Where do I fit?

Preamble: This will, at times, sound like I’m trying to sell myself. I’m not. If I wanted to sell myself I’d write a post extolling my virtues rather than questioning them. But I can’t write about finding my place without describing the things that will help determine my place. If it’s self-indulgent, I’m sorry. On with the show…

I really wanted to some hopes and goals for 2019 down in the form of a pre-emptive/prophetic retrospective on the year. I.e. what do I want my 2019 review to look like in 12 months time.

But the truth is, I’m a bit stuck with some major parts of it. And this post will, I hope, help me collect my thoughts on it and maybe inspire some feedback.

The big question really, is: where do I fit in the world of web development?

Between proficiency levels

I’m sure that ALL software developers could write this next sentence: I feel pretty stuck in the middle. I’m clearly a far more experienced software developer than many. But I’m also clearly a far less experienced developer than many.

I have a CS degree and a strong background in software engineering and high-end hosting operations. I can mentor other people on coding in various languages; I’m highly proficient at using code to solve problems; and I’m pretty advanced at dealing with databases and hosting too. But I also look at other people who have a really deep knowledge of a particular language or framework or something who know far more than I do.

So I’m between proficiency levels. And confused about how much I should be an educator helping people up the ladder, and how much I need to humbly accept that I’ve got a lot to learn and get on with expanding my own knowledge.

Between primary areas of technical expertise

And if there’s one thing I’m highly proficient in, it’s WordPress. To continue being highly proficient with WordPress I need to learn to develop with the new block editor, which means more JavaScript and probably React.

But also, WordPress is between things: I feel like the new editor switches its direction from being a multi-purpose CMS to being a tool that is primarily for publishing and simple site building. Editing and site construction is now front and centre. Post types and fields have taken a back seat. Evolving the database to cater for things like post relationships seems like it’ll never happen. Gutenberg is an advanced HTML editing tool.

And so as well as being on the Laravel train (which I very much am) I’m also feeling like I need new CMS options, of which there are so many now it’s very confusing to know where to start.

I think I also face a more general choice between dragging myself kicking and screaming into more JavaScript and React, and knuckling down into PHP and Laravel and deeper back-end wrangling.

Between soft and hard skills

As well as being a good software developer, I like to think that I have a good set of soft skills that I enjoy making use of:

  • Understanding business/organisational problems
  • Writing
  • Bidding and pitching for work
  • Project management
  • Speaking and Educating
  • Administration and running a business

This also spreads me thin. Should I focus more on just doing the technology? Or do these skills give me a (uncommon?) ability to bridge the gap between less-technical people and technology. Should I be maximising on being that bridge in my projects at the expense of technical focus?

Between project sizes

As someone who has historically wanted to connect smaller organisations with technology that can help them, I’ve often had multiple small projects on the go, as well as larger, longer term projects for bigger clients.

This is actually quite exhausting and stressful. Smaller projects sometimes need as much communication and project management as larger ones as less tech-savvy clients need more hand-holding through the process. Keeping it all in my head and juggling deadlines and expectations as well as getting the technical work done is quite difficult. And yes, I confess, at times I’ve not been very good at it.

So I feel, right now, like I want to ditch all the smaller stuff and find a smaller number of larger projects to work on this year.

But I don’t know how to sell myself on those bigger projects or where that work will come from. Plus, my business focus has always been on the smaller orgs and there’s something about being in that space that I love. I want to help those people.

Argh!

So:

  • Mentor, or be mentored?
  • Focus on back-end tech, or embrace the move to JavaScript and front-end?
  • Dig into modern WordPress development, or spread my wings elsewhere?
  • Double-down on my tech skills, or continue to work with my soft skills in a big way too?
  • See if I can find some bigger, longer term (and better paid?) projects to ease the mental (and financial?) strain? Or carry on my mission of being a bridge enabling smaller organisations to embrace modern website technology, bearing the load as I go?

This is where I’m at. Lots of questions, and potentially lots of risks and opportunities.

The difficult beauty of being multi-skilled

It would be easy if I was just a back-end or reasonably full-stack dev, coding to a provided spec without considering the consequences.

It would be easy if I was an hip young web dev coding React front ends all over the place.

It would be easy if I was a WordPress implementor churning out small sites to a fixed process with a bit of design skill or possibly working with a designer.

But I’m an in-betweeny: I have lots of skills and interests; I have a keen desire to do good and right things and care about my craft; I’m a coder and an educator; I’m a businessman and a geek; I’m an open-minded developer who wants to get to grips with new technologie, and also a “Dull Old Web Fart” who’s set in his ways.

And…I must remind myself, I MUST!…what an amazing thing to be!! What a unique, eclectic, diverse range of skills and experiences! How can I not be happy that I’m capable of being these bridges, building cool things on the web, helping people use technology to solve problems. What a privilege!

Marketing me

The difficulty is partly marketing.

People don’t Google for “multi-disciplinary geeks” to help them solve problems. They Google “web designers in Swindon” or “Charity website builders”.

People don’t want a landing page to say “I’ll use cool technology to help you solve your business problems” because it doesn’t really mean anything. They want to see “We make fast, beautiful WordPress websites”

If I want to embrace “me”, how do I communicate that to others – to non-technical people that want to understand what I do?

2019 then?

What does it hold? I really don’t know. Perhaps you can help me write the prophetic 2019 review this week. Have I missed something obvious? Am I running scared? Do I just need to make some decisions and stick them out for a while?

Be my coach: what would you do?!

1 thought on “Where do I fit?

  1. People may not Google for ‘multi-disciplinary geeks’, but they do search for and recruit developers with project management skills, or developers with an eye for understanding and solving business problems, etc. People believing they have a combination of such skills is definitely not a rare thing; finding people that actually do is. But the bigger the project, the more likely they are to want someone who is a specialist, or a generalist who is capable of concentrating on the one thing they’ve been recruited for without getting distracted by other specialities they’re interested in but are someone else’s responsibility.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *