The end of the one-man-band web developer

Alastair Aitken 19 November 2013 0

This may come as a shock to old school web designers – often the type whose work boasts “HTML proudly crafted by hand” – but web design has moved beyond the capabilities of a single developer/designer.

Consider the needs of responsive design: a website that requires a modern look-and-feel should be as functional and pretty on a desktop as it is on a tablet and on a mobile device. Quite apart from the amount of design work involved, there’s probably even more work required to test that the responsive design requirement has been met. Further, to be of any real use to a client, that site also needs some type of content management system behind it. If you’re crafting all of this from scratch then you are far more gifted than I and the other 99.99% of the IT industry. More likely, however, is that your idea of “pretty” and “functional” is somewhat different from the norm, to put it politely.

The rise and fall and rise of the Generalist

I started in computing as a specialist, programming in machine code that was specific to a single model of processor. My next job was working as a generalist; I was the person who “knew everything” about computers. Then I was a specialist again but this time in relational database design. Then I was a generalist, an analyst developer. Then a Java programmer. Then a generalist. Then I was a SalesForce guy. Then an analyst. Then a JavaScript guy. Then a generalist. This may strike the casual reader as the diary of a fly-by-night but it’s really a reflection of the modern job market and, more specifically, how the IT market truly is.¬†Generally, the trend for me, is that my work is more of a generalist nature.

When a potential client recently asked if I could create a web solution that was part document management, part project management and part calendar, I pointed out that spending around $20 a month would get a robust off-the-shelf solution (such as Basecamp, Teamwork, or even the free Trello) in a far shorter period of time. Granted that the ready-made solutions might not meet the requirements completely but why spend a lot of time and money on me and my services? Wait! What! That doesn’t sound so very smart of me. But I plan around the long term: hopefully suggesting a pre-made solution now, rather than one that lines my pocket, will put me first in line for any real work that comes down the pike. Maybe subconsciously I use this technique to test my compatibility with prospective clients.

Adapt and survive

Isn’t there something incongruous about the simultaneous demise of the one-man-band and the rise of the generalist. Surely a one-man-band is actually a generalist? My feeling is that this is not yet the case. The one-man-band operations that I have come across need to increase the breadth of their knowledge, particularly with respect to other options and supporting tools, whether those be web design frameworks, testing systems or content management systems. By leveraging pre-existing work, the one-man-band can continue to survive but the days of opening a blank page in text editor and commencing to type raw HTML have long gone.

Alastair Aitken (124 Posts)

As a contract developer and manager I’ve worked in a wide range of enterprises in a variety of countries where I’ve encountered everything from great work, awful work, bizarre work, all the way down to quasi-legal work. If you think that you recognise your own organisation within my articles then you’re undoubtedly wrong, where you work isn’t that unique.

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