Join Lauren Bacon for an in-depth discussion in this video Superstar Wisdom Supercut: Success Factors, part of Web Career Clinic Weekly.
- [Instructor] 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. Last week, I shared the first in a two part round up that I'm calling the Superstar Wisdom Super Cut. I'm revisiting some of the common themes that I heard again and again in my interviews with web industry experts and veterans about what makes for a fulfilling and successful career. Today for the second half of the super cut, I've identified three success factors that my guests told me over and over again were critical to both their own success and the success of those around them.
Let's start with one that's a personal favorite of mine, curiosity. - I would say kind of an innate curiosity is what drove me into programming and I think I'm also a person who really likes both artistic stuff and puzzles and programming worked well for that sort of mentality. - You know, I think that there are a range of skills that you need to develop, but maybe the most important one, honestly, is curiosity and perseverance. Those are on the loftier side of goals that you should have.
- I think, really, it comes down to what's the core DNA of the individual, and this is really around... For me, it's about curiosity, curiosity and continuous learning. Asking the questions of what's the problem. What problem are we trying to solve? And I think too often we get caught into trying to find the solution. We need to step back and ask, seek to understand to ask, what is the problem we're trying to solve? And I think that comes through curiosity.
If you can display that, obviously there's a base level of knowledge that you have to have and skill set. But, really, those that stand out are the ones that will challenge the status quo, they'll want to understand why certain things are happening, and really get that problem well defined before they start going into the solution. And the reason that that's important for us is that it means when we build something, we're building the right thing, versus having to build something, then go, "Hang on, "we solved the wrong problem, so we need to change "and redo it." So, a lot of it is just really around that curiosity and seeking to understand.
- So, when we look at hiring people, I think the most important thing for us is their ability to think critically about a design challenge that's placed in front of them, and analyze the problem for how to best get at the solution. That's not necessarily about knowing what the answer is, but about knowing how to approach something in a creative, and critical, and analytical way. We never expect anybody to come to a design problem or challenge inherently knowing how to solve it.
Because it's different for every kind of problem you encounter. What we look for is that person's ability to assess situation and ask the right kinds of questions that will get them to the answer. - Either there's lots of good tutorials and good books, and good sites that could get you started on how to make the individualizations, and the tools that are available are getting better every day. The other part's the hard part: how do we get people to be better data thinkers? Part of that is... I think that the best people from that realm are people who have backgrounds in journalism, because they're trained on how to ask good questions, and how to interrogate a data set.
- [Lauren] I heard a lot of variations on the curiosity theme, from puzzling through problems, to asking tough questions, and digging into assumptions, to being open to different perspectives and inputs. - Because when you can start making the connections between what you do and everything else in this world, you will be extremely good at your job. - For me, a lot of in-person events, like going to conferences that aren't web-design conferences. Just being exposed to different people with different ideas, meet-up groups.
I made a really conscious effort to meet people even through Twitter. I would organize Twitter meet-ups, and I just wanted to meet people that had different perspectives than me. As much as possible, I think, being open-minded to, and asking questions, being curious about what other people are up to in their own careers and how it intersects with web design, because we encounter so many different people as web designers. We're kind of getting to see behind the scenes of a lot of different types of businesses. So I think that curiosity of kind of how other things operate can just add to your knowledge.
- [Lauren] Being curious and staying curious. I've lost track of how many times I've heard curiosity sited as an essential quality for people working in digital. Another recurring theme was to spend less time talking about your technical skills and more time focusing on the problems that you can help people solve. - So it doesn't matter if you're the best programmer in the world, if that could actually exist. You have to be able to properly explain to clients, why what you do matters to their business, because people are fairly self-serving.
Like, if somebody's hiring somebody, they want it to improve the bottom line of their own business in some way. So you need to be able to figure out not just how to do things, but how to explain how you do things in a way that, that impacts and creates additional value for the people that you're charging money. - I think a major thing that I've seen is that where people are for example, listing their services page, they make a list of all the skills they have. Like HTML, CSS, and... That's not really what clients are looking for, right? People aren't really hiring you for your sweet HTML and CSS skills.
