Zach LeBar

Personal ramblings on a wide array of topics. "But, you know,
I could be wrong."

You're Not a Developer

— Will I become more, if I make you less?

My friend Joe Casabona wrote an interesting article yesterday: Not Everyone Needs a $10,000 Website (and that’s OK).

In it, he covers a lot of ground, touching on website budgets, “site builders”, the true role of a web developer, teaching others, and having empathy.

It’s a great article. You should read it. I’ll wait.

Ok, done? Great.

I want to hone in on one part in particular. Joe references a conversation he had on Twitter. I wasn’t paying close attention, but I saw it all fly by out of the corner of my eye, and I saw something I recognized. The original tweet felt familiar. It seemed to be full of emotions I’d witnessed before.

And it all boils down to this: are you legitimate?

The “you” in that could be yourself*, but more often than not it’s directed at someone else. Are they legitimate? Do they belong here? Do they deserve to call themselves … what? Fill in the end of the question.

See, this isn’t something unique to web developers. I see it in design circles too. Did you create every element of a thing you designed? Do you use stock photography? Stock illustrations? Templates? Clip art??

Illegitimate Stormtroopers

You know where else I see this? In fandoms. Are you a real Star Wars fan? Are you a true Whovian? A bonafide Trekkie?

The parallels are interesting. With fandom, we see it as something we’ve made an investment in. It’s taken time, effort, and maybe even sacrifices. We’ve worked to earn the titles, to earn the … respect. That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it? We’ve worked hard and we want that effort to be acknowledged and respected by others by means. And that respect comes in the form of a token term or title. If someone hasn’t gone through what we have, then they don’t count! They don’t deserve to get the same respect we get. They don’t deserve to be called a Trekkie!

If that seems a little silly to you, that’s understandable. Fandom is a little silly. At least to those on the outside of it. But take those exact same arguments, and substitute “Trekkie” for “developer”, or “Whovian” for “designer”. Does the conversation change?

When you’ve clawed and fought and struggled to be where you are, it’s fantastically frustrating when someone who appears to have done less work (dare I say inferior work) tries to place themselves on the same level as you.

“Devalue Our Work”

Let’s toss money into the fray! That’s where things really take a turn. Joe mentions this:

Note: If you’re a person who claims to be an engineer to get more money out of people or make them believe you’re doing more than just building a site, that is wrong and I (and many) take issue with that. Those are the type of people who truly devalue our work.

As soon as you use the same label to describe us, we’re all in this together. If you’re a “developer” whether you use site builders and pre-made templates, or if you painstakingly handwrite each line of code, then we’re considered by non-developers to be equivalent.

Sure, some of this should fall on each developer, to differentiate themselves. Show why their work is quality work. But, do we need to chastise and criticize others to make our own work look good? Could we perhaps instead, reflect on the fact that, from its beginning, the Web has been a collaborative effort. That we all lean on each other, building on the work of those who’ve come before. Not everyone is on your same level, for better and for worse. That means you can still learn from others, and (hopefully) others will learn from you.

Well What Do I Do?

Does it kind of suck that someone can build a site in a slapdash manner and technically call themselves a “developer”? Maybe. Is it frustrating that people will pay money for that kind of work? Again, maybe.

If you ask me, it all comes back to education.

Educate non-developers about the possibilities available to them. Teach them to recognize that a website built with a “site builder” and pre-made templates isn’t the same as a site custom-designed and custom-coded just for them. They might still choose the “site builder” website because it’s all they can afford and it’s better than nothing. And that’s fine.

That doesn’t hurt you, nobel punchcard developer. Right now, at this precise moment in time, that client would’ve never hired you anyway.

But, in the future, they might. If you don’t insult them or the person they hired to build their site, they might. If you’ve taught them the value in a custom-built site, they might.

Put yourself in their shoes, have a little empathy, and everyone can walk away satisfied.