Attempting return to web development after many years – advice needed.
February 7, 2017 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Any guidance for a former web developer who wants to get back into the field after many years away? Deets after the jump.

About an eon ago (1999-2004), I worked as a front end web developer, for a couple of design agencies as well as freelance. After the dot-com bubble burst, work slowed down, I became discouraged, and left the field. Recently, though, my desire to work in this area has rekindled, so I'd like to get back into it.

I never stopped doing web design as a personal passion, so I've stayed fairly current on the state of the art, but I haven't pursued any professional gigs. So problem #1 is that my resume shows almost nothing but tech support/admin/customer service jobs for the past decade.

Problem #2: with few exceptions, every single client I did work for back in the day no longer exists, and those that are still around obviously moved on to bigger and better sites, so I have nothing to show prospective employers. (I did have a portfolio at one time, but I lost most of my files years ago, and all I have left are these teeny thumbnails of a few sites I worked on.)

I could point people to the personal sites I've made, but they're pretty silly and I just can't see showing them to anyone I would like to take me seriously.

My general game plan right now is to basically start from zero – build up a new portfolio by doing whatever small freelance jobs I can get, maybe recreate some of the projects I worked on in the past. But I'm not sure if I can get any work at all with my lack of recent professional experience.

Also, I'm in my late 40s and I suspect this will make things much more difficult.

So, I'm wondering, first of all, if I should even bother! And if so, what would be some good ways to present myself to potential clients/employers? How can I avoid being automatically rejected due to my lack of recent experience? And I was not great at selling myself even back in the day, so any advice in general for getting work in this business would be much appreciated.
posted by Enemy of Joy to Work & Money (5 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
#2: Surely you can find a version of your past work in the Wayback Machine, no?
posted by humboldt32 at 2:53 PM on February 7, 2017

I probably can! I'm especially ashamed to have forgotten about the Wayback Machine, since I just used it today to try to find my old online portfolio. Duh!
posted by Enemy of Joy at 2:58 PM on February 7, 2017

If your front-end skills don't include client-side scripting and knowledge of libraries like jQuery, don't market yourself as a front-end developer. Markup != development in most circles.

I was a graphic designer and markup person from 1999-2006. When I saw basic HTML sites being replaced by content management systems, I made the transition to WordPress developer to keep myself marketable. My skillset includes Photoshop, HTML/CSS, JavaScript/jQuery, and enough PHP to write my own themes & plugins (I try to use only a few top-of-class plugins). I know WordPress under the hood very well and am considered a "programmer" by ad agencies, but at the same time, I don't ever try to pass myself off as an engineer.

If you want to freelance and do small jobs, you can get away with enough knowledge to customize Squarespace and WordPress sites out of the box. If you want a steadier gig, find work with a sign shop or similar and you probably will be doing the same calibre of work, and possibly even old-fashioned static HTML stuff. You won't be paid well, though.

Lots of ad agencies and temp agencies need freelance developers. The ones around me expect 1 person to take a set of Photoshop files and churn out a complete CMS-driven website, with basic functionality like sliders, photo galleries, a blog, and contact form. That's mostly front-end work, with light backend.

If you don't like marketing yourself, your best bet is to subcontract with some kind of agency. Just make sure you're absolutely clear on what your skillset is, as it is VERY easy to get in over your head with ZERO backup.

Unfortunately, 1999-2004 front-end skills are entry-level stuff in 2017. (At least around me.) You might find more success as some kind of producer -- working in a CMS to create new pages, creating e-blasts, etc.

It will all boil down to what you want to do. But you will probably need to pick up some additional skills and absolutely have a portfolio of live sites.
posted by Wossname at 3:11 PM on February 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

I never stopped doing web design as a personal passion, so I've stayed fairly current on the state of the art, but I haven't pursued any professional gigs.

I finished a boot camp this summer and didn't have any previous professional experience at all. I got the job that I have, which was not an "internship" or anything like it, by showing them the stuff I'd built relatively recently using modern tech but that was largely of no practical use to anyone, mostly by putting it all on GitHub and my personal website, and then by taking advantage of opportunities to talk to people local to me who were involved in the tech community. Your portfolio does not need to consist of paid work, but you do need to do more than just blindly sending your resume off to strangers.

Front-end right now is a lot about JavaScript. A lot. The down side is that this may require learning more JavaScript than you currently know. (Probably something of Angular or React. Not necessarily a lot, but something more than just jQuery.) The up side is that most urban areas have one or multiple JS-or-adjacent meetups and those are good opportunities to meet people.
posted by Sequence at 3:26 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

From a design perspective, I wouldn't show anything developed in 2004. Designs from 2004 pretty much all look bad from today's perspective, and showing something that old is likely to hurt you, portraying you s as being far behind the industry, more than help you. Maybe use those for your own reference.

I think a portfolio and public Github site is a very good idea, as is pursuing small jobs on your own. Definitely add some unnecessary, but fun and interesting features to your local restaurant's site (or whatever) just so you can say you did them. Good luck!
posted by cnc at 9:40 PM on February 7, 2017

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