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Zen and The Art of Knowing Who to Hire

Week 1: The Web Development Process ยท Lesson 3 ยท

In the late 1990s, when you wanted a web presence, there was only one person to hire: The Webmaster. Since then, this role has shaped and evolved into front-end, back-end, UX, DevOps, and a whole list of players. In this lesson, you'll get an overview of different Web development roles.

In ye olden days, everything to do with a website was handled by a webmaster. But now, the construction and care of a website is broken up into multiple divisions and specialties. 


We're going to be covering what front-end and back-end web developers do, as well as what user experience and visual designers are about, but for now, just know that all of these positions contribute to a comprehensive whole: a website or an application. There's plenty of overlap among them, as well, so you don't have to know twelve different tech dialects in order to communicate effectively with each kind of developer, and/or a development team. 

"Knowing what to do is not the major challenge faced by executives - finding who to do it is!"
- Marshall Goldsmith, Who 

- Start with who.
"Knowing what to do
"is not the major challenge
"faced by executives,
"finding who to do it is."
Who by Geoff Smart, great book.
Who is the most important thing
when really getting anything done in life.
You can do much more with other people in your lives.
When I learned or when I started to learn how to code,
I had no one, I taught myself, and it was really difficult.
To be honest I actually never wanted to know how to code.
I thought it was kinda like stupid.
Like I was a music major,
I was like hey I'm just gonna do this,
this music thing and I love making art
and I love playing music and that's my life.
I was like 21, I was in college,
and then something happened.
I had a problem.
I had a problem that I wanted to solve.
My problem, it was making a website.
It was specifically making a website
where I could, imagine this for a second,
putting an MP3 on the internet
so that I could share it with people,
so that people could download it,
so that my crazy little band from Virginia
could have an internet sensation,
it was even before that,
get on MTV, tour the world.
And I finally got that up on the internet
and that's exactly what happened.
No, that's actually not what happened.
But I did get it up on the internet,
I did figure out how to solve that problem,
but the route that I took was really convoluted and crazy,
because the first thing I thought
when I was like hey I got to,
I really wanna make this site,
is I'm gonna take a computer science class.
I mean this is like 2003
and there weren't too many great options around.
I asked my friends,
they were like
I don't really know how to make a website,
I don't know how to do that. So of course computer science,
that sounds like the place to go.
And I signed up and I started learning Java, this language.
And it took me about a good month into it
when I was like whoa
this is not at all helping me solve my problem.
This was a really painful situation
that I had to go through
that that's why you're here right now.
I'm here to guide you,
I'm like your little coding sherpa sort of
to help you through that,
to help you get on the right track,
because for me I spent,
I wasted so much time
learning a language that was like
even 10 times harder than what I needed to know
only to fail a few times.
Eventually I did learn the HTML, the FTP stuff
to get up the site and to get it going
and yeah that was history.
But actually that was really inspiring
because I was doing this on my own
and my friends would look to me and say,
"Hey you know something about programming,
"like you're valuable now."
And we were playing shows around like a little tour
and people would come up and they'd be like
"Hey I really like your guys' website, who made it?"
And I'd be like I did, yeah, I just put it together.
And they're like, "Can you do it for us?"
And then all of a sudden out of nowhere I had,
I basically had a job,
like I had a way that I could make money doing this.
So after college that led me here to be the web master,
yeah that was my, literally my job title out of college.
I was in New York making restaurant websites,
I was at a small little startup agency
and I was the web master.
I talked to the clients,
I did restaurant websites.
The few that were like Grand Central Oyster Bar,
it was actually a big one at the time,
Four Seasons and then some smaller ones
around SoHo and the village.
And I would go and I would take photos,
I would talk to the client about
what do you want?
What kind of color?
What's your brand name?
I would design it, I would develop it,
I would do the whole lifecycle getting it up,
I was the web master.
This term web master you may know about
'cause a lot of times it's like written
or it was like 10 years ago
written like at the bottom of the sites.
It's like you're the web master,
you have like the keys to the website or something,
and that was basically my job,
I had the keys to the website or something.
I hated my job.
I really didn't like it.
I didn't like it primarily because,
God, I was doing so many different things,
and I didn't have any confidence doing it.
I didn't have any confidence
because I didn't know anybody that was web developers
and there wasn't a lot being written about best practices,
so to me I was like,
man, I've just been like faking this thing,
I have been like making websites for my friends' bands,
like now I'm in a meeting with the Four Seasons
