For those of you who have read my bio, you know that several years ago I didn't even know what a Webmaster was (except perhaps a spider). How did I move from being a teacher and translator in the Peace Corps to one of the more "cutting edge" professions of the day?
As with many of the more interesting and wonderful parts of my life, blind luck was a contributing factor. I was in the right place at the right time, and I made the most of it. When I came into the Web group, I was ready for a change from my previous position, and they needed someone with my skills.
When I joined the Web group, I was a Technical Writer. I had had nearly four years experience in writing and translating technical documents. I learned HTML because my boss wanted our writing to reach a broader audience (and reduce calls). By the time I moved into the Web group, I was converting most of my writing into Web pages, and was very comfortable with HTML.
I wasn't brought into the Web group just because I knew HTML, however. There are many people out there who can do that. They needed someone who had experience with end-user interaction and could handle our Webmaster mail. They also needed a technical writer to document current CGIs, processes, and applications. Finally, they needed someone who was known in the company to handle incoming requests.
I was not a Webmaster
One important thing to note, I was not hired as a Webmaster. Because my primary focus was going to be on the writing the group needed, I was hired as a Web Writer. (My boss gave me the title Web Setter, but I got it changed to Writer.)
At my company, we look at the Web Development team as consisting of three major components:
- Graphics and Design
- Writing and Content Development
Each of these fields has a position associated with it. Web Engineers do programming, Graphic Artists do graphics and design, and Web Writers and Web Producers do writing and content development. A Webmaster knows something of each of these components.
When I joined the Web group, I knew design, I was a writer, and I could write Perl and shell scripts. In order to get promoted to Webmaster, I had to show proficiency in both graphics and C programming (we write all our CGIs in C).
The most extensive training I took was in C programming. I learned C and then wrote two simple CGIs to show that I could apply that knowledge. At the same time, I practiced with Photoshop until I had several graphics of publishable quality for our Web site. Once I had done that, I was promoted to Webmaster.
If you want to be a Webmaster or Web Developer, it is not enough to know HTML, even if you can make every whiz-bang feature of HTML 4.0. This is what I would recommend to get a job as a Web Developer:
- C programming, Perl, PHP, ColdFusion, or some type of programming
It's good to know Perl, but you should try to differentiate yourself. If you know C programming and can apply it to CGI, then you know how the server interacts with your programs, and are not simply making library calls.
I learned C first, and then Perl, PHP, and ColdFusion. Any one of these languages will enable you to program your site and create dynamic Web sites.
- Basic and Advanced HTML
Chances are, the longer we go in this field, the more companies will have tools to help you create HTML. However, if you don't know what the HTML tags are and what they do, then you will have a hard time fixing problems that come up, especially when you have to convert someone else's HTML.
You should be able to use a good graphics program like Photoshop. Paint Shop Pro is fine, but most corporations do not use it. You should also be confident in your ability to put together a graphic. You don't have to be the next Van Gogh, but you should know how to do it.
- Design and Layout
Know basic and advanced design principles, both of the Web and in print. If you can lay out a page that looks "cool" people are going to forgive your lack of programming experience. However, remember that what is cool today will be deadly boring tomorrow.
Content isn't king, like it used to be, but you should still be able to put a coherent sentence on the page. Use spell checkers, and grammar checkers if you have to, and know your limits. If you know you can't spell, then spell check even your name. Also, have other people read your work before you go live, they will catch the "too" for "two" and other errors.
This is still a new profession. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Job postings often ask for all types of things when they might be looking for you. You know that you are the perfect person for the job, they just haven't hired you yet.