As the scope of our market is being altered dramatically, we are also facing challenges to the way our industry operates. How can we meet these challenges? How can we do so in a way that still enables us to not only function on a professional level, but to continue to grow and adapt to changes outside our current sphere of influence?
As young teenagers, my brother and I were furiously independent idealists for whom compromise was a byword for failure. We valued our individuality and strove to actively alienate ourselves from our peer group. Looking back, I think it was something to do with finding ourselves relocated to Wales from the North East, and desperately wanting to go back to County Durham, which we idealised.
As we grew up, we became more aware of our need for association, companionship in the way of friendships and, perhaps most importantly, the need for those who represented our views to a wider world.
I feel that our industry is approaching a similar realisation, in the wake of a few recent events.
It’s becoming evident that the web development industry is approaching a bit of a crisis point. For a long time, we have been a raggedy collection of fiercely independent thinkers and doers who have achieved great things, sometimes in isolation, sometimes as part of the larger web development community.
I’m so proud of this: to work in an industry that challenges certain parameters that others would not think to, that is so open and adaptable to change. For instance, at certain times, we’ve moved as a whole, led by the good work and commitment of a few, to adapt to changes which would otherwise have stalled other industries or caused deep-rooted divisions.
But this industry is still in some ways limited by what it is, too.
In the end, my brother and I needed that sense of validation. We needed someone to be our advocates or representatives to those with whom we couldn’t communicate with directly.
A community is made up of individuals with wide ranging viewpoints, opinions, and approaches. Some are quieter and don’t seem to participate much. Others are quite vocal, or are good at voicing the opinions or needs of the majority of the group.
It’s this vocal representation that I think would be beneficial for our community at this stage.
Without a representative organisation, we are dependent on great effort by individuals to find which way the wind is blowing over certain practices, sometimes taking risks by adapting to them early enough to support future browsers and device classes — but trying not doing so too early, so that there’s less risk of the practice or technology being found to have a fatal flaw that would hurt our reputation and businesses.
This bothers me. It is fun for those of us who enjoy the this challenge, and have the time and willingness to keep up with blogs, newsletters, and twitter feeds of organisations and individuals leading the way forward. The trouble is, this information isn’t accessible unless you have learned the hard way where to find it.
It’s the first thing I do when meeting people who are interested in a career in web development: make suggestions about who to follow on Twitter, subscribe to which newsletters, read certain blogs, buy which print magazine. Because without that guidance, a person can be disheartened by the lack of a clear path about what’s important to us as employers, what’s good practice to follow, what current thinking there is on certain subjects.
I am of the opinion that an organisation that could channel and focus these resources into a single source that would reduce effort and waste by many individuals.
Not that it would dictate a standard over things like which CMS to use, which UI framework might be “correct” etc, but instead to perhaps advise on best practice in the broader sense.
However, that’s only a small concern when faced with the high-stakes game of legislation.
Legislators Gonna Legislate
Fierce independence and lack of unity charachterises our industry, however there’s one thing we seem to uniformly dislike: legislation that is difficult — sometimes impossible — to enforce.
This happened for Europe — and actually for the rest of the world too — when the European Union enacted ‘the cookie law’, designed to protect users and consumers by informing them when data about them was stored on other computers and / or transmitted or used in some way.
As noble an objective as it probably was, the reality has been far from what was likely invisaged by its originators. Instead of greater transparency for organisations and greater protection for indivuals, we all got annoyed by the obligatory messages we had to dismiss from our screens each time we visited a domain.
This issue has originated because we have never had representation to the EU. We have never had an organisation to represent our interests, to inform those legislators of what would be considered best usability, the easiest to implement, and thus affect the outcome of the legislative decision.
Without that, we leave ourselves open to further legislation from any quarter that could make our lives, and the lives of consumers much more difficult.
What is a Professional?
Another thing that’s bothering me about the current state of the industry is the lack of trust that exists for employers hiring web developers, and for others involved in commissioning web development work. They just don’t know who to trust.
You could get someone who is clever at selling to persuade a small firm to pay thousands for a website that should cost them only hundreds of pounds. There are some in the industry who can re-purpose a popular CMS theme, change some colours, upload some free stock photography, and charge much more for it than it’s actually worth. This approach hurts those in our industry that do make an effort to create something bespoke — either entirely bespoke, or that uses an established CMS as a platform for some completely original theme, or a base UI for some pretty original functionality.
Not that this approach ought be considered wrong, but that it should remain a seperate service from serious web developers, and that an individual or organisation would know where to look for someone who has an ability that would suit their needs and budget. This might apply to contractors as well, where they would have a choice between someone who isn’t, shall we say, accredited and committed to developing their professional skills, and others who perhaps aren’t as transparent about that choice, but could have other benefits to the contractor.
As Compared to the Architecture Industry (again)
It does seem to me that the architecture industry and web development are somehow intrinsically linked. The term “responsive” originated with architecture, and quite often we find ourselves borrowing analogies from that industry.
So I’m going to do it again.
The Royal Institute of British Architects has a strong reputation in the UK. If somene is RIBA accredited, there is an assumption of quality and professionalism that carries. It’s not perfect, of course, and that’s why they have a process for reporting and expulsion where that becomes necessary.
This is where I strongly feel The Web Guild can help us, if we choose to accept that help. The Guild is still in it’s early days, but certain things they have set in place already make me believe that they are genuinely interested in assisting the industry with representation, with setting some kind of standard for quality and professionalism, one that needn’t exclude others who choose not to join the Guild.
Here are 3 things that I’ve noticed:
- They do not accept organisations who cannot prove they have professional indemnity insurance. This at least sets some bar to entry for those who care about their reputation and the reputation of those they produce things for.
- Members must submit regular CPD (Continuing Professional Development) updates. This might be some project they’ve worked on, but it could also consist of blog posts. Now, that interests me, because that is how currently some organisations assess prospective employees. It’s something that is recommended for web developers so that we continue to advance our collective knowledge.
- They are already striving to represent web developers to the EU legislative body. That they’re willing to do this at this early stage of their existence shows us that they are genuinely interested in representing the community.
I really think that The Web Guild could become our RIBA. A mark of professionalism, a structure to our otherwise ragtag community, which doesn’t supress individuals who don’t wish to be members, but can represent their interests indirectly through its efforts.
My brother and I aren’t worse off because we have some structure to our communities.We are stronger because of that. We haven’t lost that strong sense of individuality or that need for independence when we want to strike out on our own.
But now we have something to go back to and share those experiences with.
At the moment, there’s only a small charge for becoming a member of the Guild. Taking advantage of that I believe will be something that will pay dividends to you and your organisation in the future.
I believe we really need The Web Guild to grow. Let’s support them as a way to achieve further greatness, by becoming a truly professional community that can be a bit more organised and, much more importantly, who have a clear, distinct voice.