Design or Security
Looking forward at career options, I know I'm heading toward computer security and away from web design and development. There's a multitude of reasons for this.
My preference for web design is generally an open source CMS. I like some of the newer ones out there. ProcessWire would be cool to test…have to remember the other ones I like. I feel like a CMS provides a flexible way to organize a bunch of content. For some, it’s overkill. For my own sites. it’s a great fit.
In the past, Joomla was a standard go to primarily because the other competing platforms like Mambo, Drupal, Moodle, etc. just didn’t meet my needs overall. The problems with Joomla primarily revolve around security, with hacked sites pretty commonplace and both plugins, components...3rd party extensions that weren’t fully compatible with Joomla updates.
Outdated and legacy extensions leave the door open for exploits. It’s a pain in the ass to dig through and fix broken code for every little thing. Given the choice, I usually picked up a template from Rocket Theme. The templates are professional and slick, provide decent support and extensions that typically work without a major headache.
**It’s a little lazy to use templates, however it saves time. I saw no point in spending mine to create everything from scratch when I needed to get something decent implemented relatively fast. I think, I would always template a CMS, because it streamlines the process. I create templates for everything..a template is to design, what batch processing or automated tasks are to the rest of the computer world.
If I had to spend money on something, that's where I'd spend it. Normally, I'd try to go with open source extensions for everything else and modify template design elements to keep the look consistent. I'm not going to knock developers who create the extensions...it takes a lot of work to create and maintain them for a few donations at best. Rarely are creating free extensions someone's fulltime job.
Usually, I found that many of the free extensions had a bunch of limitations and fell short of what I needed. Which means putting in the effort to rewrite them to do what I want them to do or using more 3rd party extensions designed to extend and compliment a popular extension. Again, a plethora of plugins, etc. can compromise security for a site. You end up babysitting everything you use. Often, that's just a hassle. Ultimately, it would have been easier to go with paid extensions when needed. Sometimes, I did...other times not. It just depended on what was involved.
At that point you have a functional site, that isn't really customized yet for a client. This is where things started to suck.
First of all, if you use a computer or even a smart phone...you owe it to yourself and everyone else to learn how. I realize that sounds cutting and people have full lives. In a way, technology has crept up fast in terms of something we use all the time now. Yet, if you don't have the basics down with the constant security threats, etc....it becomes a nightmare.
Personally, I hate dealing with computer illiterate people when I take on clients. You try to explain the most basic things and you are already talking over their heads, no matter how much you simplify it, so people can understand. I can't tell you how many clients couldn't add content on the front end. It really just blew my mind. There are tutorials for that kind of thing. I've written them myself only to find out that people don't read.
Look at it this way...in life, things, concepts, etc. have specific names. If you want to go into a store and get socks, you use the name, "socks", You don’t say it’s this, "thingamajig like a shirt, but you wear it on your feet". This point develops further once you start talking about specific types of socks. Tons of people know exactly what "Peds" are...because it describes a specific type of popular sock style that we wear with certain types of shoes.
The world of technology isn't any different. There are technical names for things, a type of basic lingo that helps everyone get on the same page. If you say, my "internet" or "website" isn't working. when you actually mean your "gmail account"...no one is going to understand what you could possibly be talking about or how to help. It's going to take time and bunch of questions to figure it out. Everyone gets frustrated.
I also realize that technology costs a pretty penny and people tend to think they're paying for more than what they actually are. When you pay for a cell phone and plan, you are paying for whatever is listed, bolded and in fine print. The fine print more than likely qualifies bolded short descriptions with numerous exceptions as "your plan". Everything is like that...it just really is, today.
When you pay a website designer to create a site, typically you aren't paying for a new logo, better photos and artwork, along with professionally written content. The designer is going to work with anything you give them to add into and work a design around. The above all represents "content" for the site. If a designer needs to create these things, it has to be included into the agreement and priced accordingly.