and I'm like dressing up the best I can
and I'm like hey I'm gonna make you a website.
Like it was really tough.
It was really tough not to have that confidence
which is really something that I can empathize
with you learning right now.
You're in this place where you're like oh no that's me.
I know a little bit but I would never like call myself,
I mean at some point you just have to like, what is it?
Fake it till you make it?
It's like what they say in AA or something.
But it's true, right?
You just have to like own it.
And at some point I was like yeah I know,
I'm doing this, I'm doing this.
But even then I didn't like,
I didn't really like my job.
I didn't like it until we made our first hire.
Our first hire was a web designer.
A web designer, I was like,
this is like 2004 and I was like oh
so your job is to get the colors,
get the fonts, get the layout,
the columns, and Photoshop,
but you don't code?
You're a web designer?
It was kind of a new concept to me
to meet someone who that's all they did.
And I was thrilled
'cause it taught me something
about the way my brain works.
It taught me that I'm more of like
a left side of the brain thinker, right?
I'm more about like logic,
I'm more about getting things done.
I can remember dates
and I can remember putting semicolons at the end of things,
but I didn't wanna be at the time what I would call like
the touchy-feely like
hey let's make this site more maroon blue,
or I don't know, like some, you know.
Oh okay yeah like I just wanted to get things done,
and with code it was very logical,
I could just like boom boom boom boom
it works or it doesn't work
and this really appealed to me.
So I was back in the game,
I got really excited.
And this is around 2005 now.
I remember digg.com and social media
just started to get really big,
and there was a lot of talk about
and things being written about
web designer and web developer
and how this was playing out.
Over the next few years, 2006, 2007, 2008,
things got even more nuance.
Now we didn't just have a web developer,
we had a front-end and a back-end.
We didn't just have a web designer,
we had a user experience designer,
we had a visual designer.
And now it was like whoa,
what's that guy doing
like or a girl or whoever, right?
Like I don't know anything about that,
and again I felt that like loss of confidence
where I was like oh no I could never do user experience,
like that's, I don't even know what that is, right?
I didn't even like have the vocab words to feel like I knew.
Until you start working on that team,
until you start reading about it,
until you start experiencing that.
It's like an immersion thing,
you kinda have to feel it and be in it,
and that's what this class is.
I mean that's, again just to like reinforce that,
that's why you're here
'cause we're gonna go on a tour
through all of these roles,
you're gonna play that part,
you're gonna put on the hat of the front-end guy
and then back-end girl and then everybody
and then you're gonna oh cool I get what's going on.
But it took me a lot of years
and a lot of like doubting myself
to really be like
oh actually I really know all this stuff.
One really common question I get
which we're gonna tackle later
but I'll touch on now
is the difference between
a front-end and a back-end,
and like do they do the same thing?
Does the front-end person
know the back-end stuff, vice versa?
In short to kind of allude
to what's gonna happen later
when we go deeper into it,
but in short yeah the front-end developer
is gonna know some back-end,
the back-end developer
better know some front-end,
the user experience person
better know some visual design and vice versa.
There's a lot of overlap here.
There's a lot of overlap but it doesn't feel that way.
It doesn't feel that way when you go on to Craigslist
or I don't know, Monster.com.
I hope you're not, no offense, but like you know,
I don't know where you're getting your jobs these days.
But there's a lot of job sites out there
and you go and you see and it's like,
it's very specific,
it's like this user experience person
needs to be these seven things
and only these seven things.
But in reality a successful company
and an innovative company
and an agile company,
and companies around New York,
like Huge, the agency in Brooklyn,
or Razorfish in Midtown,
you'll see that every role
has a diverse amount of skills around it,
and that's what I wanna reinforce.
That's why you're not a developer,
maybe you're never gonna become a developer,
but I'm going to show you enough
about what each of these people are thinking
so that you can communicate confidently
with developers and with the whole team.
You're gonna own it, it's gonna be awesome.
I'm gonna show you one more thing below this.
Now look down, keep your eye down below, right?
All these other people, ah,
this is just saying like
there's even more jobs coming up every single day
and it gets a little bit confusing to understand this.
We're gonna tackle it all.
But this is the landscape
of kinda where I came from and where we are now.
And if you're just kind of showing up
in the train right now,
you might be like who are all these people?
We're gonna get into it, cool.
To reinforce what I just said,
we're not in little boxes, right?
The developer better know something about
user experience design.
The designer better know something about the developer.
You, the project manager, the business exec,
the entrepreneur, whoever,
better know about these roles
come together, right?
They overlay.
That's the vocabulary.
That little space in between there,
that's the thing.
Let's get into it, let's do that.