The Art of Starting at the Bottom
A Bit of Advice to Budding Web Designers / Developers Looking to Start An Internship
We as creators of websites and web applications entered a pretty awesome field, don’t you think? Every minute of every day, something is changing, and to stay on top, we have to — no, we get to learn something new, or just something more.
Now perhaps you’ve started a full-time position right out of college, or maybe you’re doing an internship to get your foot in the door. In either case, I congratulate you: that’s no easy feat, especially since the field is so oversaturated. I want you to give yourself a pat on the back. Go on — I’ll wait.
Did you pat yourself on the back? Cool — let’s move forward.
I hope you love your internship. You’re getting your newborn designer / developer feet wet and realizing all the stuff you just learned already needs improving on. It’s so exciting!
Now to kill your buzz. Do you ever get the feeling that you can do more? Almost as if what is expected of you is…well — a bit insulting? Like you can juggle with four balls, except the chief grand juggler will only let you use two? From what I gathered from fellow classmates and friends alike, I wasn’t alone in feeling like this when I started out.
To give you an example from my internship: I thought I’d be working on sites with all the latest trends — flat design, JQuery animations, responsive. But instead, I found myself mocking up sites in Photoshop and slicing them for Dreamweaver. Something admittedly efficient, but not what I had expected. Hell — it wasn’t even what I had learned. I spent the better part of my college education becoming great at handcoding HTML5 and CSS3 masterpieces, and porting that into a CMS, only to not even get to do that.
So I’d go home everyday, burnt out and discouraged. From my perspective, I didn’t feel in the position to recommend the things I did, since what I did paled in efficiency to what was required of me at work. I started to second guess myself. Did I choose the wrong career? Did I just waste the last three years of my life to get accredited in something I’m probably not meant to be in? Am I wrong in thinking the current trends are the way to go?
To put it bluntly, thinking like this is kind of whiny to some degree. I’ll admit — I was a whiny little idiot complaining about not being on the top immediately. Of course I didn’t get to call the shots, or make any decisions. Why would I? I was an intern. Hell, I was lucky they paid me.
That said, there is immense value in starting at the bottom. For starters you can make suggestions. Whether anyone takes them is another story, but just for a moment, consider the power behind that. If you can suggest something that benefits the company and improves efficiency, and your team or employer sees that, that boosts your reputation. Your boss won’t look at you like a template jockey — but rather a template jockey with potential. And there’s no shame in that.
In my situation, I had been learning SASS for about a week, and found myself pretty fluent in it. I felt it would help speed up development, so I shyly sent my boss — who was in the next room — an email about it. It didn’t go over like I wanted (long story short: “no”) but a week later he recognized the suggestion, and gave me an open door to suggest anything I think would be beneficial to development.
It wasn’t for a while that I found myself now developing more mobile websites, and felt designing on a responsive framework would speed things up since — let’s face it — I took way too long to turn a design that in no way was developed with responsive in mind to be responsive. Though I was discouraged, I decided to try suggesting one more time.
And voila — it worked! He gave me freedom to prove its value. While I’m still working on that site now, the feedback I’ve gotten on it is outstanding.
Something else you can do is build on skills in your off-time. If you’re unsatisfied with a project or projects at work, use your own time and pace to build something fun and exciting. Add it to your portfolio, and use it to leverage your suggestions. Its one thing to say you can do something, but its another to actually show it.
But the ipso facto, best thing you can do when feeling unsatisfied and discouraged when starting out at an internship is to remember that everyone has been where you are before, and it will pass with time.
There’s no shame in starting at the bottom, in fact, you’re in the best possible position: people expect you to make mistakes, and expect you to learn from them. It may hurt to set aside your pride, but if you’re just starting out, what you may know will seem like less than you thought. And that’s fine.
Growth is all about experience, which requires time. A year from now, you might get put on bigger assignments. You might move from small business websites to massive corporate websites. Its all about what you make of your time at the bottom. To quote the great Dr. Seuss:
The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.