Last week I received pretty much the best email I’ve ever gotten, from Emma S.:
As a student doing an eighth grade project on careers, I was greatly drawn to web developing and designing. I’ve always loved working with computers, learning about coding, and spending as much time as possible on being online.
Part of my assignment though, is interviewing somebody in the field to learn about their career. I was wondering if I could be given the opportunity to ask you about five questions. These questions would be about your job, your education, and the web designing/developing career in general. If not, I could go ask somebody else, but you were my first choice after I saw your “Zombie Apocalypse” speech, where I could tell that you really knew what you were talking about.
I would love to hear back from you, as you would really help me meet the standard for my project. Thank you so much for your time.
I’m always happy to pay it forward by taking some time to talk with people who are new to the field, but I’ve never heard from anyone Emma’s age about a career in web design. I remember my own eighth grade career day, visiting the local Minneapolis news station, WCCO. And—straight talk here—it is a privilege to have a career where I can share my ideas with other people, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine someone would want to do a career day project on me.
Emma’s questions were so good I wanted to share them, and my answers. Even better, I wanted to ask Emma a few questions about her interest in web design, and she was gracious enough to respond (see below.)
My responses to a future web designer
What did you major in in college? What are some classes that I should take in high school to prepare me?
I attended the University of Minnesota with a double major in Philosophy and American Studies. I went on to graduate school at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and received an MS in Technical Communication and Human-Computer Interaction. Today, I teach in a graduate program at the School of Visual Arts. The program is an MFA in what’s called Interaction Design. I teach a class called Design Management, which is about business skills.
While many people might think that a strictly technical education would prepare you to work in web design, I believe that a well-rounded liberal arts education is most beneficial. Web design isn’t just about coding—it’s about understanding human behavior and decision-making. Classes in art, social studies, even—especially!—classes in writing will be as useful as courses in math or computers.
How hard was it to get your job(s)?
In one sense, I’ve really only had a single “job” where I worked for a company. I got my job at Razorfish, a large digital agency, when it was a relatively small company. I was offered a couple of jobs at different companies, but Razorfish was owned and run by people who came from my hometown in Minneapolis. Even though I didn’t know them when I grew up there, it made me feel like I’d be comfortable working there when I learned they’d gone to the same high school as me!
Today, I own my own company and I hire other people to help me build websites. I work with clients to help solve their problems. Working in client services means that, in a sense, I am always looking for a new job. I think I’ve built a reputation as someone who is smart and easy to work with, which means that clients come looking for me.
What is the work like?
I work with lots of different types of people to build a website. Two of the most commonly known jobs are “web designer” and “web developer.” (People might call them visual designer or front-end developer.) Designers tend to focus on what the website will look like, and developers actually code the site and make sure it is working correctly.
There are other positions that might be less familiar to people. User experience design means figuring out how the site should work and function, but not necessarily what it should look like. I might work with information architects, who define the structure and navigation for the site, or interaction designers, who prototype the transitions and animations. Content strategists and copywriters plan what the website will say and who will create all the content.
From this list, it should be pretty clear that making websites means working in teams of people! To be successful, you need to know how to work in groups and present your ideas in a persuasive way.
How much would I earn? (Low, average, high)
Much like building a house, a website can cost a little or it can cost a lot. I know some people who might build a simple website for $500 or $1000. I know other people who work on websites that cost millions of dollars.
Starting salaries for people right out of college might range from $25,000 to $50,000. People in the middle of their careers often get jobs around $75,000 to $90,000. Higher salaries—six figures—are definitely possible in the web design world, but people who get paid more work really hard!
I had a few questions in response!
Emma’s responses to me
Why are you interested in web design as a career?
I’m Interested in web design as a career because I love combining the right and left side of my brain by coding and designing at the same time. I consider myself a rather creative person, and to be able to dream about something, and then design it, is amazing in my opinion. I also believe that web designing is one of those hobbies that could blossom into a full time career. I think that starting off your job because you enjoyed doing it, is the best because there’s a good chance it means you’re going to enjoy it enough in the future, that that’s what you want to do for the rest of your life.
Which websites do you use most often, and what do you like about them?
The website I use most is DFTBA and the app, Instagram. I like DFTBA the most because it connects a lot of people, so that I can get access to their information quickly. Their website is extremely organized, which helps me navigate through whatever I need to, to locate the specific person or category that I’m trying to find. I also like that there isn’t any nonsense that nobody is going to need. It shows us exactly what they feature, and where to find it.
While you may not consider Instagram a website, I still think it’s worth noting as one of the best sites, and the best social media platform. Instagram allows people to see exactly what they came to see, and more, but still limits the creator to not over share, and clog us with unnecessary information. Unlike snapchat, where users have no boundaries on what they post, except for a ten second limit. It’s just a quick little shot to entertain, persuade, and inform, and I love that.
What do you find difficult or frustrating when using websites?
The thing I find most frustrating about using websites, is when they force me to install the app before I read the article, or when it’s one really long, unorganized slideshow, that’s impossible to get through in less than ten minutes, because each individual slide has to take it’s own time to load. By forcing u to install the app to watch a video, or look at the cute dress you saw a picture of on pinterest, all you’re doing is making us want to run away. My phone is already a deluge of useless games I’ll never play, so I really don’t need to install Yelp just so I could find the hours of Little Caesars Pizza, once.
What classes do you like best in school?
My favorite classes in school are math and science. I like math the best because I feel like I’m really good at solving equations and problems quickly, and I know that I have to be good at that if I ever want to get serious about coding. I like science, because I’m absolutely fascinated by learning and figuring out how stuff works. I’m not super talented at it, and my grade is kind of a roller coaster of A’s to C’s in that class, but I still enjoy. I think science is going to help me the most in the future, which is also why it’s one of my favorites.
The web can be frustrating, chaotic, always-changing. It can also be a pretty fun job. I needed to be reminded that it is amazing to be able to design something and bring it to life.
The web can also be challenging and demoralizing for women. We all need to make sure that the web is a place where young women like Emma can find meaningful work and creative success.