I remember a conversation that I had a number of years ago with my supervisor. It was during my annual review, and he asked me what I was planning for the coming year, professionally. Everything I rattled off were extensions of what I was already doing or good at. When I had finished, he gave me very honest feedback, saying that I was becoming complacent and not challenging myself. Shortly after that meeting, I began writing — which I had been hesitant to try for fear of negative feedback.
Challenged by my supervisor, I worked to overcome those fears. I began writing on my personal blog, then later for other websites and magazines. My writing helped me to better convey my ideas and to become more comfortable sharing them with others. A year or so later, I took a job at an area university and began teaching website design and development. None of those opportunities, from the writing assignments to the teaching position, would have been possible had I not challenged myself and gotten out of my comfort zone.
From the company you join to the clients you work with, surround yourself with good people. There are many things you cannot control in this profession, but if you work with good people, then overcoming challenges will be much easier (and rest assured, you will face plenty of challenges).
I know that many people will argue that you cannot choose whom you work with, whether colleagues or clients, especially early on in your career, when your options are limited. Still, don’t accept a bad situation simply because you think you have no other choice. You will learn a lot from the people whom you surround yourself with, so do not compromise. If you want to be the best you can be, work with the best people you can find.
Ironically, the person who advised me to work with good people is someone whom I very much disliked working with. Still, the advice was sound. I quit that job a few months later, and I have held myself — and the people I work alongside — to a higher standard since then. That my success and satisfaction are as high as they have ever been is no coincidence. That comes from working with good people.
Throughout my career, I have received plenty of advice, but the four points covered here have really stuck with me over the years and have made a significant impact on my career. To recap, here is the best career advice I have ever received:
- Be a problem-solver, and make design or development choices that help to solve your clients’ actual problems.
- Do not allow fear of change to limit your career choices.
- Look for opportunities to grow your skills and to focus on things that you do not do well.
- Don’t be afraid to fail when trying something new.
- Surround yourself with good people from whom you can learn from.
- Don’t accept a bad situation, either with colleagues or clients, simply because you think you have no other choice.
Every project you work on will require you to make a number of decisions along the way. Those decisions need to be based on how to improve the client’s business and help them meet their goals for the website. You need to become a problem-solver. Doing so not only will improve the effectiveness of your work, but will do wonders for how your clients respond to your suggestions.
As with anyone new to a job, your lack of experience will sometimes be held against you, rightly or wrongly. One of the best ways to ensure that your ideas are taken seriously is to tie them to actual business solutions. A suggestion for a particular approach, like responsive design, or an explanation for why you’ve made certain design choices will be better received if you show how they will solve specific problems.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received as a web professional is that an amazing design that doesn’t solve any problems is not as valuable as an adequate design that addresses the company’s problems and improves their business.