LearnTurning Pro


Josh Long
writes on September 19, 2012

There comes a time in every web professional’s life when they are faced with the harsh reality that they aren’t “shipping” anything.

Sure they talk about web design or development, they may know a few CSS tricks or a few PHP hacks, and they may have even built a handful of sites. However, the majority of their time is spent frivolously wasting away thousands of hours of productivity and nothing gets signed, sealed and delivered.

In his book, Turning Pro, author Steven Pressfield describes this state as being an amateur or “shadow artist”. He argues that we get caught up in our own lies about who we really are or what we really do, but we never do the work of a true professional.

I know a lot of designers and developers who talk all day about their fields, but when you ask what they’ve completed and shipped lately, you get crickets. It’s the best question to ask someone if you’re ready for them to stop talking.

I think amateurism or “shadow” professionalism is a plaque that is infecting the web world. I know you feel it. I battle with it everyday, but the question isn’t “how do we identify a shadow professional?”, rather it’s “how do I turn a corner and shed my amateurism and take the final step of turning pro?”.

I’m glad you asked…

How to Turn Pro

In the next few paragraphs I’d like to reverse engineer what a true professional looks like and the steps we all need to take to shed the cloak of becoming “shadow” web pros.

Channel the Energy You Spend Talking into Doing

If we really reflect on how we spend our time, we’ll justify to ourselves how important it is that we spend hours reading articles and pushing out messages to our Twitter and Facebook friends.

Sure it’s good to stay up-to-date on the latest Responsive Web Design techniques and it’s important to be involved in the discussions surrounding the web, but at the end of the day nothing speaks for you better than your work.

Too many times we look to tweak the finishing touches without having a solid base to start with, which brings me to my next point.

Master the Fundamentals

You know who a true professional is? The knife maker.

Day in and day out, he does the same thing. He uses the same process for pounding out steel, sharpening the hot blades, crafting the perfect handle. His processes are so delicately picked and so painstakingly repeatable.

He has mastered the fundamentals.

Only then does he start to fine tune the sharpening process, select the perfect pins to hold the two sides of the handle around the blade, and just the right temperature and tool to get the final polish. That last five percent is earned over the time it takes to have built on the core principles of his craft.

For the web professional this means coding every day, mastering Photoshop, and writing constantly. It means cracking open your text editor and building apps in Rails every single morning, or building your MVC libraries in your PHP framework of choice, and shipping.

Know Your Tools

As any master or craftsperson knows, you have to know your tools. Without them, the professional is nothing. If you watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you’ll see firsthand the value and beauty in obsessing over the tools you use every day, to guide yourself to your own place of mastery.

We should know our text editor like the back of our hands. Every shortcut, every handle, every selector, and every keystroke should be our second language, if not our first.

We should know the ins and outs of the W3C specifications and the web standards should be our bible. We should perfect our use of Github and contribute to Open Source projects as a true professional.

I know it’s harder than it sounds but everything worth something is. Knowing our tools is absolutely vital to becoming a master.

Kill the Resistance

In Pressfield’s other classic, The War of Art, he calls our defeatist self-language “The Resistance”. Every day we try to talk ourselves out of working. We tell ourselves that what we do won’t be good enough, people won’t like it, or someone will call us out as a phony.

Seth Godin takes this a little further in his book Linchpin, and states that this defeatist attitude that hinders us isn’t our fault, it’s nature. He identifies this as our lizard brain. It’s the part of the brain that used to protect us from danger, like being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger or a grizzly bear. When we see the potential danger of shipping, we cower to safety.

The important thing is to identify when this is happening to you. When you catch yourself talking yourself out of shipping, kill the resistance. Overcome the lizard brain. We need you to ship.

Have a Routine

One thing I’ve noticed about professionals is that they have a routine. Their routine means that they are constantly working to finish their work and get better at their craft. They don’t have to fit the resistance every day, they just do it.

It’s easy to identify a pro when you meet them. They’re confident, self-aware, tough-skinned, and solid. This comes from the day-to-day grind of being someone who ships. They’re dedicated to their work and their routine is sacred.

It’s easier to sit down at your desk every day when it’s one less thing you have to remind yourself to do. Have routine and make your work an automatic habit.

Build a Library of Deliverables

In your professional life, at the end of the day all that matters is what people can see when you’re not talking. Turning pro means that you have a body of work that has your signature on it and is being used in the world.

Some people call it a portfolio, some call it a book. Either way the pro is nothing without their library of deliverables. Pros love to build things and be makers. Shadow pros like to talk and create clever distractions.


My hope is that you, me, and all of the readers of our blog contribute to the world. My dream is that Treehouse can inspire you to ship and not fall victim to the amateur web.

Make the decision to turn pro. Master the fundamentals, know your tools, and build a library of deliverables…

…but most importantly, do the work.


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