Fundamentals & Freelancing

An unconventional approach to becoming a professional web developer

I’m just starting in my journey as a part-time freelance web developer. I make money from developing websites for people, and I am also a student at Flatiron School learning how to code. At the moment, one does not help me with the other, but I’m working towards the two being synonymous one day.

Confused? Don’t worry. In this short post, I will explain what the below picture means, why I am approaching my web development career in this way and how it might benefit you too.

a detailed illustration of my brain going into 2019

At one end of the spectrum I am learning the fundamentals of full-stack development (the coding side), and at the other, I’m freelancing. Somewhere in the middle, I want to become a professional that’s able to draw on expertise in both to create amazing experiences for my clients.

As a side note, if you haven’t heard of Stefan Mischook, I would seriously consider checking out his content on Youtube. A lot of my inspiration for what I am talking about here is taken from his passion for mastering fundamentals.

So how can I be freelancing if I am still learning the fundamentals? To date, my client projects have been created in WordPress using pre-made themes, page builders and plugins. If you don’t understand what that means, don’t worry. Just know that it is possible to create fully functional websites without touching a line a code.

When I mention the “fundamentals”, what I mean is web development from scratch; learning how to build solutions from the ground up and creating by coding. Fundamental knowledge includes knowledge of front-end (client-side) and back-end (server-side) programming languages with some HTML and CSS.

A professional developer is someone who has extensive experience at both ends of the spectrum. They know when to utilise pre-built/pre-made components or page builders and when to code from scratch.

My approach to becoming this professional might seem a little counter-intuitive at first. I am playing businessman and engineer simultaneously. A businessperson might focus on maximising return from current knowledge and double down on freelancing, outsourcing technical tasks when needed. The engineer wants to master the fundamentals and hone his craft. In playing both, I have a sort of circular feedback loop between the two that allows me to progress in both areas.

I love freelancing. It provides me with a sense of independence and allows me to develop business skills and create a portfolio while I am learning. It is also what gives me the motivation for learning how to code. The engineer in me loves learning. I love feeling as though the more I learn, the better I can eventually become as a freelancer. If I want to make a solid career out of it, I feel I need to provide a broader skillset to my freelancing. I don’t want pre-made themes to be the only thing I can offer my clients. Mastering the fundamentals and beyond is essential to progress as a freelancer. It will allow you to expand your services and take on more extensive and more complex problems. This approach takes a lot of time, but it is what is necessary to become an excellent professional freelance web-developer.

What I have realised from previously working small businesses, is that they want a partner to work with them and advise them rather than someone to just stick up a website for them. There are many things to consider when a business ventures online. There’s hosting, design, development, content creation, security, search engine optimisation, social media marketing… The list goes on, and being a professional freelancer means you can consult on all of these aspects.

The problem is, small businesses don’t have the budget to outsource all of these processes separately, nor do they have the time to learn the skills themselves. This is where, as a “jack of all trades” I want to come in. Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? If you haven’t, it refers to the fact that the last 20% of mastering a skill takes as long as the first 80% did (I really like how Ran Segall explains his full-stack approach when he talks about photography for designers). In this context, if you are 80% good at all of these things instead of a master at one of them you are unbelievably valuable to these businesses. You can provide everything they need for a lower price and get them online as effectively as possible.

This approach isn’t for everyone, but I think it’s a great way to approach a career with freelancing in mind.

If you are a freelance web developer, I would love to know what you think about this post! Please leave a comment or follow me on Instagram.

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about the author

Aaron Thompson

On a mission to become a full-stack developer that is fully equipped to understand the importance of client relationships and design in creating incredible digital experiences.

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