Join Lauren Bacon for an in-depth discussion in this video Superstar Wisdom Supercut: Main Themes, part of Web Career Clinic Weekly.
- [Lauren] Hi, I'm Lauren Bacon. And welcome to this week's edition of the Web Career Clinic, where I explore how to build a career you love making good stuff on the web. One of the greatest pleasures of creating this series has been that it gave me the opportunity to interview more than a dozen creative, insightful, and experienced web professionals about their paths and perspectives. And as we come up on the last few installments of the Web Career Clinic, I thought it would be interesting to go back through those interviews and call out some of the recurring themes that they touched on, because while each person had a distinctive point of view, and I strongly encourage you to watch all of the interviews, because there are way too many gems for me to summarize here, there were definitely some things that came up again and again.
So here's a kind of supercut of insights from these Web Career Clinic interviews. One question I asked in every interview was, "What do you wish you had known "in the early days of your career?" And there were a few pieces of wisdom that were echoed again and again. First, to build a truly fulfilling career, follow your interests and passions. - But what I found for me, and I don't know if this is the same for everybody, but whenever I would try to work on a site for something that was not in that group of people I like working with, like once I tried to help somebody's dad with a real estate agent website.
And I was so bored, and I was doing such a terrible job. And I couldn't come up with anything creative or (laughs) interesting. So I kind of found that I could only do good work when I personally was interested in what I was doing. So I would think, for me, I just couldn't design at all when it was something I (laughs) didn't like. So definitely having a passionate interest from the start is a great way to find a niche that's going to be interesting for you to keep doing for a very long time, and be something that you put your whole heart into when you're trying to make the work happen.
- And really figuring out, like, okay, if these are the core values that I hold as a person, outside of even freelancing, but just as like a person, is my work pointing in that same direction? Or is it going off somewhere else? In which case, you're probably not going to be happy or motivated to continue. - I think that it's important to bring your full self to work every single day. I found, in all the different iterations of work that I've done, that the happiest I've been is when I'm able to be emotionally and physically, just very invested in the work that I do.
And so I think that if you have values that are progressive, or you have values that are philanthropic, finding a way to incorporate that in your work world is really crucial just to everyday happiness and to success. - [Lauren] Several people also emphasized the value of trying on different roles, especially as you're starting out. - From a very tactical perspective, I wish I had known a little bit more about code. So (laughs) if you're a designer watching this, I think it is worth your while to at least familiarize yourself with what it means to build or produce something for the digital environment.
- The big advice that I would have is you come in with a core skillset, but be prepared to go and see all the different roles that are out there, because what you may have learned in school, you may actually find once you get into the work environment, or shift gears in the work environment, there are other careers or other roles that maybe better suited to your skills or you may enjoy that much more. - Even you don't approach things holistically, have an understanding of how the different disciplines within technology serve each other and work together.
I'm not suggesting that a coder also becomes a UX designer, that's a lot. But I'm suggesting that a coder, if he has an opportunity, that works in the same building with one, takes time to sit down and understand how his work is connected to her work and how they benefit each other, same with graphic design project management. I really think if you have an opportunity to find your niche and to find your love in technology, really bring your full self to it.
Don't dismiss your career in advertising or your career as a poet. Really see how you can leverage all of the things that you bring to the table, because no one can tell your story the way that you specifically can. And I believe that technology, in many ways, is a form of digital storytelling. - [Lauren] The digital sphere is constantly evolving, and my guests had some great advice about staying relevant and resilient to change.
- There's not going to be a career in the traditional sense that our parents had. Learning that, for me was, for some people that's terrifying, but for me, it was huge, it took a lot of pressure off, in realizing that I actually don't have a lot of answers, that our economy is changing. And it's not just affecting me, it's affecting literally the whole cohort of students that I came out of school with. And realizing that this is the time to show a little bit of resilience, but also show a little bit of creativity.
- It's all evolution, it's all process. So if I could have learned early on to have patience with myself, with others, and really enjoy the process of everything, (laughs) of learning, of starting new things, of challenging myself, of treading water in certain jobs. If I could have enjoyed that process, I would've been a much happier person.
- I think it's always a good idea to assume that you don't know everything, because you don't. Like I don't think it's actually possible. So I think it's a problem when you start to think you do, because that means you probably stop learning. - So I think there's so many different options and it's hard to know, I think, in the beginning of your career, what niche you're going to fall into. So I sort of started as a generalist, and it kind of gave me a really good, well-rounded idea of what was out there.
