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Ready to "Go Pro"? Leaving the 9-to-5 Routine

Teacher: Jeffrey Allan

Although the title may lead you to believe that this article only discusses issues involved with leaving your "other job" to become a free-lance Web builder, don't be mistaken - A Web builder's job is hardly ever finished, and the normal work-hours of "9-to-5" will soon become a thing of that past, if you're ready to take that big step. Web builders can frequently be found in their offices at odd hours of the morning, and often on weekends, so don't be too surprised if, once you're full-time in this profession, you get a call at 2:00 a.m., asking you where you put such-and-such a file, or what the password for some odd FTP site is. Computer professionals in general are well-known for their rather free working styles and hours, as well as often times not seeing the light of day, for weeks on end. This becomes especially true, when you have clients in foreign countries, who operate on time zones different than your own.

Many of you out there are not yet employed full-time in a Web professional capacity, but are more likely starting out, either as hobbyists, freelancers, or part-timers for organizations that have limited Web development needs. But, as time goes on, the urge to develop bigger, better, and more sophisticated sites will take its toll, and you may be called upon to make a decision as to whether to try your hand at Web building full-time or not. In most cases, builders want to give it a go, and make a full-time career out of the Web industry. One thing in particular that will be a challenge, is convincing prospective employers that you have enough experience, and skill to fill the position being sought.

So, how should you prepare for this, and when is the correct time to make your move into the Web industry, as a permanent career switch? To say, "Seven months, two days, and 14 minutes after you build your first site is the correct timing" would be an impossible thing to do. Bringing it down to specifics is not a science, but more like an art, and you'll have to rely a lot on your own instinct, as well as the self-confidence you have in your own abilities. Look at the position you're applying for, in regard to the skills you possess. If you find yourself consistently not possessing the skill-set sought, then you need to spend more time honing your knowledge in these subjects. At some point, you'll see that certain advertisement and say "Hey! I fit all of those requirements!". Bingo! You've just realized that the time has arrived.

While you're waiting though, there are several key things that need to be prepared. First and foremost, get yourself together a good resume, in HTML format PLUS a text-only format. No Web development company is going to take a potential job candidate seriously, when they haven't even taken the time to prepare their resume in an online accessible format. Likewise, Web companies have a tendency to request resumes be submitted via e-mail, and that means having a resume ready in text-only form. When creating that HTML resume page, make sure that it is one of the cleanest pieces of code you're created in your entire development history. Make sure that every browser can access it, without error messages, that layers don't show up in 3.0 browsers placed on top of each other at every turn, and that it downloads quickly and efficiently. Creating dynamically generated, dHTML pages, with hi-resolution graphics that take 10 minutes to download is a sure way to NOT impress a prospective employer, and a bad reflection on your design style and judgement.

But your work is not finished there. Aesthetics aren't everything and your content will need to back up, what your page design infers. Pick up a copy of a book, such as "The Damn Good Resume Guide" (Yana Parker / 1996) and Harvey Mackay's all-time great "Swim With The Sharks: Without Being Eaten Alive" (Harvey Mackay / 1996). Read them, study them, memorize them. Learn what sells you and your job skills. When the time comes to present yourself, you'll be glad you did.

Onward with the preparation... Every developer who possesses a personal portfolio, will have a much better chance of getting the job position they seek. If you've built any type of site, be it a personal site, or something built on a freelance basis, make sure that it is available for viewing by potential employers. If the site was built as a temporary or time-limited site, make sure that you retain a copy of it, and it is available somewhere, online. A note though, if you do include personal sites in your portfolio, make sure that they represent an image of yourself that is both professional and desirable to prospective employers. In these cases, it may be better to suppress references to your hobby of collecting sharp weapons, or your on-going campaign to convince authorities you WERE actually abducted by an alien.

In closing - The final thing to take into consideration, is to be sure that you are getting your real worth, when being offered a position of employment as a Web developer. Do your homework, research the job market, pay scales, and comparable items that are specific to your geographical location. Don't just accept any position offered, without first considering what your OWN requirements of the employer are. The industry is highly competitive and the right skill-set can mean a huge difference in the compensation and benefits packages offered.

"Wait!", you're saying, "I don't want to be a full-time employee. I want to be a freelancer!". Well, in this case, we have one important piece of advice for those of you wanting to become full time freelancers... Stock up on instant noodles. You may need them in the early days. But, that's another article, and another month!.

About the teacher:
Jeff is a frequent columnist and product reviewer. When he's not busy writing away about what's happening in the industry, Jeff specializes in the development of e-commerce and 3D virtual reality systems (not usually together at once...) for deployment over the Internet and other related outlets. Before coming to the "elite" and "prestigious" world of Internet development, Jeff worked with the venture capital finance industry, specializing in media and high-tech. Before that, he served as a U.S. Marine where he was highly decorated for service during the Gulf War conflict.

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