Yes, that happens to be one of the ways that you're going to get them the results they want, but people want results and so I think even in proposals, or services, or how you talk about what you do, shifting it from a client focused language, of what is the client actually looking for? Moving away from sort of a list of tactics, and you know, you get this many templates and this many themes, and that sort of thing, into more of the end result. - [Lauren] So it's not just about being curious and building your skills, but also about looking at things from different angles, and empathizing with clients, customers, and end users.
Asking the right questions comes from a willingness to come at a problem from multiple perspectives, and speaking of multiple perspectives, the third success factor I heard in just about every web carrier clinic interview, was the importance of community. - No matter what your industry is, no matter what your profession is, you can't do it all by yourself, and you can't learn it all by yourself. So having people that you can reach out to on a regular basis, and ask questions that are directly related to the field and the work that you do, is crucial to success and feeling supported on a daily basis.
- For me at least, something that has been hugely helpful has been to be part of networking communities. I think that a lot of people think that you know, that networking is a really dirty word, and it doesn't have to be, right? I think that being part of a group of people that is as invested in your career as you are in theirs, is important, and so that's what I have built. When they saw me as the tech lady mafia, and using that as a resource, both to source out work and also to test ideas and talk to people has been really important.
- I will say that the most successful hires that we've done are people who actually come to us. So they've made themselves known to us in some way, often that's by attending the same events that we can be found at. So I would strongly encourage people who are interested in working at an organization like ours to go to the meet up groups, go to the special interest groups, go to the events that like minded organizations are hosting in your city, and make yourself known to the people who might be hiring.
- [Lauren] Community can look different depending on where you live, and how you work. - Jupo community in particular has a very collaborative nature, where it's like, we all know no one knows everything, but everyone knows a little bit, and you can tack on a bunch of your little bits of information so that everybody benefits from the full solutions. So rather than trying to find all the documentation that you're supposed to read and you know, do all the things, I would recommend finding a buddy in real life. So there's different ways to do that. You can go to local user group meetings if they have those for your technology, you can go to some events, like we have Jupo cons and Jupo camps, that kind of stuff, but find somebody, a coworker, a friend who's also learning this stuff, you just want to pair up with, because I find that you can accomplish so much more fidelity in a 10 minute conversation with someone who knows this sort of stuff, than you can with a lot of time of bashing your head against a table on your own.
- I join a lot. I join too many courses is what I do. (laughing) So I started with the... Well, I started following some people. So Brandon Dunn from Double Your Freelance, and Nathan Berry, who wrote Authority and now runs Convert Kit. You know, I started following a bunch of people and just learning a lot of stuff and Troy Dean, who's my absolute favorite runs WP Elevation, which is an accelerator for Word Press Consultants, and so just from you know, reading their blogs and getting on their email list I learned a ton of stuff and then at some point I actually joined something, and that was definitely a game changer, because what you get if it's good, part of what you get with that is you know, the community of other people who are trying to do the same thing that you do.
So there's usually a forum or a Facebook group, or both, and so I have access to you know, a bunch of these things that I've joined with all these different groups who are, you know, trying to learn and do different things. So whenever I have issues, you know, when I was kind of crashing and burning earlier this year, you know, I finally went into the Facebook group of one of my 10K community and said, "Hey, this is happening, and I'm totally in over my head." And just a bunch of people jumped in to help out. - [Lauren] One last bit of advice from our guests about building a strong community, it's not just about mutual support, but also about making space for thoughtful critique.
- If we are really trying to create the best product, if we're really trying to achieve the objectives that we have, we have to be honest about what's working and what's not working. We have to be honest about what we think is going to happen as a result of these decisions. Because if we're not honest now in these discussions, and something goes out to market, and it's not effective, and all the while, we knew it probably wouldn't be effective but we were just too scared to say something in the meeting, that's on us.
- [Lauren] Curiosity, empathy, and community. Maybe not what you might have expected from a group of digital professionals, but I will say from my own experience, both working in the field and mentoring a lot of people just breaking into it, I agree 100%. Technical skills are important obviously, but when you tune into what you're curious about, and connect with a community that you're invested in, you'll be unstoppable. That's it for the Superstar Wisdom Super Cut! Tune in next time for a final installment of Web Career Clinic, when I'll share my best questions to ask yourself for a truly fulfilling career.
These are some of my favorite questions to ask as a coach and a mentor, and I think you're going to get a lot out of considering them as you navigate your professional path. See you 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.