Without web developers and designers creating the pages of the internet that we visit every day, the web would be a wasteland of hand-coded HTML and “Under Construction” GIFs. It’s the job of front-end developers to create and implement the familiar layouts of our favourite publications and sites.
To learn a little about what the day-to-day work of a web developer is like, we spoke with Mai Nakamura. Mai is the lead web developer with Jobvite, a social recruiting platform which, among other things, create web sites for other companies looking to recruit employees.
Tell us a little about yourself and your experience.
My position at Jobvite is lead web developer for career sites, and I’ve been here for almost four years. I moved here from Portland, Oregon.
What drove you to choose your career path?
I initially went to community college, where I took a web design 101 class and I realised that I really enjoyed it. I figured that I was more of a hands-on type of learner, and I was catching on really quickly. That’s where I learned that I really liked working on a computer. The satisfaction of making something and seeing it right front of you was really gratifying to me.
Afterwards, I was looking to learn more. I knew that I didn’t want to go to a traditional university, and be with other people with majors that weren’t at all interesting to me, so I decided I wanted to go to art school. I went to the Art institute of Portland Oregon, and got my degree in web design and multimedia. Everyone at that school was creative.
How did you go about getting your job? What kind of education and experience did you need?
Once I was getting ready to graduate, our school had a portfolio show, a kind of career fair, for all the seniors. I made all my connections that day, and was able to show them my work, which was accessible, right in front of them. I came across an interactive design agency who was looking to hire a developer. I stood out because I was awake! A lot of students pulled an all-nighter the night before, and weren’t in good shape for the career fair.
I worked at an interactive agency at Portland for five and half years as a web developer. I developed a lot of websites, email campaigns, e-commerce sites, everything. I wanted to strike out on my own, so I left the company and decided to freelance for a year, where I made my own connections and got my own customers. I came to San Francisco to visit a friend, and fell in love with the city. I knew someone who worked at Jobvite, and he introduced me to the position, and I’ve been here ever since!
In terms of education, I’m a front-end web developer. I took all kinds of classes — from coding to design and figured out where my niche was. Really though, for a front-end developer, you don’t need a degree. Your work kind of shows how much you know. A lot of people these days are self-taught, and there are tons of online resources now.
One important skill is that I’m a normal person that can have a conversation. Many developers are more introverted, but I’m kind of the opposite of that, and I like to talk to people and I like to code. A rare breed.
What kinds of things do you do beyond what most people see? What do you actually spend the majority of your time doing?
A lot of the times here at Jobvite, more than developing, I’m consulting. Lots of our customers look to us for guidance and the ideas to develop their own career pages. They need us to consult on user experience and work with them to figure out what we can do for them. I need them to tell me what they want so that what we deliver meets their expectations. A big, big part of my time is spent prepping.
What misconceptions do people often have about your job?
A lot of people think that I design. I have to explain them that we don’t design, we develop. We take what you’re looking for, and we develop it for you.
What are your average work hours?
It varies. Right now, we’re a little short-staffed, so it’s been tough. Typically it’s about 8-9 hour days, 40-50 hour weeks. It varies because some customers are not ready to go into development, so I’m waiting for them, and then everyone is ready at once! So it comes in waves.
What personal tips and shortcuts have made your job easier?
Being organised has helped me keep things from falling through the cracks. I get a lot of emails, so it’s important to keep my email inbox very structured. I’m a big to-do list writer.
I’m also a multitasker, so I tend to do 10 things at once. That works for me, but it might now work for everyone.
Also, If I have to work at home so that my load the next day is a bit lighter, then I’ll do that.
What do you do differently from your coworkers or peers in the same profession? What do they do instead?
I’m the lead developer, so I manage the team. I’m more customer facing, and do a lot more consulting than some of the other developers. Another aspect of my job is specialised, in that my team only works on career sites, as opposed to other kinds of web development.
The main difference between me and many other developers in general is probably the amount of consulting I do on a regular basis.
What’s the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?
Being a technical person, explaining something technical to a non-technical person is very difficult and it can be frustrating. How do I deal with it? Just patience. A lot of patience and high-tolerance. I have to be OK with breaking it down to the most basic level so that they can understand, and repeating myself numerous times.
Really, after work, I go to the gym. That’s my outlet.
What’s the most enjoyable part of the job?
I love making people happy and fixing things for them. When customers come back and they say nice things, that’s really gratifying.
I also really enjoy being the expert on a product. Everyone comes to me for questions on career sites, and I like being the resource.
Do you have any advice for people who need to enlist your services?
Customers want a custom career site, but they have no idea what about it they want. Come to us with some idea of what you want. It would cut down on the amount of time tremendously. Coming to us prepared with examples of sites you’d like to emulate, end goals for your site, etc. Just give us as much information as possible.
How do you move up in your field?
Experience is a big one. And if you have other interests, other than developing, like my interest in consulting and talking to customers, pursue them. After you’ve been doing it for some time, you can figure out what you like doing, and work on moving up in that.
What do your customers under/over value?
They don’t know how much money and work it takes to build a career site. If they were to go to an agency, they would be paying three times more. They have high expectations relative to the deal they’re getting. We have to scale based on the time allotted for your career site.
What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?
The one piece of advice I give to students is to make friends with every single person in your classroom. Someone’s going to remember you. When I got a job after school, and we were looking for developers, certain people popped into my head, and I reached out to them, and they got a job at the company where I worked. Someone in the classroom is going to get a really good job, and they will remember you.
And work on your social skills. If you’re a person who can talk to people and develop, then you’re way more in demand.
Career Spotlight is an interview series on Lifehacker that focuses on regular people and the jobs you might not hear much about — from doctors to plumbers to aerospace engineers and everything in between.