Web Professional Roles Continue to Blur- New Opportunities and Challenges

As new technologies emerge (such as the Internet of Things [IoT]), new opportunities in employment and compensation also emerge. While exciting, these new opportunities usher in new challenges for Web professionals including students and those that teach Web topics.

Let’s examine the implications of these changes on the practicing professional, students studying web and those that teach Web centric topics and customers.

Some of the roles (and blurred skillsets) include:

  • web developers who can also create mobile apps (since there are tools like Cordova readily available, we can leverage our knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to create web sites and mobile apps and apps for wearable technologies).
  • those who can understand data analytics, marketing, and tools to automate many processes (and have the ability to present this in an understandable and easy to use web interface) are another example of this blurring.
  • User Experience (UX) designers who can design mobile app experiences and understand data analytics and can quantify the value of of these enhanced user experiences are yet another example of this blurring.

A recent report, “Blurring Lines: How Business and Technology Skills Are Merging to Create High Opportunity Hybrid Jobs,” by General Assembly (GA) and Burning Glass Technologies accurately concludes that “many of these roles—in fields like web development, data science, and digital marketing—demand both technical and business acumen.”

Although this trend is not new to the practicing Web professional or to those of us that teach, the ability to keep pace can be particularly daunting with lasting consequences to the profession and the consumer and employers alike. As a community of Web professionals, this important topic needs to be further explored.

New opportunities = New challenges

While it’s true that “Marketers are analyzing more complicated data sets, developers are building websites and apps that are functional and drive the bottom line”—business and technology do not function in a vacuum, and skilled professionals are expected to develop these sets of skills.

  • These “hybrid jobs are among the fastest growing and best careers in today’s job market—more than 250,000 positions were open in the last year alone, and the average starting salary is upwards of $100,000.”
  • Possessing this combination of current skills is no easy task. Mixed skills are and will continue to be a growing demand and has been a growing trend for years.
  • What’s often overlooked is the challenges that it poses for Web professionals trying to keep pace and those that teach these topics.
  • In addition, what impact will this have on the employer and those that hire?

Over the last several years, new tools have made programming and data analysis accessible to users with far less training and technical expertise than ever before. “This has had a democratizing effect on these fields, with technical and analytical  functions no longer the exclusive domain of “experts” but rather undertaken within a range of business and marketing roles.

A new class of hybrid jobs, which combine programming skills and “offline skills” such as analysis, design, or marketing, have emerged or assumed increasingly important functions in the digital economy.”

What will be the implications of these changes?

With new roles and responsibilities increased expectations from those that hire will also emerge. For example, when we were first developing web pages (in the early 1990s), there was not a lot of thought given to the user experience. We just wanted to get something to work. Now, there is a set of disciplines involving user experience. In the past, one needed to have a lot of specific knowledge to use various tools (and often a fair amount of training in the use of the tool as well). Many tools available today are intuitive (and often don’t need to come with a user manual).

What will this mean for the practicing Web professional

We recognize the need for closer ties with business have been around for a long time. However, the need for us to serve as integrators has never been more.

  • It is no longer enough to be skilled in just HTML, CSS, JavaScript and a few frameworks.
  • One must have additional skills (preferably business skills) and be able to transition into these changing roles and responsibilities.
  • As practicing professionals, we may have already experienced these transitions.
  • Sadly, I do not see many colleges embracing these changes in their web design and development courses.
  • The next generation of web professionals needs to understand how these changes will affect their ability to prosper.
  • Having a network of like minded, passionate peers can be a significant aid.
  • We must recognize there may be times when we are asked to perform certain tasks and we must have the courage to say no when that is the proper answer.
  • As Web professionals we should adhere to a code of ethics (and publicly show this).
  • As Web professionals we should be thinking about sustainability (especially helping mentor the next generation of web professionals).
  • Our own membership supported education portal, SchoolOfWeb.org aims to start filling the gap between what colleges provide and what individuals need to succeed in the 21st century.

What does this mean for the aspiring web professional?

This is a very exciting time to be a student; it is also a very challenging time. Existing professionals recognize there is a rapid pace of change and are struggling to adapt. Students have the added challenge of learning as technologies change. We recommend students:

  • develop a solid foundation in the core technologies driving many of these innovations (HTML, CSS, JavaScript).
  • ask your teachers and practicing professionals which frameworks are best to learn (hint, if you are told just jQuery and Bootstrap – ask someone else).
  • make it a point to reach out to practicing professionals (including knowledgeable teachers) and try to work with them in using an apprenticeship model.
  • challenge yourself every day to do your best work and keep examples of your work. You can show potential employers/ clients how you have learned and matured through these examples. You can often initiate a good discussion about your earlier work and indicate what you would change (now that you know a lot more).
  • challenge yourself every week to learn something new.
  • challenge yourself by participating in web design competitions or similar events (and learn from the feedback you receive).

What does this mean for those who teach these topics?

We recognize that teachers are always asked to “do more with less.” We also recognize that these technologies are evolving rapidly. We recommend teachers:

  • review your current materials and confirm they cover the latest (you do focus on HTML5 and CSS-3, for example).
  • set up challenging projects for students to learn from you (and learn on their own). Help them develop the skills to be a self-starter and a passionate learner of new approaches and technologies.
  • challenge yourself to learn something new each week. Promote what you have learned to your students. Serve as a role model learning new technologies and approaches. Yes, you may have to pay for some of this with personal funds as most schools are strapped for cash these days. Show by your example the value of learning.
  • provide the opportunity for students to network (form a web design and development club or student organization, for example). Hold monthly meetings. Invite practicing professionals.
  • encourage your students to participate in web design contests and similar events to validate what they know and to stretch and learn more. Solicit feedback from students after their competition and change your curriculum if appropriate.

How will the blurring lines impact the consumer?

Many consumers are likely not aware of the frenzied pace of change and emerging technologies. These drivers will have a significant impact on consumers (especially those who rely on Web Professionals).

  • There may be unrealistic expectations of the web professional performing such tasks.
  • They will have potential access to a much larger (and diverse) labor pool.
  • There are potential economies of scale as the need for collaboration increases.
  • There will likely be competitive pricing for many of our services.
  • There is a potential of mixed end results from an over stretched under qualified web professional.
  • We anticipate mixed levels of understanding (and engagement). It will be up to us to help everyone better understand many of the implications of these blurred lines.

Note from the Editor:

Staying up to date with rapid advances in technology and web best practices is no easy task even for the best of us. In future articles on this topic, we will dive deeper into the labor market to answer some of these questions. We will publish these complete with guest commentaries from practicing professionals, students, teachers, hiring managers, consumers and other trade and professional associations.  The burning question that comes to mind is, should we continue to blur the lines with a mixed bag of skills or should we limit our focus to the areas of our specific skills and expertise. Every profession can benefit from professionals with general practitioner experience but when to collaborate with others that specialize and with whom will be the driving question.

From Webprofessionals.org

By aligning with a professional association  you can in stay current with trends with the informational resources to succeed. Check out the other Web professional trends and if you’re not already a subscriber sign up. Future posts will include more on ethics in the web profession, sustainability, the future of web professional, web-centric education and more in depth tutorials on web design, web development (including web security) and web business trends.

Best always,
Mark DuBois, Community Evangelist and Director of Education

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