The Profession-alism of The Web Industry

Remember when we were just “web masters”? When only nerds used computers for anything other then work or typing up a book report?

As of this writing, I’m 32. While I was perhaps not around for the early early days of the web, I was savvy to computers when I was 9 or 10, often the one helping the librarian figure out what was going haywire with the Macintoshes (did you turn it off and on again?). I began making websites in 1999, so while I wasn’t a professional until 2006, I have been around the web industry for long enough to witness the huge shift from a far more casual web to the professional one.

While it seems as though the web has grown up to some degree, I’m not so convinced our industry has. As our industry matures, more and more people jump on the coding train and find themselves in a bit of a wild west scenario. There is no degree, no certification, no actual qualifying anything to be in this industry. Boy, we sure are novel and fun and young aren’t we?

But there is no standard of ethics. Regarding…anything. There are general best practices, but it’s up to individuals to follow them. And often the client or user has absolutely no idea whether or not these are being followed. A developer could implement user accounts in a poor manner, making the site vulnerable to hackers. People have their credit card numbers and identities stolen from even high profile sites. So what happened to those developers? Maybe they got fired from that job, but it’s not like they have their web developer licenses revoked. It’s 100% self-policed.

What about education? There is no standard for education–what you need to learn, how many years you should spend learning it, how rigorous it should be. Take code schools as an example. Somehow you’re supposed to learn enough to be professional developer in 6-12 weeks? The media is telling everyone to go out and become a coder. So of course businesses are going to take advantage of the demand and the fact that there are zero educational standards. Those programs are incredibly expensive, and I imagine many students have the idea that if they spend $10k on an education, they will be hirable afterwards. How true is that really? Many schools tout high placement rates, but those numbers can be questionable.

Diversity and culture within the community continues to be a topic of heated debate, and I don’t foresee that going away any time soon. If you have a room full of people just like yourself and you can all dudebro out together, it’s pretty easy to see how all of this diversity talk seems like a major buzzkill. While the community at large seems to be embracing the idea of expanding who a developer is and can be, there are still many stereotypes and assumptions that can hamper folks as they try to move up the ladder. Take a look at the numbers of women and people of color who activity contribute to open source projects. Yeah, we still have a problem.

So what will the web development culture look like in ten years? Twenty? As software “eats the world”, will people wake up and see how important it is that the developers know, understand and keep with best practices? When a company has to go through a costly site rebuild for the 20th time, will they realize that perhaps they could hire someone with some better foresite who will make a site that will last longer then 2 years?

The only constant in technology is change, and it’s not just the code. Developers have gone from the bearded dude in the basement broom closet to the bearded dude in the reimagined industrial shared creative space. I think our field will undergo a lot of uncomfortable examination in the coming years, not just from within but from the outside world. My hope is that we can take that feedback, both the good and the bad, and meld it with the DIY, open attitude that drew me into the industry in the first place.