You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know – And Either Does Your Web Developer

Let’s Set The Stage with Some Facts:

  • Few Web developers went to school for Web development
  • Few certifications exist that truly certify any one person’s ability to program for the Web
  • There is no one industry standard that determines how a Web site should be built
  • By nature of Web languages and frameworks, the possibilities of which a single task can be complete are almost unlimited
  • There are incredible developers without a degree or are straight of school and there are some horrible developers sitting on 10+ years experience and a computer science degree.

We All Use Google

Walk though a Web development shop and I promise you will see as much code on the screens as you do Google pages with searches on how to perform certain tasks within Web programming. Does the fact that a Web developer has a Google window open most of the time they are programming mean they don’t know what they are doing? No, no it does not. In fact reading how-to articles and opening reference sources on a regular basis is par for the course for even the most talented Web developers.

Web Developers and Surgeons

An odd comparison, I know, With a surgeon in the family I grew up amongst these personality types. Egos aside, surgeons and Web developers seem to have a couple things in common:

  1. We rarely admit we “Don’t know”
  2. “Watch one, do one, teach one” seems to the path to expertise (scary I know)

But Again, Where is that Line Between Expertise and Learning on the Job?

There is obviously no single point at which one crosses from being an novice to being a expert when it comes to Web development. However when developers are determining if they are going to work with a client they should evaluate the level of demand versus their own personal skills. Sure I’m guilty of telling a client that I know how to do something, then running back to my desk to research it. However I’m not going to tell a client that I know a particular framework or programming language if I do not. You would be surprised how many folks do this to win a business deal! I would also not accept a high pressure gig if the learning curve is known be higher than normal. However I might accept that same gig if the deadline or other pressure points are less stressful.

As a client try and get a feel for the level of expertise your developer has, ask for realistic timelines (not just those that make you happy) and never force your developer into environments they were not originally hired to work. Know that each challenge is unique and give adequate time for completion and be wary of the script kiddie. A script kiddie is someone who actually knows very little programming but has successfully put together websites based on plug and play modules and copying and pasting code from how-to tutorials. I’ll rant about these guys another day.

Post by Shane Larrabee

Shane Larrabee is founder of FatLab, LLC and has over 20 years experience as a business leader, web developer and online communication consultant.