Words from the Wise
Robyn Ness, Webmaster
What exactly do you do?
I plan and build web sites. That means meeting with people to understand what they want the website to do and what information it should include. It also means spending a lot of time in front of a computer writing pages in html, writing and preparing content, and working with images and graphics. It's a lot more collaborate than a lot of people think.
Describe a typical day.
Right now, I'm working with a team to redesign a web site for the department I work for, so I'm in a lot of meetings to decide on site content. I've also been meeting with visual designers to talk about how the site should look. When we're further along in the redesign, I'll be building the pages, testing them, and filling in the content. I mostly work 8-5, but with deadlines, sometimes I work evenings and weekends.
What's the coolest part of your job?
I like the creative part. I like to make things. It's fun to put a site together and launch it for other people to use. I like working with other people to design a site and make it a reality.
How do people react when they learn what you do?
A lot of people ask me questions about the Web works, or they tell me things they like or don't like about web sites they use. Occasionally, people ask for advice about their web site, or ask if they should have a Web site.
How did you become a webmaster?
When I was in college studying psychology, I took a class in systems engineering that included a web development project. I really enjoyed the project and thinking about how to communicate ideas to people online. After that class, I found a part-time job with a web design company, and, with that experience, I found a full-time job.
What disappoints you about your job?
I think most web developers would agree with me when I say the most frustrating thing is that Web browsers don't display all pages in the same way, and it can be very challenging to make sites that look good in Internet Explorer and in Netscape and in Firefox.
How has your job changed over time?
When I started doing web work about six years ago, I built web sites and pages according to the specifications I was given. People gave me information, and I would translate that into a page. Over time, I've moved into jobs where I do more information design and site planning. Pages are much easier to update now, so web masters have had to learn whole new techniques.
How will your job be different ten years from now?
That's really a good question. The Web is only about 15 years old, and I don't know if anyone knows what it will be in another 10 years. Current trends suggest that it is becoming more flexible and user-centered. For example, some people surf the Web on their mobile phones or hand-held devices, which have very small screens compared to regular computer screens. Another trend is social networking, where people go online to interact. Providing web-based information in more flexible ways and with more interactivity is becoming more and more important.
What are some of the most important skills and abilities needed for this job?
Web development requires a lot of technical knowledge, but it also helps to have a lot of curiosity and a desire to figure out how things work because learning on the job and problem-solving are essential. Communication skills are also important when planning sites and working with others.
What advice do you have for people who want to enter this field?
Being a web master can require different skills, depending on the specific job, which includes web server administration, html programming, graphic design and multimedia production, information or interactive design, and writing or content development.
What do you wish someone had told you before you left high school that would've helped you with your career?
You don't have to leave high school knowing exactly what you want to do. The Web was invented in 1991, the year I graduated from high school, so there may be careers, especially related to technology, that haven't been invented yet!