3 Humbling Life Lessons I Learned Making Websites
There are times in web development where it’d seem like a rock-star experience. Show a web layout or app to some passerby, and they’ll gasp like you blew their minds. Even when starting out, people unfamiliar with the field may think it's like magic. Even real professionals get this "like magic" feeling every now and then. But ironically, the more I learned, it’s actually brought me further down to earth.
I’m not saying this is bad. I still love the work and look forward to developing my web development career. But I've faced lots of humbling views about myself and even life in the process. They're like the thoughts people have when looking at stars: They make you feel small and insignificant, but also that everything's going to be okay.
This all helped me mature and feel a little more prepared for life after graduation. So for my fellow graduating millennials, I’ll share these lessons with you here and hope they stick with you as well.
1. Being impulsive rarely works. Success needs a step-by-step plan.
I learned this lesson after an actual website injury.
I had one weekend to make a rough version of a magazine site for a class. I jumped right in and hoped to figure it out as I went. But the day was very scattered and frustrating, and I hardly got any work done. Just making a menu was so difficult I slammed my hand--and cut it on the edge of my laptop. It was a big sign to stop.
The next day, I didn’t trust myself to start without thinking first. Before I did anything, however small, I sketched it out and planned how to actually do it. I took a careful step, paused, planned, then did the next step. By the end I’d gotten all I needed done in less time and without any blood loss.
Making a website is like entering a war zone--you can't run in with no plan and some random weapons. You’ll have no idea how to handle what situations pop up, and you'll get dragged down with unneeded tools. (If you’re especially unlucky, you’ll see some blood.) Plan a strategy can help avoid all this, and there’ll be much less screaming.
As much as I wanted to believe I was good enough to work on pure instinct, that wasn’t the case. In web development, everyone needs to think things through first to succeed. That applies to all of life, even the parts we feel most confident about.
2. There are always people a lot better out there--a LOT better.
I’ve hit plenty of roadblocks in my current web development internship at Eric Mower + Associates. A few times I've spent almost an hour trying a new plugin for some extra functionality, but with no luck. Then I’d call my supervisor for help, and they’d spot and solve the issue easily in 10 minutes. It seems like this would happen a lot with beginners, but in over two years, it’s never happened less. Only for different areas each time.
In web development this goes beyond people being better at what I know. They're also better at dozens of other things I've never heard of that are so useful they seem like essential tools. They know plugins, frameworks, libraries, scripts, and things they make themselves. I’ve never heard of them, but when I do they shatter my knowledge all over again.
Most of all, this happens no matter how much I try to stay ahead. I’ve downloaded dozens of eBooks on different topics but to no avail. It’s routinely mind-blowing and disheartening, like hearing there are three new universes to explore when you’ve only seen a few planets in the first. A firm reminder that no matter how smart I get, it's essential to learn more.
Anytime we feel comfortable with our knowledge and don’t look for new info, we’re missing a major life lesson. While there’s always people a lot better, it also means there’s always great lessons to learn at all times. The excitement of big discoveries never goes away.
3. Magic doesn’t exist. It’s just a puzzle you haven't solved yet.
One of my professors showed me a web project. It had a list of locations and a map in the background. When the mouse hovered over a location name, its spot on the map appeared with a yellow dot. This happened for the while list of locations. For a couple seconds I had no idea how it worked, and it was basically magic. Then the professor explained it in a couple seconds, and the illusion crashed down.
As with a magician revealing how the trick works, the wonder faded. This happens multiple times every day, and can make one a pretty powerful cynic.
With many of my friends, it sounds like they still believe web development is magic in many cases. But after just a few lessons, most magic is gone forever. Every magical website becomes a puzzle to solve. What design tricks made these effects? Did they use any special tools? Can I find the answer by looking at the code or with more research? The answer isn't held by a higher power--it is out there, it’s just a matter of finding it.
There is an upside to this humbling lesson. The wonder of the trick's magic is replaced by the wonder of knowing I can solve it myself someday, which is a decent trade-off. Solving a puzzle isn't as thrilling as pulling a rabbit from a hat, but is still a good thrill.
In conclusion ...
Today people who make websites and apps are often seen as rock stars. Especially when some have unbelievably amazing offices in places like Facebook or Google.
But as I've gotten further as a web developer, I’ve felt less and less like one. It's a truly humbling marketplace of ideas. You’re asked to learn new tricks and make new content and watch how much better everyone else in the field is. This goes on for most, if not all, of one's career. Compared to all the work I see out there, I feel incredibly small and inexperienced. It's another reminder that, when entering a huge field like this, you need to love the work above all else. Otherwise its weight will crush you before too long.
But when you love the work, the weight just brings you closer to earth and ultimately makes you better. If you find something that makes you happy while it makes others miserable or frustrated, it's not a sign you're weird. It may actually be a sign you’ve found your life’s calling. So don’t let it slip away.
Max Antonucci is a senior at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications, studying Online Journalism and Information Technology. His career focuses include web design and development, social media, content marketing, and anything related to working and thinking digitally. At school he's the Lead Tech and Innovation Producer at The Newshouse and helping launch a local startup news site. He can turn almost any topic into a political or philosophical discussion, enjoys drawing the occasional cartoon, and somehow has gone his whole college life without drinking coffee. Follow him on Twitter at @DigitalMaxToday.