There has been a lot of talk lately about what you learned about software while not in college, or what you learned about software in college and what life skills best have benefited your software the most, with other articles, blog posts and ideas I have been kicking around for a while now – it makes me wonder, how do you rate your digital self?
As web designers, software developers or just plain computer geeks, all the fruits of our labor are ethereal in nature, not easily lending themselves to have any tangible, solid output. Site designers are a bit more tangible, but how do you take a piece of software of a computer?
Fame & Glory
Does it matter to you if anyone else knows who you are? I have thought about this quite a lot, probably more than I should – but that’s a perspective thing. It dawned on me the other day that I have been designing and developing websites and interactive applications since before RIAs where a glimmer in anyones acronym-glittered eye. I started in Director about 1996 and was making a living designing and developing multimedia projects in Flash 2 years later. In fact, it was the fact that I bought Flash 3 with my own cash to figure out how to use it, that ultimately landed me some gigs and a full time job at Zydigo Technologies.
Since that day, I have been busting my arse designing, developing and creating strange, cool, boring, long, short and immense projects. I started because I loved what I could create, the sense of accomplishment, the level of work involved, and because I was learning at an exponential rate – all of this combined was (and still is) extremely satisfying.
I have websites being hosted on 2 continents, and in several states – I am by no means a one man wreaking machine – but I am proud of my accomplishments and I hide none of the work I have done. After 11 years or so, I find myself intrigued by the MVPs and big names of development, and let my mind wander to what it might be like to be some sort of development celebrity. Why? I’ve a successful career, I consider the fact that I am the father of two wonderful boys and married to a beautiful loving woman foremost of the things that are important to me. So what is it that would make me give a damn about the fact that people don’t want to look to me as a source of knowledge or at my designs for a source of inspiration?
In part, it deals with recognition of hard work, a sense that the work is admired, appreciated, and has an impact. Everyone needs to have a certain amount of praise for what they do, without it, it’s pretty easy to feel it doesn’t matter. Another part is competition; competition with your peers and coworkers can be very instrumental in creating innovative and ground breaking work. Look at Picasso and Braque, they all but worked together while creating many very unique, brilliant and innovative works of art. Without one or the other, Cubism would have evolved quite differently.
The digital yardstick
Measuring how you rate yourself is probably the most difficult part of attaining satisfaction in your career. Do you have a stable support and development community of peers who are able to provide consistent, valid and sometimes painful feedback on your work? I consider myself lucky in the fact that my wife is an excellent designer, but has no desire to venture into the web realm – so I get a completely different perspective on the sites and projects I develop. It may not always feel lucky – but I value her input. I trust that it is honest – regardless of whether or not it’s positive or negative in nature. On the flip side, I live and work in somewhat of a creative vacuum. The town is very small, and as a corporate designer – the scope/latitude I have tends to be somewhat truncated to the scope of a Brand. That’s not to say I don’t have creative freedom, that would not be true – but not everyone is Nike, and therefore not everyone gets to do really cool Flash sites for everything.
In order to have a balanced scale, you must have a balanced community. In order to continue to create innovative, or just plain good designs or applications you can’t just surround yourself with like thinkers – you will stunt your growth and wind up being 45 and single like Scott Baio.
Not working in a design firm or agency, gaining access to a wide variety of skilled developers and experienced designers and art directors may not be easy, so User Groups are a great source for feedback and input. When I lived in Portland I tried to regularly attend DevGroup NW meetings. But I was also extremely lucky in that I had a great group of coworkers and friends who were both creative and opinionated – not always a great combination, but in this case I was truly blessed.
There are also online communities that are willing to give design feedback, such as were-here.com forums, among many others. Not to mentions sites dedicated to providing great designs and awards; the Webby Awards, W3C Sites, and Dark-Eye. These are by no means the only sites on the web for this, but the point is that you need to diversify to keep your edge. There’s some great info on Scott Berkun’s site about sustaining creativity.
Not everyone can be David Carson or work for Second Story, or even a Microsoft MVP. That doesn’t mean your work s without merit or influence. I have gone through bouts of being very hard on myself and the only I managed to do is make myself feel like crap, and lost creativity, momentum and desire to work – once you do that it takes a lot longer to get it back than it did to extinguish the flame.
It’s taken me a while to get to this point though, and I do have lapses where I think how cool it would be if I were known far and wide as the greatest Flash designer to walk the face of the earth, but when it comes down to it, I don’t really care – if I am happy with what I am doing, and the folks I am working for/with are happy; that’s what makes it a good design or well developed application.