All too often I found myself in a predicament. The logo looked like something a 5 year old designed. Personally, it would look a little embarrassing to have it emblazoned on something in my portfolio. To others, the assumption often was that I created it, until I explained that I didn't. I felt like the work reflected negatively on me and it always bugged me.
There are a lot of tactful approaches in trying to get a company to overhaul the logo. Unfortunately, with small businesses the refrain would be something about how they just paid a bunch of money for it or some employee or relative designed it. They wanted to use it and I was kind of stuck. When it was really bad, sometimes I just created a new one pro bono and donated it, if the client was on board.
In some of the worst design gigs, I’d have little to no useable content. Either there really was nothing save an "about" section or what I did have was very poorly written and there still wasn’t enough to build a site around...a 2 page WordPress site would have sufficed.
The thing is, even with a bunch of decent content, in a full blown current site, you have blurbs, intros, lines advertising another section, page, product, etc...latest news, upcoming, specials...countless areas where you need to sample something interesting and place it in a number of other areas. Creating all of that takes some time. Maintaining this aspect of a site really means doing all of the above regularly...monthly, weekly, daily...all of these depending on the site, company, aims, message, etc.
The same goes for photos and art work. You have to create these in different file sizes based on users, like computer versus mobile, in addition to using them in thumbnails, sliders, galleries, advertisements, banners and other areas of the site. If the client doesn't give these to you, you're stuck creating them or having a half-assed site.
This goes on to say...you can have any scenario imaginable. .truly awful photos and artwork...little to none...that you have to use or almost try to hide as an afterthought. When there just isn't enough, you either have to get the client to produce more or do it yourself for a polished design. Often, I'd get stuck creating more and heavily editing the photos they gave me.
All of this represented a big investment of time, for me. Ultimately, I didn't feel like there was much of a pay off. I just...I don't love it anymore and I'm not sure if I ever did.
Web design was something I did to earn extra money, while I stayed home with my kids. Initially, it was an interesting challenge because I knew nothing. Everything was brand new, representing an area to learn and potentially master.
When I started it was straight HTML, no CSS or anything else. Websites...years later, My Space profiles, in particular, where a loading nightmare. People dumped ridiculously pieced code everywhere for animated crap all over the place. The separation of code and design became absolutely critical.
From HTML 5.0 to php5...designers and developers have to constantly learn new things, adapt their knowledge and at times, relearn how to work with changing technology. I can’t imagine being a designer without knowing how to code something up and troubleshoot it. It’s definitely, at least, a mini challenge to keep abreast with all the different languages being introduced and security threats.
At first, learning design and development was born out of my need for something decent and professional to showcase and sell my own products. As a small business owner, completely self-funded, I couldn't afford the expense of hiring someone to do it for me. Instead, I had to teach myself...to do it well enough, until well enough became versatile and professional.
I freelanced work, because I could. Each site represented some type of challenge that could push me to be better or allowed me to demonstrate my skills. I guess, once I could do it...I fell out of like with it...the job and process became more of a chore...something I had to do, when I'd rather move on to something else.
I'm saying this for myself...to put my words out there and clarify how I really feel, because I have toyed with taking it up again. If I did, there are new challenges...platforms I like better, ways to develop and apply what I've learned to create my own applications, programs or even extensions.
I will take those challenges on when I rebuild my own sites. It might even be kind of fun, in a way. Yet, I don't see myself wanting to do it for other people or businesses. They can find someone else.
I feel like, over the course of things I got burned too much and I have zero desire to deal with people in this capacity. On my own, I freelanced work for about a decade...some of my work actually incorporated my other work as a game artist. I had clients who wanted me to build something like a game universe, along with a website and everything else.
It was interesting, challenging and the pay wasn't bad. The thing is, I'm also a professional artist. Once I picked that back up, joined a guild, created pieces, got into galleries and shows...this led to co-owning an art gallery. As a co-owner, I headed up 3 committees and sat on 3 more, in addition to jurying art and even working at the gallery. This took up a great deal of my time and energy.
