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Knowing your limitations

by Douglas E. Welch

October 8, 1999

© 1999, Douglas E. Welch

These last few weeks have been an eye opener for me. I have been engaged to repair and make some modifications on some web sites. I am fairly web savvy and usually have no problem cleaning things up. In this case, though, all manner of things have gone wrong. Through a combination of various programs, web designers and programmers I realized that people working outside of their area of expertise can truly create a mess. Hopefully, my experience will be as illustrative to you as it was to me.

Everyone to his task

Graphic designers can manipulate Adobe Photoshop and other graphic programs with aplomb. They can create beautiful artwork in minutes that would take me hours. Web designers can make HTML, cgi programs and other web tools spin out hundreds of pages, each designed to give the user the best experience possible. WebMasters, network managers and database developers can provide robust underpinnings for any web site, no matter how complicated. Big problems can occur however when any of these experts begin to think they can do it all.

It is a rare person who can perform all the above tasks equally well. Everyone has their specialty. While you can usually get by in other areas, cracks and flaws are sure to show through. Sometimes these are cosmetic flaws, mis-aligned text columns, bad links, etc. Unfortunately, the problems that truly effect a web site are often buried deep within its guts. As I began to fix some of the flaws of these web sites I started seeing the warts that had been hidden beneath a thin veneer of HTML.

We all fall down

While some web sites, and, in fact, any technology project, can work fine when initially designed, the true test of design is how easily these projects are updated and changed.

In my case, I was confronted with a host of Microsoft FrontPage extensions, special HTML codes and a web site owner who had no idea how it worked or how any of it was designed. Left to my own devices I treaded lightly on the code and corrected a few of the errors. Instead of taking minutes, these changes sometimes took an hour or more. It became clear to me, by looking at the site and the code, that the designers had very little knowledge of how web sites or HTML actually worked. They had let the FrontPage program handle all the technological decisions, much to the detriment of the site itself. While the site functioned and looked alright, it was nearly impossible to update without a complete re-design. Not only that, the site was to be moved to another server and this caused a host of other problems to occur.

Knowing better

This experience showed me that we are all better off when we know our limitations and bring in more experienced people when we need help. Knowing when we need help is one of the most important lessons we can learn as high-tech workers. Better to bring in assistance than lose a client forever. I know people can have problems with admitting that they don't know something, but I firmly believe that "I don't know…but I can find out" is one of the most important phrases of our business vernacular. It is always better to call in help than to do something badly.

Once you learn the lesson of asking for help you need to develop a network of contacts to assist you. If you are doing web design you might want to find a webmaster who can help you set up domains, web servers and such. You might want to find a graphic artist who is not only a good artist but also knowledgeable about web graphics in particular. The goal is to find someone more adept than you in all those areas that you either can't or don't enjoy doing.

As high-tech professionals we need to remember that knowing how to use a program doesn't make us an expert in any art form. Just because I can do some simple manipulations in Photoshop doesn't make one a graphic artist and being able to write a few lines of code doesn't make one a programmer. We all need to face the hard facts of our own limitations so that we can do a better job for our customers.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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