No Room For Organization?
Teacher: Jeffrey Allan
A couple of months back I began to think about the future of our profession - Web development, design, and production - and where it was headed, how it would mature, and what we could do to help bring it to a more respectable point. True, this profession has only existed for a matter of a few years now, and we are still learning as we go along. For example, if you asked a Web builder, 3 years ago, what their job title was, most of them wouldn't really know. Those who did, would have said "Webmaster", no matter what their specific area of development and production was, be it graphics design or server-side programming. Now, having come a bit further down the evolutionary chain, we have job titles like Lead Developer, Web Producer, Content Developer and so on, and we've even to some degree managed to get a rough idea of our job description. It was this type of thinking that spurred me to the notion that if we are to become even more professional, then it would probably be a good idea to have some type of professional organization. I know you're probably thinking "We already have plenty of them". True, organizations such as the International Webmasters Association and the HTML Writer's Guild do exist, and serve, in ways, a purpose of helping the industry become more professional, but I was thinking of something a little more intense, as well as a bit on the exclusive side, in the fact that it only allowed membership to full-time, professional Web builders, who make a living doing this. Not that I wanted to exclude, but then again I wasn't envisioning a group that would so much deal with the technical development side, as it would represent the rights of professional Web builders.
The rights? What do I mean by that? Let me give an example of one thing that I find really irritates me in this industry. The World Wide Web Consortium (or W3C for short) is the standards body that approves, disapproves, and reviews all standard technologies, languages, and about everything else that comes across the World Wide Web, with the exception of those items which fall under the classification of proprietary technology (i.e. Flash or Real Media). As the name implies, it is a consortium of individuals who represent specific sectors that have an interest in this type of thing, such as software companies, academics, and others who, either directly or indirectly, have some connection to the Internet. The one group of people though, who's interests I find are least represented by the W3C are the professional Web builders, who produce the content of this marvelous World Wide Web. Instead, it appears more often than not, that the browser developers are the ones who propose the standards, while the W3C approves them. Not to say the W3C is a rubber-stamp organization, but with no one else there really able to put themselves in such a position, the browser developers really have the upper hand. To me, this seems to be definitely out of touch with how the situation should be. Since the ones producing content, using technology, and creating everything that is visible on the Net are, in fact, the Web builders, it should be that same group that has the most influence in deciding what standards actually become the norm. With the process as it exists now, it has served to only make the Web developers life more complicated by introducing both accepted and proposed standards that are not implemented the same between browsers, and translate to increased workloads and production costs, by forcing us to develop two or even three different versions of a site, that will be accessible to all users.
In another real-world example, another issue that Web builders often have to face when dealing with clients is the matter of pricing. Since this line of work is highly based on an added value concept, the pricing scales that exist in other industries, have no meaning at all to our business. The negative effect works both ways here. On one end, we have Web development companies who are charging such high fees for projects, that it is often unrealistic for small to mid-size companies to even think about maintaining a Web presence, raising the bar for commercial entry onto the Internet. It also means that with the limited number of professional Web builders that practice the art, pay scales must be much higher for those employed by a development company, recruitment must be more aggressive, and retainment ratios are lower than pathetic, due to Web builders jumping back and forth between jobs offered, because of increases in salaries. On the other hand, we have 16 and 17 year olds sitting behind their PCs (no offense to any younger Web builders, just making a point), and telling prospective clients that they'll complete a project for $200. When the client comes to us and gets a substantially higher quote, we're hit with the classic "But this other developer offered it for only this much", again making us have to justify our costs, and bargain with clients like we were at a flea market. As of late, I've been telling these type of clients to go with the other developer, with the warning "buyer beware". The point here is that our profession lacks any kind of pricing structure or regional standards which we can use as reference when pricing projects, and also when justifying these costs to clients.
These two examples alone were enough to convince me that some type of professional organization was necessary to help further the development of our industry, and bring it to a more matured state. So, I presented these ideas to a group of peers, which consisted of about 20 Web builders, all of who could rightly be classified as professionals, with high volume portfolios. The first question I encountered while presenting the concept was "Why do we need such an organization?". Although I thought it should be obvious, I went ahead and gave examples of what was lacking, and how we could change it. Initially, there was much agreement from the group, but over the course of two weeks, in which we discussed details of the idea, the tide began to change. Soon, talk turned to that of labor unions, exclusionary practices, and certifications. In the end, what had started as a good idea had been so far distorted from its original roots, that it was resembling the differences between black and white. Maybe the most disappointing aspect of it all was that this group of otherwise very commendable Web builders and developers could never take the very initial steps necessary to be decisive, and take action on what they wanted to do, to further their profession. Instead of first looking at the macro and laying a foundation, debates raged and tempers flared over whether we should offer health insurance or not. In the end, I gracefully withdrew myself from the situation, chalking it up to an idea before its time. Still though, I am disappointed to see that Web builders haven't taken the action necessary to bring more maturity, respect, and stability to our profession, nor banded together to become one united voice when dealing with matters that affect us, our industry, and in its most basic essence, our livelihood.
About the teacher: