My coworker Rebecca and I recently had the opportunity to speak to some advanced high school students about some things they might do to pursue a career in the “creative” fields. We came in with a solid game plan and proceeded to wind our way through slides about matching your skills with your passions, honing your craft, playing nice with others – all the classic high-level, agency environment stuff. The students were attentive and engaged but as soon as we finished, we started fielding extremely specific, nuts-and-bolts type questions about which computer to buy and which classes to take.
While part of me was thrilled to get questions from high-schoolers at all, I was a little taken aback by the super-literal focus from people who were still years away from even their first internship. Finally I came to realize that while Rebecca and I were up there talking about the head, all the students wanted to know about was the hands.
The Modern Trades
I’ve been making websites in exchange for money for well over a decade now and I’ve done it in pretty much every career context St. Louis can afford: Small Biz, Startup, Freelance, Independent, Corporate and Agency. Through it all, the actual making of the websites changed very little. Sure, I’ve worked in different languages and platforms, and the pace of technology requires one to stay up to date (or else). But those technical pre-requisites, those hand skills, are simply the cost of admission. Once you know how to make a website, you realize that what and why are far more interesting questions to ask.
These high school students haven’t had the luxury of taking their hand skills for granted yet. They are still working on building that first website, that first portfolio piece. Unpacking the why of a website is the last thing on their minds.
Swimming in your lane
When working in an agency environment there’s going to be times when you are the head and times when you are the hands. The best projects have elements of both, but the experienced developer is the one who can tell instantly if they should be more worried about the how or the why.