A Series of Pillars

I am a front-end web developer. I entered this world through an internship facilitated by my high school. “Websites” was my answer to their monolithic question: What are you interested in doing after high school? That internship grew to a part-time position with the same company, then into a full-time position with another company where I still work. My career path has been one of luck, not planning. The questionnaire led to a job and a lifestyle I love, earn a living from, and want to continue doing.

I am lucky.

I am also worried.

This summer will find me in a new city with a new job. To prepare for these changes, and as a result of my realization that I know nothing, I have been reading more about my profession and its many actors, business models, and startup ideas than ever before; however, reading and learning doesn’t sate me. I am Dumbledore’s unyielding thirst. I only grow more troubled by the vastness of knowledge I don’t have.

This series of tubes I stumbled into is, upon inspection, made of pillars. Actually, the whole of professions and knowledge is made of pillars of various heights and spacing. These pillars grow from the ground to their summit and are defined by three properties:

  1. Height
  2. Proximity to surrounding pillars
  3. Quality of ladder

Quality of ladder

The ladder is the collection of foot and handholds that run along the entire pillar. They are what we use to climb — to develop our skills — to the top. Web design and development, I’m happy to have found, has more hand and footholds than any other pillar in sight. Anyone, with effort and diligence, can start from the bottom and arrive at the top. I count myself among those who have arrived at one or another elevation of the pillar and established a nest and a livelihood.

Proximity to surrounding pillars

Your pillar isn’t alone in the universe. It is influenced and inspired by close and far siblings and step-siblings. Denser groups of pillars allow for professional flexibility. You can easily move from your pillar to another.

You’re free.

Sparse collections of pillars restrict those who climb them. There are fewer possibilities for change, and the possibilities that exist are hard to leap to. Often you fall so far while soaring from pillar one to pillar two that you’re essentially an intern in your newly-found field of practice.

Height

The pillars are falling. Expertise in old tech is laughable in a new age. The height of your pillar at this moment only predicts how long it will last if it were to start falling, and few pillars stand forever. Don’t despair when the foundation beneath your life begins to crumble. New pillars rise. They rise daily (#startupculture). The difficult decision — the one that has denied me sleep in the past week — is: Which pillar will you jump to; and when will you jump?

To remain still is to die. This is what happened to old technologies: television, newspapers, and radio. Those who have not redefined themselves are no longer around.

I worry I will be one of those old technologies. The new industries and technologies I see rising could be the death of me. They may be nothing more than a fad. They may expand and swallow my marketshare, or establish their own niche servicing clients I didn’t have in the first place. That is to say:

I don’t know how the next five years will shape the web and my place in it. I cannot predict the future. My guesses at which new businesses and ideas will gain traction are just that: guesses. At the end of exhaustion and worry I know only this:

Don’t create or live in a vacuum. Pay attention to trends and new technologies. Try them out. That is your defense against becoming obsolete.

Don’t be afraid.