Am I Developer Enough?


In the professional space, a title says a lot about your skill set and qualifications. Of course, some professions have official designations like Doctor, Esquire and so on.

When it comes to web design, we don’t really have those official titles. Often, we refer to ourselves as whatever we feel is most appropriate. A lot of us are called ‘web designer’, ‘web developer’ and some even go by ‘full-stack web developer’.

I’d like to think that most of us in the industry are pretty honest about our skills. We know our strengths and weaknesses. We generally wouldn’t call ourselves something we’re not. I think that level of honesty is actually one of the cooler aspects of the web design community at large.

Even so, I do struggle a bit with the terminology I use to describe myself. How do we know what’s appropriate?

What’s in a Name?

My career started out designing and hand-coding static HTML websites back in the day. In the many years since, I’ve evolved into creating custom WordPress themes out of my own PSD mockups, integrating goodies like custom fields and hacking away until everything works the way it needs to.

But, I’ve never been fully comfortable using the term ‘developer’ to describe what I do. I know both HTML and CSS well-enough and have general knowledge of PHP. Still, I don’t write any sort of complex plugins or applications from scratch. Does that mean that it’s okay to call myself a developer?

Generally, when I do describe myself with that term, I always put that little caveat in to ensure I’m not misrepresenting myself. Perhaps it’s partly being cautious and partly lacking confidence – knowing there is always going to be someone smarter and more adept. That’s probably why I never became a rapper (it just doesn’t work without the bravado).

On the other hand, there are a few people out there who may not really know or care about what title to use. For example, there could be someone out there who doesn’t know a bit of code branding themselves as a developer. What to make of that?

Why it Matters

On some level, this doesn’t matter all that much. You can make a case that, since this line of work is so varied in terms of the tools we use and the languages we code with, it’s impossible to see anything but gray area.

I buy into that argument to a certain degree. The part I struggle with is how this makes things a bit harder for someone looking to hire a web professional (hey, there’s another term!). The average person probably doesn’t know much about the terminology or what the difference is (or if there is, indeed, a difference at all).

Because of this, it really is incumbent upon those of us in the industry to clearly spell out what we do and don’t do. You might do this through your website or in conversation with a potential client. Here are a few tips on what to mention:

  1. Your Specialties: Do you design websites from scratch? Work only with a specific CMS? Whatever type of services you offer should be mentioned.
  2. Technical Skills: If you’re a developer, then it’s probably a good idea to list the languages and frameworks that you are most comfortable with. You don’t necessarily have to frame it that way, though. You might say that you “recommend” AngularJS rather than saying that you are comfortable with it.
  3. Your Process: Talking prospective clients through your typical process for setting up a site is a good way to manage expectations. They’ll see the steps involved and get a better sense of who you are and what you do.

The goal here is not to create a huge listing of every single thing you do and don’t do. Many clients really won’t care about the nitty-gritty of how you get things done. But a nice, general overview of what you do can be beneficial. It beats giving a long presentation to someone, only to have to tell them “Sorry, I don’t do that…” after the fact.

Let clients know the scope of your services and skills.

Wear it Like a Badge

The other part of this is that, oftentimes we might use a specific terminology to impress or fit-in with others in the industry. With the amount of professional connections one can make on social media, it makes sense. If everyone else is calling themselves something, you don’t want to feel left out.

For example, I’ve attended numerous WordCamps in my region and have met some incredibly talented people. I’ve found myself thinking, “Wow, I want to be like them!”

It’s easy to get caught up in that game. The trouble is that, most likely, I won’t be the technical lead on the next version of WordPress. So I’ve got to accept myself for who I am and keep trying to improve my skills.

Stay True to Yourself

Perhaps the lesson in all this is that, whatever you call yourself, do your very best to live up to that title. It doesn’t mean you have to be the smartest or most innovative. None of us – even the most brilliant folks you meet at conferences – have all the answers.

As long as you stay true to who you are and care about the work you do, you stand to gain both more business and more street cred in the design community – no matter the title.

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