Climbing the Ladder in the Web Industry

After 3 years as a “UI Engineer” (whatever that means) in corporate America, I could tell that I was outgrowing the position and it was time to look for new work. This post contains just some of the many valuable things I did for myself outside of work and school that turned an impossible leap of faith into a painless bunny hop.

I was looking for a new gig during the dead heat of economic recession, and lots of my friends were actually losing their jobs left and right, so it felt like a very brash decision at first. A big part of me felt like I should just be thankful for having work in the first place, and that I was an ungrateful fool.

Fortunately, finding a job I loved wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, and becoming a part of the Treehouse team has been the best experience of my life so far. In fact, at 24 years of age, I feel like I’ve achieved a lot of my professional goals more quickly than I ever thought possible.

Meet People in Real Life

I visited South Korea in the summer of 2011, and quickly learned about their tendency to drink a little more than most cultures. Big business deals are commonly settled at a bar over a bottle of soju. Such casual environs blur the line between what’s personal and what’s professional, which makes it easier to form meaningful partnerships.

In recent years, there’s been a noticeable surge in the number of meet ups and events in the tech industry, and it’s not really surprising. People want to talk in real life in a chill setting, because if you’re nice to people and become casual friends with them, they’re much more likely to consider you when it’s time to get down to business. Not only do they already know of you, but furthermore, the step of getting comfortable with you is already done. They know what they’re getting into and they know that they can get along with you. As a general guideline, if you can no longer figure out where your social circles end and your professional circles begin, you’re doing it right and probably having a great time to boot.

A photograph of the banner for BarCamp Orlando 2011.BarCamp events make it easy to get involved with the local tech community and talk to fellow geeks.

Here are some ways you can establish the all important casual rapport with job generating techies:

  • Go to user generated BarCamp events where you can talk to people and present on topics that interest you.
  • Find local user groups that match your interests and skills, and go to their meetings regularly.
  • Attend smaller meetups for drinks or coffee. These are usually hit or miss, but if you find the right group of people, it can be incredibly valuable. Meetup is a good place to look for this type of stuff.
  • As Ryan mentioned in his post about securing a speaking spot, it’s a good idea to get involved organizing and helping with these events, or even make a new event yourself. For example, Jim and I helped by putting together the BarCamp Orlando marketing videos for 2010 and 2011; a small time investment that made it incredibly easy to talk to people at both events, because people were able to recognize us.

Demonstrate Your Value by Sharing Knowledge

If you’re looking for work in the tech industry, this is the most important piece of advice I have to give.

I think it goes without saying that you should continuously educate yourself and gain experience in one form or another; this is how you stay on top of your game. However, it’s what you actually do with that accumulated knowledge that’s so critical. It makes you a better worker, but it’s also your best tool for demonstrating your value to potential clients and employers. Let me say this very clearly and plainly: Sharing your knowledge is one of the best ways to move up in the web industry. It spreads goodwill so that people like you and it reinforces the knowledge for yourself. Best of all, when people can clearly see that you know what you’re talking about, it gives them the confidence needed to fork over their precious cash, whether it’s for a new career, a new client, or a web app you’re trying to get people to sign up for.

Photo of our Treehouse video camera, the Sony EX1R.Sharing knowledge on video is a great way to offer friendly advice.

Here are some ways that you can share your knowledge and demonstrate your value:

  • Write blog posts about the area you want to break into. Coding, design, video work, or whatever. Keep it super focused on one subject and informative; people want to know how to do stuff in simple and digestible chunks (like these bullet points, for example).
  • Guest host a podcast or start your own. This is largely how Jim and I were able to convince Ryan that we were right for Treehouse; it was clear that we were decent on camera and we knew how to teach web topics.
  • Speak at local events where you share your knowledge and experiences; again, the key with all this is to show people how to do things that they can then immediately do themselves. Free events that have speakers are usually looking for interesting people to talk to their group. BarCamp is a great place to speak too; you just sign up day-of.
  • Write short (but high quality) PDF books. You can give this away for free, or even charge a small fee to give it the appearance of having more value.
  • As Alan suggested in a previous post, contribute to open source projects and start your own. A full GitHub profile makes it much easier to land a software gig.
  • Regularly post design snaps to sites like Dribbble. Similar to filled out GitHub profile, lots of design snaps make it easy to see the your range and skill as a designer.
  • Tweet out original content, tips, and useful links that people are likely to retweet, that will increase your following (and thus, increase your exposure to potential job offers).

I could keep listing things, but I think you get the idea. When you do all these things, be sure to maximize their value by emailing other bloggers and podcasters. Really, every content provider is always looking for new stuff to talk about, so in most cases you’re doing them a favor. For example, if you make a free WordPress theme or create a new JavaScript tool, do your best to let people know that it exists and that you’re properly credited. Usually a link to your blog, Twitter account, GitHub account, or personal website will do just fine.

These are just some of the things I’ve learned along the way. In my next post on this subject, I’ll talk about how to bring unique skills to your industry and build a memorable brand around them.

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Comments

22 comments on “Climbing the Ladder in the Web Industry

  1. Hey Nick. This is exactly the article I needed to read. Thanks for all the advice. Ive been meaning to take these steps in the new year. Just need to budget my time :) 

  2. Great post, Nick. I was in a similar position myself just last month, and I’ve made the transition to full-time freelance SEO consulting work. No complaints yet!

  3. Brilliant Nick. I have a question! Where do you think people in our field, could be easily find a new job? I’m from Italy, but, actually, I can’t see a bright future here! And if we are talking about sharing knowledge, each freelance would build a wall in order to protect their secrets and skills! I’m in a where-I-have-to-go phase, and til I can, I don’t want to lose the chance! So, have you any advice? Thank you, and thanks also for your great videos!

    • If freelancers in your tech community aren’t willing to share skills, it sounds like it’s just more opportunity for you to stand apart from the pack. You should consider starting an event, a blog, or a podcast, and then marketing it to your community. BarCamp events are held in lots of cities worldwide now, so perhaps you should try to start one of those.

  4. Good thoughts, Nick! These are all things I’ve not put much value on in the past – I need to remember that this stuff is just as important as creating design work.

  5. Great post Nick. Perfectly timed for me too. Joining treehouse and interacting on Facebook has actually shown me that I can help others. Im in the place now to start getting out there too…

  6. “if you can no longer figure out where your social circles end and your professional circles begin, you’re doing it right”

    I think this is pretty much a best case scenario, unfortunately most people will have to work with a lot of people with which they don’t want to be involved professionnally.

  7. Nice post Nick. Agreed. Building your network and demonstrating/building recognition of your expertise (in any field or industry) is key to professional growth.

  8. Hey Nick,

    Amazing post bro ;)

    i believe all the things you said, in featured, Demonstrate your value by sharing your knowledge,

    A fan from Brazil :)

    Cheers! @oieduardo:twitter 

  9. Look at what has worked so far, then decide if you want that route or you want to go fresh and new.

    I used Alexa because it is rather independent. sorta.