On being a web developer

While tweeting earlier, I began thinking about my job and my skillset. I have been a web developer professionally for a number of years now, and for many more years as an unpaid amateur. While in college, I did my best to keep up with trends in web design and ensure that I didn’t get left too far behind.

When I left college, I first worked for a web design company, who did websites for a number of different clients. Because the requirements were so varied, I had to keep up with changes. I used several languages and technologies on a day to day basis, because some were better suited to the tasks than others.

Now I’m in a different position. I am a web developer working for a pharmaceutical company. The scope of what I do is huge, and the development list is ever growing. But due to existing frameworks, existing platforms, etc., I find that I’m always developing in the same languages (namely Caché, and Java [J2EE], some jsp). While I continue to boost my skill level in Caché, I have noticed myself that I have less time to experiment with other languages.

In particular, I read about web conferences, and different tweets and blogs about friends and colleagues who are in web development companies (or are freelancing) and I wonder if I’ve made the right decision, or if I’m being left behind.

I’m sure that I could pick up these new languages and frameworks quickly, as I have had no trouble doing so in the past. I had no Caché experience when I started this job and was able to reach a level of proficiency quite quickly. But I do wonder if there will come a point where there is simply too much to catch up on.

And then, of course, we come to a decision I have debated myself a hundred times over – is it better to be a generalist, or a specialist? I could be a Caché specialist, but then, I don’t think there’s a very big market for that. I could be a generalist, but surely there is a point where one is stretched too thin in trying to have a hand in everything?

What do you think? Is it better to be a specialist or a generalist? And is it better to do in-house web design, or to work for a web design company?

Answers on a postcard…

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