Tuomas Jomppanen

Keep Asking That Question

07 May 2012

tl;dr I gave a lecture at University. A female student asked me how to get started on web industry. I gave her a semi-decent advice. To right my wrong, I give three pieces of advice on this blog post.

I was giving a lecture at University of Oulu for first year students about The Lean Canvas versus traditional business plans. I couldn’t resist the temptation of giving some career advice and I think I gave pretty good one. I kept them short and simple, just to give a starting point.

After my lecture I had reserved some time for questions and answers. I was hoping to get few questions, nobody wants to end the lecture early, with the awkward silence. I got few questions about Lean Canvas and I think I nailed the answers pretty good. Students started asking more general questions about web and software industry. They were easy questions and easy to answer.

Then I got the hard one from a female student. Her question went something like: If you don’t know anybody in the industry and you don’t know anything about web technologies, how do you get started?

Back then, I did not realize how hard that question actually was. To provide even decent answer for it, that is a big challenge. Give a bad answer and the student may drop out of the school. Especially for women who are just beginning their journey into the world of web, the web technology might seem be a bit scary, the industry seems to be filled with nerds. It might not feel the most exciting world. Answering this kind of question is a big responsibility.

I gave semi-decent answer by telling how the world’s greatest ski-jumper had started from the smallest hill, practicing until he had skills for bigger hill. I am first to admit that it was too vague advice, maybe even a lousy advice.

To right my wrong, I have given some more thought and here is an proper answer, which does not have anything to do with ski-jumping.

My Three Pieces of Advice

1. Keep Asking This Same Question

By asking this question for the first time, you take a concrete step on the path of getting into web industry. The first step is always the hardest and now you have done it. Congratulations! :)

When you have the chance, ask this same question from people who seem to be more experienced than you. You will most likely get a wide range of answers, everybody has their own way of seeing things and thats a situation where you could learn something. But just don’t settle answers on ski-jumping.

Eventually, you start getting answers about things you already know. Thats a good sign.

2. Browse Through Website Galleries

Start going through lots of websites. Improve your taste of good web site design. Pay attention what seems to be the primary function of the site, and how easy it is for an visitor to accomplish it. Remember that typical user browsing the internet has extremely short attention span, so the primary function must be very obvious.

For example, browse through websites of banks. When a first time visitor ends up on a website of a bank, what would bank want the visitor to do? How is a bank trying to lure a first time visitor becoming a customer?

The more you go through different websites, analyzing their desired primary actions, the more you will understand about usability, user interface design and marketing communication.

A good gallery for web sites is cssline.com.

3. Follow People Who Create Great Content

The people who create great content are worth of your attention. They create content that is fresh and interesting, possibly even teaching a new thing in a way that is fun to learn.

How to reach those people? Read their blogs, follow them on Twitter. Currently, Twitter is the easiest way to follow people. Everybody announces their new blog posts on Twitter. I will do the same after I have published this blog post.

Here are few people who you should learn from:

The links are the ones that I can remember without any bookmarks. The reason is their track record of creating great content.

Extra Tip: Teach Yourself Web Development

Learn programming. You don’t have to be the greatest programmer on your town, having just the basic skills will help you long way. No more daydreaming about that idea. Learn web development and make it happen.

Luckily, there is a programming language which was designed for programmer productivity and fun. It’s easy to learn and it has very active community. The language is called Ruby and you can teach yourself the basics in 15 minutes on tryruby.org.

And Finally, Here Is a Product Idea If You Want to Get Started Right Now

Build a blog where you interview web industry veterans. Ask them that same question and write a blog post about the interview and their pieces of advice. If you do this, I guarantee you will learn things you cannot possible learn at school and build your network. Also, running a blog is definitely a big plus when you enter your first job interview.

Somebody already has a blog about that? Don’t worry. Change your approach. Narrow your scope, interview local industry veterans or write it on your native language. Find an angle that differs you from the rest of the “starting the career” blogs.

It’s not about getting everything right on the first time, It’s about getting you started.