me == jack.trades.all; me != master.trades.all;
August 19, 2007 9:37 PM   Subscribe

I've the office web geek, a real one-man band, with 8 years of experience. It's time to change jobs, but the web employment world is more specialized than ever. What jobs should I be applying for?

I am a web generalist. I don't have a CS degree, just a liberal arts BA. I'm one of those people who "fell into" the web back in the day.

I have eight years doing web stuff for pay, the last six years with a higher ed org doing... everything. I'm pretty much a one-man show, with design, development (in server-side stuff), writing, recording podcasts, dabbling in web video, writing documentation... the only things I don't do are the database and the hardware (thanks to having a DBA and a desktop support person). I run the org's website. I am the keeper of the org's web knowledge.

It's time to hit the market, though. But I can't figure out what I'm supposed to be going for jobwise. Here are my five issues:

1. I will still code for food, but I don't like to code much anymore. Also, not a CS major.

2. My primary knowledge areas are XML and CSS. I also have an affinity for accessibility, information architecture, and Semantic Web stuff. Can I trade on any of that?

3. While I design sites, I don't have a huge portfolio, my primary site hasn't been redesigned in four years (though it's all CSS/XHTML), and I am not an artist, trained or otherwise. Also, I hate Flash and have had no interest in learning it.

4. I've been writing more and more documentation lately, and everyone says I'm a good writer. I don't have the technical writer credentials, though.

5. I guess, given my range of skills, I could be a project manager or a program manager. But does being a web generalist and a one-man band all these years prevent me from doing that?

Basically, I have a lot of different, generalist skills. I'm not a lot of anything, but a little of everything. I enjoy being the "big vision" person, pulling off the daily innovations, and writing about them. I'm getting too old to be the 70-80-90 hour a week coder for the startup. At the same time, I don't have the business acumen to strike out on my own. And meanwhile, the true "web generalist" positions are vanishing.

What am I? Or, what jobs should I be applying for?
posted by dw to Work & Money (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
What are you really good at? And not because others tell you, but because you enjoy it, even if it is a challenge?

I read the first half of this post waiting for you to actually mention what you know how to do - so you code. What do you code? You "do design", but you don't have a huge portfolio and sound rather disinterested in scrubbing up your site for presentation (which to me is only indicative of how you feel about design, nothing else - your personal site is your personal site - if you're going to make it your portfolio, now's the time to update it, but otherwise, keep it fun). Others have told you you're a good writer - but do you enjoy writing documentation?

Out of the whole process, it sounds to me like you mostly enjoy the chances for creative problem solving that come up every day when you're in a corporate environment and have a broad skillset. Maybe I'm projecting (it's what I like, anyway). But interspersed with your questions are a few ideas for directions you could head in, along with the reasons you're telling yourself for why that won't work.

Don't worry about not having a CS degree, especially if your skillset is with front end design and scripting languages. You have a degree, that's usually enough. Figure out what you LIKE, and pursue it recklessly. It seems you've enjoyed the work you've been doing for the "org", and don't want to be flung into a less mature startup environment - so I would look for a similar long term position. Emphasise the role you actually performed - anyone who reads your resume will see that your job was not to churn out four hundred websites in the last six years, so they won't be looking for a huge quantity of design work - two recent projects done really well and with a well-written summary will speak well of your abilities, along with your standard resume, of course. Be careful when writing your resume to emphasise most what you like to do best - I spent a few years upgrading businesses from MS-based solutions to Unix/LAMP solutions, simply because it was what I had done the most of, so it was all over my resume. When I found myself dropped into a contract writing ASP 3.0 in 2004, I realized enough was enough and now my resume is entirely free of those skills which I may possess but would prefer not to use.

As another web generalist, my career has changed over the last ten years as I've discovered how to play to my strengths and develop my abilities. For awhile, I exclusively pursued single-project contracts, because my experience in the industry seemed to show that companies hiring contractors on a per-project basis were actually prepared to get that project to launch. And I live for the launch - I can't hack languishing in an office full-time waiting for everyone around me to get their ducks in a row so I can move forward. Eventually my personal projects (the work that actually let me refine and improve my technical abilities in a way that my old-school MS contracts could not) began to pay off and I built a business around them.

I really empathize with the difficulty of having developed all the skills necessary to get a website to completion, and then being left with the task of how to define what you do. I think if you look back on your work history and think of the projects that brought you the most satisfaction, you will find the direction you need.
posted by annathea at 10:07 PM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Also, my email is in my profile if I can be of any further help.
posted by annathea at 10:08 PM on August 19, 2007

Response by poster: I read the first half of this post waiting for you to actually mention what you know how to do - so you code. What do you code?

ASP and PHP, XML and XSLT, XHTML and CSS. Forms, calendars, random bibs and bobs. No Java, no C#. Just the usual server-side fun.

You "do design", but you don't have a huge portfolio and sound rather disinterested in scrubbing up your site for presentation (which to me is only indicative of how you feel about design, nothing else - your personal site is your personal site - if you're going to make it your portfolio, now's the time to update it, but otherwise, keep it fun).

Redesigning the org's site is a political minefield. I snuck in some changes last year, on the interior pages. But I'm only now touching the home page.

Figure out what you LIKE, and pursue it recklessly.

