Tom May talks to web de­sign­ers at dif­fer­ent lev­els through­out the in­dus­try, and gets their ex­pert ad­vice on carv­ing out a suc­cess­ful ca­reer

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n some pro­fes­sions, the shape and struc­ture of your whole ca­reer is mapped out in fine de­tail from the start. You start by tak­ing an ac­cred­ited course, gain­ing spe­cific qual­i­fi­ca­tions and then mov­ing up the lad­der of clearly de­fined job ti­tles and stan­dard salary in­cre­ments. Web de­sign, though, of­fers none of that rigid struc­ture, reg­u­lar­ity or cer­tainty.

In an in­dus­try where the en­tire na­ture of what you do can change in a mat­ter of months, there’s noth­ing pre­dictable about where you’ll be in five years’ time. It’s no sur­prise, then, that when I asked on Twit­ter, “Have you al­ways seen a clear path to ca­reer ad­vance­ment, or has it been ran­dom and chaotic?” web de­sign­ers re­sponded over­whelm­ingly: ‘The lat­ter’.

“When I started UX didn’t ex­ist, Flash was still a thing and web de­sign was one per­son writ­ing code in a dark room”, pointed out Clara Ilena, dig­i­tal art di­rec­tor at MRM//McCann. “Like with all tech, the in­dus­try con­stantly changes, so you have to adapt your plan: like Ag­ile de­vel­op­ment method­ol­ogy, ” added Leon Brown, ed­u­ca­tion con­tent de­vel­oper at Next­point. “As one con­fer­ence speaker said, ‘If you don’t like changes, you need to get out of the in­dus­try”,’ noted Sergei Gol­ubev, founder of The UX Con­fer­ence. “Things change ev­ery day.”

But while web de­sign may lack the clear, pre­dictable ca­reer struc­ture of other pro­fes­sions, that doesn’t mean it isn’t im­por­tant to put some thought into how you want your ca­reer to go. In this article, we speak to de­sign­ers at dif­fer­ent lev­els of the in­dus­try, to find out what worked for them, and how we can learn from their ex­am­ple.

Job or free­lance?

One of the big­gest de­ci­sions you have to make through­out your ca­reer is whether to stick to a salaried role or go free­lance. There’s no right or wrong an­swer here, but the kind of peo­ple who tend to write blog­posts, give talks at con­fer­ences and pen ar­ti­cles to net mag­a­zine tend to be free­lance, en­tre­pre­neur­ial types. So it’s easy to get the im­pres­sion that this is the only route to ca­reer suc­cess.

That’s cer­tainly not the case, though. And if you dig a lit­tle deeper you’ll

Au­thor Tom May Tom is a jour­nal­ist with more than 20 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence. He's been writ­ing for net since 2008, and is also a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Com­puter Arts, 3D World and Imag­ineFX. @tom_­may

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