Recently, I was reading the bios of the "executive team" for a local web design/development firm (undisclosed) and saw that a couple of them had "over 20 years experience" in the web industry. An acquaintance of mine at a different company states he has "over 10 years experience" on his bio. If that's true, then he started doing web development when he was 14. I guess that is not unfathomable, but honestly, how realistic is that? And what type of web projects were the other two guys working on back in 1987? Not saying it isn't true, just really wondering about the robustness of truth in those bios. Perhaps we're all a little guilty of this from time to time.
After reading all this, I started to wonder about a couple things.
I know we want clients to view us as professionals and give them the comfort of knowing we've "been around the block before", but why do we think that the number of years experience is a key factor in providing that comfort level? Do we think our clients, colleagues and web-based social network friends will think better of us?
I think I've indicated that I have 7 years experience on a few bios I have floating around out there. Technically, this is true, because I started designing websites in 2000. However, does it really matter that I spent the entire first year building web pages with Microsoft FrontPage 98? It wasn't until 2002 that I understood how to use CSS and grasped the idea of how to build web pages according to web standards. And it wasn't until probably sometime in 2004 that I had a clear proficiency of HTML, CSS, information architecture, usability best practices and graphic design.
Ah, yes, but "over 7 years of experience" sounds much better than just three. If we're honest with ourselves, I'll bet we all have similar learning curves that make our all-powerful "years of experience" seem a bit watered down.
Wait Just a Second!
I know what you're thinking. All experience is important because it shapes what we've learned up to this point and helps us make better decisions today. That's definitely true. In all matters of life, things we have experienced in the past make us who we are today. Mistakes we made yesterday can make us stronger for tomorrow.
We don't have to start the "years of experience clock" at the moment we stopped making mistakes; or when we started doing things a new way or when we had this job title or that training class. I think in all of us there is a sense of knowing when it all "clicked" and when you first considered yourself a "web professional" without feeling guilty. I just think that's how it goes with a profession such as ours.
Perhaps we feel the number of years of experience somehow offset the fact that most of us don't hold a Bachelor of Science in Web Design. Therefore, we need to augment our resumes and bios with important sounding experience and how we've worked on large, complex projects. Guilty as charged, your honor. But I think this thinking is misguided. The internet, as an industry, is still so young and things have and continue to change so quickly. I think its OK if you’ve only got a few years experience. There’s nothing wrong with that.
What Really Matters
Consider this an open plea for candid representation in bios around the web. Yes, I’m sure clients and prospective employers would like to know that you didn’t just start your career on the web last year. But I say let’s be comfortable in our own skin, confident in our skills and let our portfolios do the talking.
I’ll go out on a limb and predict that clients, et al, are more interested in seeing examples of our work and getting a feel for how we work than knowing how long we’ve been working.
In my book, its not the number of years that counts, but how you’ve used those years to get where you are today.