This episode is a word of reassurance to anyone trying to learn how to make websites, work on websites, or support clients that have websites.
And the biggest thing that I can say to anyone is you’ll learn it when you need it. How to be confident about websites when you don’t think you know everything.
The most important thing that I can say to anyone is you won’t ever know everything. You may start to learn one thing and end up learning another and going down some other lane. With web development, there are so many specialties and so many things you can learn. This is all a process. This is the most important thing that I can think of to tell people to remember about web development.
And it’s actually one of the most common things that I encounter, especially when I’m talking to people who have started out in one specialty, like design, or content writing, or social media marketing, and then they decide to move towards developing or supporting websites.
The root of your confidence in your skills ends up always being all about doubt. And that may seem obvious, but it’s sort of a play on the whole imposter syndrome thing.
The most overwhelming thing that you feel when you’re starting out is that there’s so much out there to know, and it seems like everyone has this huge head start.
And that’s the case with a lot of mediums and things that you learn. Even fandoms that are out there with sci-fi shows, there are always these people that have this huge wealth of knowledge about this thing, and you’re like “I don’t think I can ever get started on that, that just seems wildly overwhelming.”
But the thing is, all you have to do is sort of just start watching the show, and then maybe you’ll like it, and maybe you get into it, and then you start to gather info and get into the web forums and things.
The same goes for web development.
There are a ton of articles and programs out there that talk about these imposter syndrome symptoms, and how to remind yourself that everyone started somewhere, that everyone was where you are at some point, and so on.
I was the same way, I always felt like everything always had this huge support system around it and I was just dipping my toe in.
But a lot of this advice can sometimes seem hollow because the doubt runs really deep. Did people really start out where I was? Do people really have as much trouble as me, did they really feel like they were drowning and directionless?
And, unfortunately, you’re never going to know where everyone was. This is not an actual person that you’re thinking of. This is some sort of person that your mind has conjured up of who these people actually are, where they started out.
Maybe they did have a specific aptitude for puzzles, or algebra, or whatever.
But the thing about website development is that because there are so many places that you can go, you can literally take this anywhere you want. So if you specialize in design, take that as a strength and use that to talk to others about how to optimize their designs on their websites, maybe give people redesigns. You don’t always have to start from scratch, you don’t always have to know everything.
If WordPress seems really big and monstrous to you, maybe start out with a Squarespace website for somebody. And then talk to some WordPress people, you can always shoot me an email, talk to whoever’s in your network about what they know, and they can always give you a little bit of a place to start.
Because like I said, there are so many resources, that you can start to feel like you’re drowning. And how can you find some sort of direction or path in all of this?
The thing to remember is that even if you don’t find someone who can echo your exact experience, that you are still just as likely to be able to figure things out. It might take you in a different path or a different direction, and advice that one person gives you might not apply at all, but you still are just as likely to figure it out, just in your own way.
This is all about decision making. It’s all about trusting this haphazard process. Find a project and do the work to find a solution for it. That is something that you should write down. Find a project and do the work to find a solution for it.
True, there are some developers who are able to just absorb languages and syntax and contribute to open source programs and create some sort of static site system for the next millennium and blow everyone out of the water. But you have to remember your goal and remember the short and long term differences in those goals.
You have to differentiate between what you want now, where you want to be, and try not to make those long term goals be that short term goal. So for instance, if your goal is to learn how to develop a website using WordPress, that’s a pretty big goal, and it’s vague. So drill that down a little bit.
Learn how to install a theme, learn how to install a plugin, learn how to customize a theme. There are things that you can do to break it down and break it down further. So you have your goals but then you have a project that can help you make it towards those goals.
Another big thing to remember is that odds are, you know more than you think you do, and most women are in the exact same boat as you. We tend to doubt ourselves a little bit more. And I’ve heard that the smarter you are, the more you doubt yourself. So the more that you learn, the more that you start to doubt how much you actually know because you start to be able to find out how much you don’t know.
So you really have to try to remind yourself of the “you know more than you think you do.” Remind yourself of how much you know. Go back to a journal or a schedule or something you mapped out a year ago and read about where you were and say “oh, I did learn all of these things throughout the year.”
So that’s one really important thing to remember.
Most web developers learn through a string of projects. They keep up to date on what’s going on in the community. They subscribe to newsletters and follow people on social media. But generally, learning is through having a problem presented and finding a solution to it.
And once you’ve learned that and done those projects a few times for that one problem, you can then start to optimize that solution to it. And then you can start to tackle a different problem. It’s all this string of projects. And once you’re confident in your problem-solving skills, you start to figure out how to identify the different problems there are. Just like with most things, as you put those lessons together, you then begin to feel more confident. You can pull from your past knowledge, and from process of elimination, and what is eventually common sense for you.
So you’ll be able to talk about things that you might not know a whole lot about specifically. But based on your knowledge in the past, you can make educated guesses about them, and that will determine the direction you go in to solve this problem.
It’s also important not to get intimidated by other developers who have conversations that are meant to make you feel inferior. Most of the time I’ve found that the people who do that need these conversations to feel like they’re knowledgable, and to feel like they know what they’re talking about.
Rather than sharing information or having a discussion about something, they need to pop up those peacock feathers. Because if they have that discussion, that might make them face up to something they don’t know or that they’ve been telling themselves or other people that they know without knowing it entirely. They’re too focused on knowing everything and that if somebody finds out they don’t know something then that’s going to be the end of the world.
But the real, true power comes in being able to identify when you don’t know something.
And you can qualify that with “I’ve done something similar, I’m sure I can figure it out.” “Send me an email and I can investigate further.” There are always things that you can do and say that will indicate your strength in a certain subject matter without actually knowing the problem at hand.
The way that people will have those conversations — and since the web development world tends to be male-dominated, I do find that it is a lot of men that have these conversations with each other — to me, the ones that do have these types of “conversations” is a clear sign of them not having the confidence and trying to make up for it by attempting to be this authority on any subject you could possibly introduce.
They’ve got opinions, they’ve got skills, and they know more than you. And then they’ll turn around and charge pennies per hour because they’re not confident enough in their skills and they’re afraid somebody’s going to know. And they think that’s the only way they can compete is to bring their prices down really low, when that’s not really the best way to go about this.
So all I can do is try to inform as many people as possible of the warning signs, and try to get as many people as possible comfortable with the idea that it’s not only a turn off to put up that front, but it’s harmful to their clients and their own growth as a developer.
It’s not always about faking it until you make it or becoming some kind of overnight expert on something. It’s really powerful to be able to admit where your limitations are on something. And it’s really hard to have that conversation face-to-face with someone who isn’t ready to hear that, so I really just try to present in a more general way that putting up that front is harmful to your clients and your own growth.
Once you begin to have conversations where you’re able to naturally speak as an authority on a topic and then in the same breath acknowledge that you don’t know the answer. Without putting up a front, not talking while hoping you’re right. But having that true conversation without doubt. That’s when you’ve moved from “this is what I do” to “I know what I’m doing.”
So the key to being confident is actually knowing that you don’t and you won’t know everything, but trusting that you know enough to be able to figure it out.
Being confident is taking on projects that will give you knowledge.
Being confident is saying no to things that you aren’t ready for while also saying yes to things that scare you a little.
So my final closing advice here is that you won’t ever know everything. But you’ll always add to what you do know, if you are open enough to it.
You aren’t going to gain confidence overnight, but if you give yourself a break and just jump into a project, you’ll be well on your way to figuring it out.