So I think it's really important for people to test the waters a little bit. - So in every industry, though, you're going to have things are going to change. And you have to adapt to that and be flexible with that. Though, my industry, it's going to definitely change in the coming years, there's always going to be some sort of need for what I can do design-wise or development-wise. The scope of that may change, and what I'm actually doing may change, but there's always going to be something. And I just have to know that I've got to be flexible and adapt to that.
- We all know that digital changes so rapidly. And I think the key is to be able to adapt to that change quickly, and understand what it is, so going back to that idea of curiosity and seeking to understand. Work out why things are changing, but also look out for where change may come. So I think there are so many industries that are being disrupted because of digital. And, as digital practitioners, we need to be prepared to either go in and disrupt those industries, but also be prepared that change is going to happen.
And it's change is a constant. - The number one thing I would tell anybody who was starting their web career is to just accept that it's always going to change and that that is actually the best thing about it. You know, I didn't anticipate exactly what my career was going to look like when I took that web writing job. I could not have envisioned what I'm doing right now. And I think that's true for most people who've been in it for awhile. Roles change, projects change, the industry changes. Technology changes, all of it changes.
And the really exciting thing, though, is that it gives us a lot of opportunities to try new things out, to learn new things. And so when people are afraid of that change or when people get really, really tied to one particular technology, or one definition of their job, then they really end up getting left behind. If you don't conceive of your career in this very fixed way, if you conceive of it as something that can and should evolve, then that change actually becomes exciting and a lot less scary.
- [Lauren] Another common theme was the struggle to build confidence in an industry where it can seem like there's always someone who knows more than you do. And, I hate to break it to you, but there always will be. See if you can spot the common thread here. - But, honestly, what you need to do is you just need to try and get over that initial feeling that you're not good enough, because I tell you, as a core committer, I reviewed the best code from the best people and it's all crap when it first starts out. (laughs) I can tell you that definitively.
It looks great when it's in the software, but that's because there was 100 comments behind that and 30 different patches of people going back and forth, because nobody knows all this stuff out of the get go and they all had to learn somewhere. My advice would be to get out there and do stuff. It doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't even have to be good, but by showing the track record that you have been working on things and you've been progressively getting better over time. That, I think, means more to potential employers than it does that you come out once in awhile with a big huge perfect thing.
Getting over that was single-handedly the biggest thing for my career, getting over the idea that you have to be perfect, getting over the idea that if other people look at your code, they're going to know that you're a horrible person, like, no. Everybody understands that code isn't perfect the first time. Everybody understands that we're all trying to do our best. So I would say just get out there, just take a stiff drink of orange juice, or whatever you need to do. (laughs) But get out there, try and try again, and fail, and fail a few times, and fail really badly a few times, because it's only through that you're going to learn, and when people see you earnestly trying, they have a lot of respect for that and you'll get the help that you need.
- That's kind of my thing. It's like you'll learn a lot of things in school about tech or about design, but you won't necessarily learn, if your goal is to be a freelancer, you won't necessarily learn about business and how to bring value to clients and how to value yourself. So those are the things you learn by working with clients and making those painful mistakes. (laughs) - [Lauren] And it's not just coders who wrestle with this. - So I think taking those things and turning them into a positive instead of a negative is important.
Like if I feel like I don't have the confidence or I feel not as good as some other freelancer, I use that, and like, okay, well, then, if I feel like this, one, it's probably not rooted in logic, it's probably just rooted in weird psychological things in my brain. But, two, I can work on that. I can work on getting confidence by doing things. - So what should you do when you get kind of paralyzed by it? Again, I think it is kind of a matter of being aware that that's what's happening, first of all, and then really putting perspective on it.
So I will say, from my own personal experience, I've actually had several conversations this week about like, "This book is really important, "like I'm really looking forward to this book. "It's important, it's going to affect a lot of people." And I'm just like, boop, timeout. (laughs) Like I just need to write the book. Whatever's there is going to have to be good enough. And I can't let myself get wrapped up in trying to overthink and overplan and overstrategize, and push myself to some unreasonable standard, and unnecessary standard, because of the importance that I'm attaching to this.
So having a sense of perspective is hugely important. - [Lauren] Okay, got that? The only way through is through. Just get to work and learn from those mistakes. Now if you want to hear more career-building wisdom from these brilliant folks, tune in next week. I'm going to wrap up this superstar supercut with the three success factors that I heard them mention most consistently. And, spoiler alert, none of them are about your resume or what school you went to.
But they are things that you're going to want to cultivate, both for your career and for life in general. See ya' next week.
Tune in every Wednesday for a weekly "small dose" of advice, an explanation, or an interview with a web veteran. Lauren Bacon has mentored and coached many web professionals as they were starting out and loves sharing all that she's learned from her 15-year career as a designer, front-end developer, and agency principal.