When I tell someone, even a fellow web developer, that I have a website I usually get strange looks or comments that amount to an expectation of articles about my pets or sepia-tinted photos of my most recent meal. Why is that, exactly? I mean, lots of people have websites: band members, writers, (usually really awful) poets. Hell, if I told you right now to go check out John Resig, a guy you may have never heard of, what would you do? Would you look him up in the phone book? No, you’d Google him and find a link to his website. And What about businesses? If your business doesn’t have a website, it might as well not exist.
And then there’s us: the web developers. We work on the web; we make websites. And yet it seems like so few of us take the time to create one for ourselves. We’re like barefoot cobblers or gapped-tooth dentist. Forever espousing the importance of the services we provide while never trusting ourselves to create something that we can be truly proud of. Maybe it’s because we don’t feel we have the time or that we don’t have anything interesting to share with the world. In reality, having a website is by far the most important thing you can do for your career.
1. A Lot of What We Do is Secret / Proprietary
The most common question asked during any job interview is probably “Tell me about your work experience”. I’ll usually answer with an anecdote about how I redesigned a previous employer’s entire intranet website in a year and how it did everything from track projects for multi-million dollar clients to process payroll. You’d like to see it? Well, I’d love to demo it for you but my access to the application was revoked the minute I left and, even if it wasn’t, logging in would reveal proprietary business information that I can’t disclose. What else have I worked on? Well, I did help build this awesome web application that states use to track cases of breast and cervical cancer in at-risk populations. Can you see it? I’m afraid you can’t. You see, if I show you the application, that would reveal sensitive medical information.
Starting to see a pattern here? The only thing missing from the above scenario is me talking about a fish I caught and swearing it was this big. If only you’d been there to see it. Often times, the proprietary or sensitive nature of what we do prevents us from building a proper portfolio off of our previous work. That in turn makes it difficult for people to judge if we’re a good fit for a position because all they have to go on is our word and maybe the word of some of the references we provide (if we’re ever asked to provide them).
That is why it is so important that every web developer have a website. In many cases, that website and its (hopefully programming-related) content are the only solid examples of our skill set. Having a website gives you a place to demonstrate the kinds of things you can build and it also gives a solid demonstration of your writing and communication skills.
2. It’s Difficult for Us to Network
I’m sure we’ve all heard it said that job hunting today is not so much about what you know but who you know; that networking is critical to landing the right gig. Unfortunately, the insulated and remote nature of our work makes networking difficult. Often times, the only time we get to rub elbows with programmers we don’t already know is at conferences and meetups related to our field. And even when we get around other programmers, it’s difficult talking about what we do (see point number one).
So how do we go about getting around these issues? Simple: talk about your work (or other’s work you enjoy) on your website. Learned a new framework recently? Write a tutorial about it. Found a really great tool that’s saved you hours and hours of time? Write a post about how it’s helped you. And, I think most importantly of all: did you fight a problem for hours and hours until you eventually stumbled upon the solution? Share that with the world. Odds are, you’re not the only one suffering from the same issue and your post could save someone hours of time. But what does all this give you in the end? How does taking all this time to write down the tutorials, tools, and troubles help you in the end? Well, if you’re persistent about it, people will begin to associate your name with quality solutions to specific problems and frameworks. Some of those people may even be technical recruiters or even book publishers looking for someone to fill a need in their organization.
3. It Gives Us Perspective
By having a public place where you can post your code and opinions about programming, you give the community a chance to see your work and offer improvements. Your tutorial on X library was thorough and well thought out, but a commenter on your site reworked one of your methods and showed you a better way to approach the problem. And sure, there will be trolls out there: people who live only to belittle you for not taking what they saw as the “obvious” path toward some solution to a problem. Those people don’t matter. What matters is that you have a place online that allows you to engage others and gain perspective about the industry as a whole. Trust me when I say that community feedback is worth more than any glowing performance review or bonus and that, no matter how great you may seem, there will always be someone better you can learn from.