I barely had time to create my own artwork, let alone anything else. There's no way I had time to continue freelancing design work. Much of the reason was that I directed the gallery web committee. All 23 owners wanted their own space and mini galleries. The artists we represented wanted versions of the above and we had over 100 artists. Many of the owners also taught classes, so that meant something like 60 classes changing every couple of months...a way to sign up and pay for them, etc.
We had shows and events every month, that had to be included...calls for artists, submissions, etc. We had an online store, forum, blog. .just a whole pile of stuff. Pretty much no one on my committee did shit. I'd have to push to get web-ready graphics from the chick who did our logo and event post cards. I'd have to work with the photographers for the same thing, not because I couldn't do it myself, but because it was political and their original work.
The only thing I could maybe count on people to do was add the events, which I coded, to be pasted into social media. Everything fell on me and I already ran the window committee responsible for these amazing displays that got customers off the streets to come in and write ups in the paper.
I made nothing, all of my positions were volunteered and on top of it, if the gallery made anything these idiots representing a majority would vote to spend it on something stupid. It was too much. I was in the middle of a nasty divorce and homeschooling my 3 kids, as well as coaching soccer, being a stage mom for dance classes and working as an activist and advocate on different issues. I was completely burned out.
A huge group of us resigned from the gallery, including the president, head of finance, etc. All of us had enough. By that point, my work as a designer was like starting back from square one. My awesome work as a website director vanished, because the person who replaced me was incapable of even using the front end, let alone maintaining a site. She stuck up some dummy 5 page thing and my work was gone, because it belonged to the gallery.
Starting all over meant creating a new portfolio quickly. This in turn meant getting a handful of clients just as fast. In order to get these clients I had to offer some cut rate deals. Cut rate deals means degrading your value as a designer and developer. When you charge too little, it actually hurts the community of designers who went to school and want a fair price for their work.
The other thing that low rates tend to attract are clients who can't pay, expect a great deal for next to nothing, demanding and even shady behavior. I had at least 3 clients who paid the initial fee, tried to take my framework and run with it, then had the audacity to ask me to train their own people to do the rest. I'm not even kidding.
Financially, I killed myself when I took on these clients. It did nothing for my portfolio, because the people trying to maintain it had little to no knowledge of anything related to a real website. It's like they were playing at some guru role. I had them in my portfolio, looked at the site a month later...broken code for stupid things like images, incompatible design modifications with browsers, failed attempts to modify CSS leaving modules all over the place and garbage dumped into HTML. I had to remove most of the sites from my design portfolio as a result.
After that, I was just like screw this...I'm better than that. Thankfully I got hired as an associate producer for a TV show, getting an ecommerce site ready to launch products sold through QVC and a bunch of different things. Sadly the company went into endless litigation. We had to stop production after many failed attempts to start back up.
After that...I was just done...really really done until about a year later, I picked up a client for an MMA site. The original designer/owner sold out and bailed. My client just turned out to be a dick. He wanted me to fix everything because the current site broke after updates. He was trying not to pay me, after some loser on Craigslist promised to do it cheaper.
It turned out that the guy knew nothing and couldn't do it. The client came crawling back, after openly talking shit about me to others about how he found someone better. My terms were, "pay me, pay me for the work I already did, apologize and set the record straight over attempting to malign my character". He refused to apologize, so I refused to do the work.
After that my whole network got hacked by a jerk off neighbor. That went on for months, so I switched gears and went to school for computer security. That's the path I'm on now.
At this point I can still choose my path. If I wanted to work in design/development, I’d grab a couple certifications and work for a single company exclusively. I’m capable of getting up to speed on current design and development or essentially putting in the same amount of work for computer security. Security pays more and the industry is desperate for knowledgeable people.
I feel like...web design doesn't feed my creative side...art does, writing does, etc. I have more desirable outlets. Development doesn't really feed my computer nerd side the way security, pentesting, forensics, etc. challenges it. Put this way, my choice is simple. I can challenge myself for my own sites, but leave clients for people who want the work and have a passion for it.