I spend my spare time combining the luxury life of having no kids and a wonderful girlfriend with the agonizing pressure of blogging under my Onderhond monicker. As a front-end developer I am raised and nurtured at Internet Architects, a Belgian company investing a lot of time and resources in making the web a better place Niels is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 109 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

One Man Show Development

04.07.2011
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Being a web developer is not for the unadventurous, unless you're lucky enough to be able to evolve with the industry naturally. If you want to be stuck doing the same job over and over again for 10 years in a row, it might be better to try a different profession. That's not to say you can't specialize in one of its many sub sectors, but it's essential to realize that your methodologies and actual job description will change drastically over time. And right now, I feel a shift coming up.

first of all: context

I'm sure this article will not be a very pleasant read for some of you. It's not my intention to offend certain people or firms, but I do believe that what follows needs to be said. Also, it's not that I don't respect the work being done by people out there in the field. On the contrary, I know for a fact the work and hours some of you are investing in your job as front-end developer are far beyond my own capacity. But sometimes reality is unpleasant and yet it needs to be dealt with. So much for the disclaimer.


In less than 20 years time our profession changed a lot. Not only on a technical level, I'm talking more about workflow and social context here. When we first started to build websites we had to battle the amateur site builder, nephews, relatives and friends who could build you a site for half the price professionals charged. At that time these people were necessary for our job to evolve. Everyone wanted a website and there simply wasn't enough professional capacity out there to fulfill that need. But once the web started growing up these same amateurs became a threat to our job. They simply couldn't guarantee the quality that was needed for the web to evolve as a business-minded ecosystem.

A similar shift is coming up once again. For years the middle regions of the web have been ruled by one-man show developers. People who were capable of handling a single project from start (initial meeting with clients) to finish (sometimes this meant front-end only, sometimes it even included back-end). These people really helped the web to grow and to attain a respectable level of maturity, but nowadays you can feel how they will be limiting further growth in the near future. Not because they aren't capable or they aren't putting in enough effort in their job, but simply because the complexity of building a site is rising exponentially.

from conception to front-end delivery

Taking a site from initial conception to a finished (front-end) delivery is still quite possible if you're talking about a website composed of 6 to 10 pages. Simple custom development set up in Wordpress or any other simple CMS is still somewhat doable. But even that is changing, with needs of customers that keep on growing. If you want a quality site these days, you need to think about taxonomy, wireframing, usability, accessibility, semantic and structurally correct html, css and browser compatibility, javascript and frameworks, design (functional and creative), performance, mobile solutions, cms or other autmated systems, copywriting etc etc. And that's just the technical side.

It is possible to do this all by yourself, but it becomes more and more difficult to do a good job in all these fields separately. Keeping track of all knowledge in even one of these fields is pretty much a daytime job, so the more you want to do and the broader you want to develop yourself, the more you'll have to compromise on quality. If you want to distribute these tasks over a team of people, you only need to take into account extra project management.

One-man show developers these days are a bit like those one-man orchestras. I respect them mostly because what they do is technically very difficult indeed, playing multiple instruments at the same time. But I usually don't respect them for the end product, which is never as good as a well-guided and well-educated team of specialists would have accomplished. This is not so much a critique as it is a simple observation, but it's important to realize this.

the way forward

If we want to respond to the ever-more demanding clients, we'll need to start doing things a little different. Solutions coming from people doing one-man show development are actually pointing in the right direction, but will fail if they are executed by one and the same person. Wireframing and designing in html is okay, but not when done by the same person. The subtleties and knowledge for each job is just too much for one single person to handle, and it will only continue to get harder. So there is a definite need for new best practices and better platforms to accommodate the different profiles working together, something that is still strangely lacking today.

As a html-guy I've noticed important changes in my day to day job too. A lot of what I used to do was copy/paste work from one template to another, from one site to another. These days I'm more focused on writing a specific html component once and referencing that component wherever I need it. It allows for maximum consistency, ease of adaptation and a minimum of errors. I can't really go in-depth here, but the steps we are taking to make our job easier are profound and will have a serious impact on the way I work on a daily basis.

conclusion

While many people are looking for ways to combine all the work they do into a simpler workflow, they are fighting for a lost cause. It's time to split responsibilities, specialize (without over-specialization) and see how each member of the team can cooperate as efficiently as possible, reducing the amount of work and overhead.

If you're still trying to do everything yourself, know that in a few years time you'll probably become a liability within your own community, holding others down and delivering sub-optimal websites that won't convince your clients of the full potential our web holds. It's a tough truth alright, but it's right around the corner and waiting to happen.

References
Published at DZone with permission of Niels Matthijs, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

Comments

David Illescas replied on Thu, 2011/04/07 - 9:53am

Interesting read.

replied on Sat, 2011/04/09 - 1:13am

An interesting opinion piece. I disagree, though, being a one-man developer myself. I find things are actually getting easier over time rather than more difficult. My increasing skill level / experience plus Wordpress plugins are helping me achieve great things for my customers.

Thomas Eichberger replied on Sat, 2011/04/09 - 7:32am in response to:

The same is true for me ;-)

Sebastian Thiel replied on Sun, 2011/04/10 - 4:45am

I think both applies nowadays: customers want rich user interfaces and social networking, which makes life for (one-man-show-)developers harder. On the other hand there are very good tools (like wordpress, ...) out there, that help making things easier. I think it depends on the tools you're using. Java enterprise web development for example is not a one-man-show ;)

Shoaib Almas replied on Sat, 2012/08/25 - 6:57am

Just because you aren't up to the challenge, don't assume others are the same! A team work is another name for a committee. You'll end up with a website that has all the whizz-bang latest tricks, and clients will pay for 5 people when one would have done. And a LOT of meetings as people have to be brought up to date.

The secret is to get the client's staff involved (even if it means giving up billable hours), build in phases, be modular, and understand your client's customers. If the site you're building is THAT complex, you're not focusing on your client's core business. You're building a site that you can charge a lot for, that requires constant professional maintenance.

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