?ask yourself one question before firing up Sublime Text:
“What problem are you trying to solve?”
Think about the answer really hard, and don’t single out the surface-level reply of “doing it for a client”, or “increasing productivity”? - Think of a long term reply, which relates to all the above mentioned topics of career, Big Technology, health, etc