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The web isn’t what it used to be

25 October 2018

When I began my career the web industry was very different to today.

I entered the workplace, fresh from university, eager to plant my flag in the metaphorical summit of web. That ambitious determination took a downhill tumble when I realised university hadn’t come close to providing the actual skills I needed. I felt out of my depth, like I was an imposter.

But looking back, we had it so much easier. We used vanilla javascript, with jQuery only starting to be adopted. Media queries? Not a thing yet; all sites were just for desktop. Accessibility was overlooked. If you wanted to animate anything, your only options were animated GIFs or flash videos.

And yet, we felt a lot was expected from us.

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What most people don’t realise

Today, the standard for the typical website has risen to such a level that clients expect a lot. Websites need to be amazing. They need to be easy to use. They need automation. They need to be performant. They need to capture data. They need to be optimised. They need to impress. They need to be accessible. They need to top the search rankings. Behind the scenes, that’s a lot to consider.

Thanks to devices, you can’t make websites for just desktop. You’re catering for a plethora of screen sizes, which means managing multiple designs, simultaneously.

And the expectations don’t end there. Whether you’re working for yourself or an employer, you’ll find more. The website needs to meet deadline and the all important expectation: come in on budget.

Full stack anxiety — it’s all the rage

To meet the ever rising expectations from our industry, the web community has responded in equal measure. There are now more tools and plugins developed to help aid site creation than there ever has been before.

For graduates starting out these ‘helpful’ tools and plugins are a double edged sword. Job applications rapidly cite these technologies as prerequisites for winning a position.

As a result, we see more “full stack anxiety”, where things are advancing too quickly and the amount of learning required for a fresh graduate is completely overwhelming.

The responsive web means managing multiple designs, along with the corresponding media queries and CSS. So, you’ll want to learn how to manage a SCSS build pipeline to maintain those CSS styles.

Accessibility concerns have never been higher. We now have legal ramifications for poor accessibility. So get reading the W3 spec, learn about ARIA attributes and research the best a11y patterns.

Sites must be performant with perceived page speed. You’re going to want to learn about render blocking and critical path.

Content has to be performant for SEO rankings. Google have tips for that. You guessed it, More reading.

Guy falls down exhausted

Exhausted yet?

Surviving in this crazy world

With the rate of progression in new technologies, web requirements and client demands, new graduates have never had more expected from them.

But technologies will come and they will go. It’s easy to adopt one technology, become proficient and then become complacent with your learning. If you relate to that statement, it comes with a danger. Becoming proficient is essential for productivity, but you should never forget how to learn, develop a fear of change, or become isolated in an industry that’s moved on without you. You need to walk that fine line.

My advice? Whether you’re a new starter or a re-starter, respect the fundamentals. Don’t just specialise in what’s popular. Most of what you hear about front-end is so subjective and relevant to a specific point in time. So get to know the underlying basics that make it work, because you’ll need this transferable skill when the next big thing comes along. Make the fundamentals your priority and adopt new skills to support those fundamentals.

For people starting in this industry, start somewhere. Start anywhere. Just so long as you start. Learn one thing at a time. Put your pride aside and fail. Fail often. Learn from those failings and iterate changes with each project you work on. Always work on your skills. Your skill set is what you take with you project to project, job to job.

Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with positive and knowledgeable peers.

Full stack anxiety is real and it’s likely it will only get worse. If you’re starting out, realise that no one expects you to have it all figured out. You’re always going to be learning on the job and you’re always going to be challenged with technology you’ve never used before. Learn to love it, because it’s the best part of the job.

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