The Magic Bullet?
Sorry to be such a let down in the opening paragraph of an article, but there is none. No secret sauce or magic bullet. As with just about all careers and with things in life you need to put in the graft (Scottish word, my apologies) and hard work to achieve what you want. This is an incredibly quick
moving field and its essential to be learning as you go. Everyone is learning, they have to, new technologies and methods come along each year in which redefine the landscape yet again.
University or College?
Unfortunately the course I studied, the material and what is taught was literally many years out of date. Thinking back id take a good guess at 7 years behind industry leading techniques. Whilst design principles will hold the tests of time technology related material certainly don’t. This university lag is due to 2 things, 1 is the bureaucracy of the university system and 2 is that the web area is such a quick moving one.
Whilst I personally hold a degree in design, ironically I don’t think think its mandatory or compulsory to break into the field. Some of my good friends have not even attended a single college or university year, never mind hold a degree or formal qualification. They have come to work at the top of the design and technology fields which in my opinion comes down to one thing. Passion, which i will cover later.
That said some agencies, and wrongly in my opinion, won’t even interview if a design or technology degree has not been attained. I can certainly see the merits and thinking behind that, but some people are just not made out for formal education and its a shame as I think these agencies are missing out on some raw talent. A degree or college achievement however does show a credible level of personal and team skills, competence and intelligence.
If there are two candidates with similar skills sets which can only be separated by a qualification then the chances are that the more educated would win, but again a formal design or technology related attainment is not compulsory to ‘make’ it.
Long term goal is to specialize
When you are starting out there is so much to learn, theres no option to just get your hands dirty and dive right in. There will be times when you are hitting your head off a brick wall but the chances are someone, somewhere, will have had a similar problem. Google can be your best friend at these times and whilst maybe not finding the exact answer, often you will get closer to the solution.
Once you have beaten the frustrations you need to start thinking about what you really enjoy doing and start building skills in a specific area. There are dozens of things you can become a specialize in. RWD, CSS, Content Strategy, Mobile design the list goes on. The reason why its a good idea to have special and dedicated skills is how a capitalist society works. Experts and people that have specific skills in few niche areas generally earn more money.
Money is certainly not the be all and end all but at the end of the day, most people would have more rather than little. Its what pays the bills and keeps roofs over our heads. Thats not to say a generalist is a bad way path for your career to go down and some jack of alls make a very good living for themselves indeed. As a rule of thumb though its becoming a specialist that will get you noticed and get you work or a good job. Individuals and agencies are always looking for specific and expert skills.
[Disclaimer1], the above passage sounds like a very brief and easy decision to make but to overcome the initial hurdles and start defining your career we are realistically talking years and not months. It may be even decades to become a real expert in certain areas.
[Disclaimer2], I wouldn’t describe myself as an expert but hopefully heading that way.(One day).
I touched on this earlier and I think its one of the most important things in any job or career. A burning desire and dedicated interest in the subject. Personally I have been know to read design related magazines late on a Friday night. To some its seen as ‘sad’ but I really enjoy it. Luckily, to keep my sanity I know other people that do the same thing. I wouldn’t say that this is a necessity to success but if you couldn’t think of anything worse than reading some related material through the week, and you would rather watch 4 hours of brain numbing television, then this industry maybe isn’t for you. There are others out there that will be learning, reading and experimenting whilst increasing their skills. These keen beans will be
slowly but steadily getting ahead of you if they aren’t already.
Your own site
I find it startling at the number of job enquires that come through looking for a ‘web designer’ job or placement yet don’t have actually have their own website. I think to comes down to a few things but web space is so cheap and there are now services that make it so easy to do so. Even if its a self hosted WordPress blog in which previous work samples are posted or you had 5 design or development related blog posts from a year ago, its better than nothing. Very few agencies would be looking for award winning work but having your own little bit of the web is a no brainer.
As an example of how competitive this arena now is Allision House who beat heavy competition for a coveted design position at Carsonified, even designed a specific site. This would be a rarity to get a agency job but even so, a good insight.
One bit of advice
Is.. Very simply, build more websites. Every project that you complete you will learn new skills or improve your processes. This ‘web’ thing moves at a fast pace and you need to keep up to stay ahead, to win work or be the successful applicant.