Yeah, there's the rub, isn't it?

I think, if you forced me to say what I like about the web, it'd be content. I like creating and producing content, and I like making it pretty, usable, and accessible. I'm not sure what job that is.
posted by dw at 10:43 PM on August 19, 2007

I will say this: no matter what - your 4 yo website is likely out of date. Don't know graphic design? Use metafilter projects and let someone here nudge you towards a design that's attractive. People will judge you by your website, whether or not you want them to (in the web based field.)
posted by filmgeek at 11:21 PM on August 19, 2007

In some circles they refer to that job as "content producer". :) I remember hiring one at a dotcom in 99/00 and thinking it was a total bullshit position - then spending the next five years wishing desperately that I could produce some content. It took me awhile to understand that my marketing skills and other creative skills needed just as much attention and development as my tech skills.

I'm just going to throw a few things out here, because being a jack-of-all-trades means that inspiration and potential are lurking in every corner - having a diverse skillset is a gift, in my opinion. You'll never be bored. I imagine it's a combination of things that will end up being really satisfying for you - keeping a blog and refining it, maybe using it as a platform for building cool tools that are specific to subjects you are passionate about, is a great way of using most of those skills at once. I know that isn't specifically "a job", but it's integral to your career development - having a personal project to launch from gives you incentive to stay up to date with aspects of the industry that might not be required from your 9-5, broadens your community and creates opportunities. I really wish you the best of luck.
posted by annathea at 11:22 PM on August 19, 2007

I'm a bit like you (and I just quit, too)... I've gotten along pretty well the past 8 years or so as an Information Architect. Doesn't mean that what I've been doing has always been information architecture -- in addition to wireframing and whatnot I've done what's been necessary and wrangled HTML, XML, copy writing, marketing, metrics, QA, and other stuff -- but IA has always proven to be a job title that folks could point to and say "there's the guy who concerns himself with the user experience." And it's a title that seems to command a better salary than other dogsbody-generalist ones you might lay claim to.
posted by mumkin at 11:41 PM on August 19, 2007

I think project manager or IA would be good. IA needs more people that have actually developed web sites and know what can and can't be done, and project managers need to be able to know what realistic time frames are for the people on their projects. Since you've done a little bit of everything, you'll have a better understanding of what those timeframes are.

On the other hand, I like to code and I like to write but that doesn't necessarily make me want to be a techinical writer. If you actually like to write documentation though, maybe that's the position for you, I imagine its hard to find people that really want to write documentation.
posted by bertrandom at 12:33 AM on August 20, 2007

dw, there's a job open right now at Texas A&M University that is in the Writing Center, running the school's weblog writing projects. It's basically apple-sysadmin, wordpress-mu, and LOT of web-geekery and writing-geekery. This should appeal to both the liberal-arts-BA in you and the web-geek in you, and it fits in with your higher ed experience. You really sound exactly like what they're looking for.

If you'd like to know more, I can put you in touch with the guy who had the job previously, and who got a giant promotion to TAMU/Quatar in Dubai.
posted by SpecialK at 5:19 AM on August 20, 2007

Response by poster: SpecialK, that would be perfect... if I weren't 2000+ miles from College Station.
posted by dw at 7:02 AM on August 20, 2007

As a guy who started out as a web developer, then somehow meandered into content creation while dabbling in graphics, I feel your pain.

I count myself very lucky that I've managed to forge a career in web content management, as that does enable me to wear many hats and at least have a sense of the key areas in maintaining and developing websites. But those kinds of jobs have many titles, and are mostly restricted to large companies that need a web base. Hell, most of them leave it to the marketing department to sort out.

FWIW, web content is the way to go for a generalist person. Good luck!
posted by electriccynic at 7:20 AM on August 20, 2007

You might look into positions with a title of "instructional technologist" or "trainer". Some corporate training departments do a lot of web-based training that requires a generalist role. Many use programs like Captivate, so you don't need Flash. Universities with e-learning/web-based courses also may have a need (though some of the positions particularly with universities prefer a master's or certification in instructional technology/design).
posted by ejaned8 at 8:06 AM on August 20, 2007

I'm a Jill of all trades, myself, except I do Flash as well. I work in online training, which as ejaned8 mentioned, requires quite a few different skills and programs to put together. My job description is "Multimedia Integrator" (Web Integrator might be more appropriate for you). That role is differentiated from the Graphic Designers, Multimedia Developers, and Content Designers on my team; I'm sort of the glue that brings other people's work together into one package.

Oh, and I don't have any sort of CS degree. Just an unrelated Bachelors degree and a web design certification from a 9-month program at a private college.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 9:00 AM on August 20, 2007

Response by poster: This is all very helpful. I want to mark all the answers as best. This is the good part about AskMe to me -- good people giving good advice.

I'm working on a site redesign right now, but right now I'm just finishing up the requirements and scope and haven't done a lick of design yet, even a wireframe. I'm probably eight weeks from launch. And that's eight weeks longer than I need to be here.

But I will say that the 2003 design was all-CSS and tableless and meets most of WCAG 1, and the 2006 tweaks to the interior pages featured a hip-at-the-time gradient. So, you know, it's not like I haven't done anything. It's just more that I was out in front and the competition only caught up this year.
posted by dw at 9:28 AM on August 21, 2007

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