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.
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
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: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org