Freelance Web Development: Two Pitfalls

Ahhh, the abyss. There it is…looming in front of you like the white screen of death. There you sit poised in front of your computer with the keys to the kingdom of awesome web development. It’s invigorating. There are two things to be careful of in web development: too much confidence and not enough.

Over Confidence

When you first start out there’s a lot to learn and most likely you are suitably intimidated, but then you get a few websites up on the web, your grandma thinks you’re some kind of web genius and couple of guys at the bar start telling you about their great idea since they know you build websites. You get cocky. You’re rolling along building some cool websites and then it happens: some kind of catastrophe. Something you forgot about and suddenly you have a client angry at you, saying you don’t know what the hell you’re doing and, to some degree, they’re probably right.

Early on I built a store for a client, tested it vigorously and then launched the site. A couple of weeks later I got an email. The client said that purchases were showing up in the backend, even showed the amounts and that a credit card had been charged. But when they went to their payment gateway, there were no actual charges. I remember thinking, “That can’t be.” But it was. I had turned off the testing environment on the website, but forgot to turn it off at the payment gateway. Over a thousand dollars in charges.

So, I apologized, fixed the issue and paid the client the money they lost.

Being a Little Anal is Not So Bad

Be careful. Doublecheck yourself. Hell, triple check if you have to. I often joke with people that programming has made me more anal than I already am. When you’re programming you’re thinking of worst case scenarios. You have to plan not for the best user, but for the most evil user that has ever walked the face of the earth. It’s what we do. So don’t worry about it. Being a little too careful is far better than not being quite careful enough.

Under Confidence

I remember going to my first WordPress conference. I’d been building sites for 6 or 7 years. I was feeling pretty good about myself. I was making it as a freelancer. My clients liked me and I really liked my job.

I learned a lot at that first conference and I also started to feel rather inadequate. It wasn’t just the speakers, it was the questions being asked by people in the audience who I could see were at a far higher level than I was. What did I think I was doing, anyway? What right did I have to call myself a web developer? The next day I went to some more advanced sessions. Good grief! I felt very out of place. Certainly everyone knew I was just a cheap imitation of what they all were. It was humbling.

It’s not a bad thing to be humbled. It just not a good thing to stay there. We’re all learning. We’re all getting better at what we do. There is so much to take in and remember and learn (Where would we be without StackOverflow?). So just hang in there, work hard and be cool. Be happy to learn from those better than you and happy to help those who are not. And be generous with people who are not as good you. We’ve all been there. Be nice and enjoy the journey.

Something In Between

My favorite science fiction author is Stanislaw Lem. In his book, Fiasco, one of the main characters gives advice to an astronaut who will be the first human to visit an alien planet:

I advise humility. Not caution. Nor that you should be confident. I advise humility, that is, the readiness to admit that everything and I mean everything you will see may be completely other than it seems…

It’s not quite that for us, but it’s good advice overall.


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