Got a Web developer gig and feeling cushy in the job? Ahem, better wake up before your pillow is pulled out from under you. Ask Jeremy Morgan, a lead Web developer for CDI IT Solutions and a former hiring manager at other companies, and Betsy Collard, a veteran Silicon Valley career coach.
Last year, when startup PHP Fog pivoted and transformed itself into AppFog, the issue of remaining relevant as a Web developer prompted discussion among Morgan and his older friends who weren’t feeling as relevant, says Morgan, who recently posted a blog on the issue and spoke with Dice. And while the topic of remaining relevant isn’t new, in this economy, where companies are mashing together for survival or changing business models on a dime, the issue has become a bigger deal.
Basically, a decade ago, Web developers could focus on a single platform, a single language, and forgo learning anything about UI and design, Morgan says. But now, that’s changed. Web developers are expected to be polyglots—knowing several languages or platforms.
Web developers who know the back-end are expected to know a little about the front-end, or vice versa. In addition, another shift that has emerged over the past couple of years is a move by small companies to mix technologies. For example, a small company may be seeking a Linux expert, but also wants that person to know a little about the Windows .Net stack, says Morgan. So here are the five steps.
Look to the Left, Right and Forward.
“One of the pitfalls is people get so busy at work that they forget to look ahead and see what’s coming down the path with trends,” Collard says. “They also need to look to their left and right and see what their competitors and customers are doing.”
Networking once a month with respected colleagues in the industry and scanning jobs boards to see what skills are being sought can provide a forward view. Cozying up to customers and yes, even competitors, once a month can assist in that side view, she noted.
Do Something About That Trend
Armed with this market intelligence, Web developers would be smart to adapt to this trend by reading books and taking online tutorials or classes.
“The cycle is shorter on what you can learn with the available information,” Morgan says. “There’s more information available online than there was 10 years ago. There’s more online training, more online tutorials with YouTube, and if there’s a new technology, there’s usually a book out on it two months later on Amazon.”
He noted you’re competing against recent college grads who’ve grown up in the Internet age and are used to using the Net to quickly secure relevant information that they’re interested in learning about. Older workers, however, may not be as adept in quickly locating the needed information and feel stuck in not knowing where to go, Morgan says.
However, Collard noted that gaining experience in a new programming language or platform is key and it trumps everything, including gaining a certification in that particular technology.
Busting Out of Your Comfort Zone and Tearing Down Fences
Although you may enjoy what you’re doing now, there is no guarantee it will be relevant a year or two from now. So, consider busting out of your comfort zone and learning a new technology like Ruby on Rails or Node.js, Morgan says.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to tear down fences that reside in your mind. Who says you can’t install PHP on Windows?
“If you’re writing the same kind of code you were six months ago, then you’re not moving fast enough,” advises Morgan.
Forget Programmer, Try Problem Solver
Here’s a brain twist. Why are you paid as a Web developer? To crunch code, or solve problems? Try the latter. As Morgan says, “half the people view themselves as being hired to write code.”
To remain relevant, Web developers need to see themselves as problem solvers. Rather than writing code with all the bells and whistles, do something that achieves the business goal like creating a faster-loading page.
Too Long in One Place
While some workers may long for the chance to stay in the same job at the same company for years, Collard notes that runs counter to the ability to remain relevant.
“One of the great dangers today is developers stay too long at the same company, in the same position,” she says. “They were able to do this because they were good workers, but they didn’t stay current. They need to remember that in one sense, we’re all self-employed.”
Image: Resisting Change Leads To Obsolescence Or Death [Bigstock]