Let's Be Honest

Recently, I was reading the bios of the “executive team” for a local web design/development firm (undisclosed) and saw that a couple of them had “over 20 years experience” in the web industry. An acquaintance of mine at a different company states he has “over 10 years experience” on his bio. If that’s true, then he started doing web development when he was 14.

I guess that is not unfathomable, but honestly, how realistic is that? And what type of web projects were the other two guys working on back in 1987? Not saying it isn’t true, just really wondering about the robustness of truth in those bios. Perhaps we’re all a little guilty of this from time to time.

After reading all this, I started to wonder about a couple things.

I know we want clients to view us as professionals and give them the comfort of knowing we’ve “been around the block before”, but why do we think that the number of years experience is a key factor in providing that comfort level? Do we think our clients, colleagues and web-based social network friends will think better of us?

I think I’ve indicated that I have 7 years experience on a few bios I have floating around out there. Technically, this is true, because I started designing websites in 2000. However, does it really matter that I spent the entire first year building web pages with Microsoft FrontPage 98? It wasn’t until 2002 that I understood how to use CSS and grasped the idea of how to build web pages according to web standards. And it wasn’t until probably sometime in 2004 that I had a clear proficiency of HTML, CSS, information architecture, usability best practices and graphic design.

Ah, yes, but “over 7 years of experience” sounds much better than just three. If we’re honest with ourselves, I’ll bet we all have similar learning curves that make our all-powerful “years of experience” seem a bit watered down.

Wait Just a Second!

I know what you’re thinking. All experience is important because it shapes what we’ve learned up to this point and helps us make better decisions today. That’s definitely true. In all matters of life, things we have experienced in the past make us who we are today. Mistakes we made yesterday can make us stronger for tomorrow.

We don’t have to start the “years of experience clock” at the moment we stopped making mistakes; or when we started doing things a new way or when we had this job title or that training class. I think in all of us there is a sense of knowing when it all “clicked” and when you first considered yourself a “web professional” without feeling guilty. I just think that’s how it goes with a profession such as ours.

Perhaps we feel the number of years of experience somehow offset the fact that most of us don’t hold a Bachelor of Science in Web Design. Therefore, we need to augment our resumes and bios with important sounding experience and how we’ve worked on large, complex projects. Guilty as charged, your honor. But I think this thinking is misguided. The internet, as an industry, is still so young and things have and continue to change so quickly. I think its OK if you’ve only got a few years experience. There’s nothing wrong with that.

What Really Matters

Consider this an open plea for candid representation in bios around the web. Yes, I’m sure clients and prospective employers would like to know that you didn’t just start your career on the web last year. But I say let’s be comfortable in our own skin, confident in our skills and let our portfolios do the talking.

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that clients, et al, are more interested in seeing examples of our work and getting a feel for how we work than knowing how long we’ve been working.

In my book, its not the number of years that counts, but how you’ve used those years to get where you are today.

No Comments

  1. I think most people _do_ equate a person’s years spent in a profession with their skill level. It seems pretty engrained into the tradition of resume-writing and self-promotion — for better or for worse. I know I’ll always tack as many years onto my resume as my conscience deems right. Maybe it doesn’t guarantee expertise, but it certainly won’t hurt my reputation. Besides, portfolios don’t always expose other skills necessary to be a good web worker (client relations, writing, etc.). Years of experience can imply soft skills as well as familiarity with a platform that has evolved quite a bit over its lifetime.

    Resumes help get you in the door. After that, it’s just a supporting document. But yeah, I see what you’re saying. Still, if you were working on the web 20 years ago, hopefully you have some great resume material to augment those years (XEROX PARC, anyone?). And a lot of valuable skills and knowledge that someone with 5 years of experience doesn’t have.

    I say that years matter. :)

  2. chuck says:

    Jared,

    I’ll grant you that if you were working on something like XEROX PARC, you’ve got some skins on the wall. I guess my frustration is when you read a resume or bio and feel like you’re dealing with “phantom” experience. You made some good points, though – I appreciate your perspective.

  3. It’s all in the context. For you or me, “10 years experience working on the web” probably means 10 years of constantly learning and improving our skillset.

    To just about everyone else, “10 years experience working on the web” probably means 10 years of “Slices from Guides, Save for Web.” Because for most people, that’s (sadly) all there is to “web design” and see no reason to take it any further.

    Do the sites I built in 1997 with AOL Homestead for my band in high school or the ones in Adobe PageMill(!) in college count towards my experience? Sure, because I’ve never stopped trying to improve. Do I have 10 years experience? Honestly I’d say no. Because I know better.

    But if the client/person doing the hiring doesn’t, then hell yes that’s 10 years experience. Especially if I’m going up against someone else claiming 10 years experience who’s never looked beyond the WYSIWYG.

  4. I agree that it’s not always the number of years that counts, it’s what you’ve learned in those years and how you apply it today. Often times someone crams in a lot of experience in two year’s time that someone else did in five year’s time.

    Heh, for me it’s watching someone who is just as up on XHTML/CSS as I am because it’s all they’ve ever known in their two year’s worth of Web development. While I had to trudge through the tables years in the beginning of my six years of experience…

    But if we had to lay blame on someone for these inflated or unimportant claims of experience, I’d point to potential employers who are asking for someone with five to ten year’s worth of experience. I feel that I have to tie in my first experience coding a frames-based Web site in order to match their requirements and submit an application. I feel a bit dishonest in doing so, but like you’ve pointed out…those years of experience that we may find irrelevant really amount to time spent learning what not to do. And as they say, knowing the mistakes of our past helps us avoid making them again the future.

    But while looking for a job and seeing employers ask for ten years of experience…I couldn’t help but think about a lot of Web Developers I’ve worked with who have ten years of experience. A lot of them are rooted in old ways and wont step up to Web standards. So I would think, man…only if these employers knew what asking for ten year’s worth of experience might get them. :-p

  5. chuck says:

    Dustin – I hadn’t thought about job requirements and that’s a good point. Well said.

  6. Jared nailed it!

    With experience on both ends (recruiting and applying), I have a new perspective on “experience.” What’s more desirable, a candidate with 7 years “experience” at one company, or a candidate with 7 years over 7 jobs?

    Depends.

    Some employers see the latter as a red flag because they might be a flight risk. Conversely, someone at the same job for 7 years might be viewed as “stale”.

  7. John Way says:

    I recently read a story about how a teacher with 12 years of experience was rejected for a teacher with only 3 years of experience. The person in charge of hiring said that even though the teacher had 12 years of experience, the experience never led to any growth or maturity. So in essence, the teacher had 1 year of experience repeated 12 times!

    I thought that was such an insightful comment. It’s so easy to stay stagnant at a job and not grow. Years pass by much quicker than people think.

  8. Riz says:

    no sure if i like your new homepage…having an ‘intro’ page was a good idea. Now it just looks like another blog…otherwise your site rocks!

  9. chuck says:

    Riz, thanks for the feedback. Actually I’m working on a new entry explaining the ins and outs of the new look.