The difference between an amateur and a professional web developer

The difference between an amateur and a professional web developer

Author headshot - ClintN
ClintN
15 September 2022

The ability to discern Professional Dev Ops from the Amateurs that are vying for your business, is a critical skill for a website owner to possess. Yes, there are quite a number of mere amateurs out there in the marketplace, when it comes to web development. To the uninitiated, these rank amateurs appear like a credible option. Unfortunately amateurs are in the website game at the expense of their client’s ever achieving digital growth for their. These amateurs can be freelancers, or even appear as flashy web development agencies. 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with amateurs in any field. An amateur website developer who is donating their time, can be a great option for a club or charity to build their website. But if the process of delivering a website involves the exchange of money, then it is a professional venture.

A professional web developer needs to adhere to a set of standards. Hopefully these standards deliver a positive result to the client, by looking out for their interests. Professional standards are key to delivering a website that is dynamic, scalable and maintainable. And the website needs to be built on a great platform that will rank well on Google, and hopefully still be relevant in a few years time.

Pro's vs Amateurs

Alarmily, when provided with a professional estimate to build a commercial website, many ill-informed business owners have a particular reaction to the proposal. Their reaction goes along the lines of something like: “Wow really, this much money just to build a website? My nephew in high-school builds websites on the side you know”.

I can completely understand this view, it’s human nature and it applies to so many disciplines. But there’s a huge gap between a common Amateur and a Pro. I like to remind business owners of this fact, with a comparison to the sport of Grid Iron. 

I also have a nephew at high-school, and he can play a game of Rugby. However, he’s just a teenager that plays footy on the Wednesday afternoon school team. This is not even close to the arena of playing NRL for a local club, let alone professional NFL in the United States. Whilst being the one and the same discipline, Amateur Footy and Professional Footy are so many miles apart from each other.

I then don’t really have to spell out the vast difference with web development, particularly with the gap in salary with amateur and NFL. But telling the difference between a web development pro and an amateur is not as evident to a layperson.

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog

On the internet nobody knows you are a dog

Back when I started out online in the mid 90s, one of my favourite adages was “On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog.” 

To me this meme symbolised the essence of the internet of that time’s power. The internet then was like a super-power of sorts that small players and start-ups used to gain an advantage over the big corporations (at the time they were slow adopters, but now corporations are very influential and powerful online). The internet empowered the little guy working from their garage, to have an equitable position in the marketplace. This was achieved by providing them with the opportunity to present the market with a ‘Website that Provides Credibility’, bypassing the process of building a brand of relevance over many years.

Unfortunately this principle is still being used by amateurs to impress the ill-informed. They tend to operate behind a flashy modern-looking looking website. They will spruick that they can build a website just like it for your business, just take a look at their client portfolio. Later I will show you, here, a little technique that you can use to gauge a website’s effectiveness on Google as being professionally built to high standards.

Knowledge is Power

Presenting yourself as a subject matter expert to others, and convincing them of that as a fact, is not difficult. “Catch Me If You Can” is a book and a movie, about Frank Abagnale, a gifted con-artist that posed as many things including an airline pilot, district attorney, pediatrician and university lecturer. 

When Frank was finally caught by authorities and interviewed, he was asked how on earth could he present himself as a lecturer, for an entire semester, to Sociology students at Brigham Young University in the United States. Abagnale responded “All I had to do was read one chapter ahead of the students”.

Amateurs just need to possess a little more knowledge than their prospects, in order to appear like a seasoned pro. Believe me, in the past I’ve often come across this in commercialised Martial Arts schools. Unlike traditional schools led by a master, in these bigger academies, the instructor is often merely one belt in grade ahead of the students that they are teaching. However, the instructor’s gap in experience becomes apparent to seasoned enthusiasts that are taking a class in order to check out that Martial Arts school.

It’s your responsibility as a website owner endeavoring to obtain digital growth, to be enthusiastic about all things digital, and gain a little bit of high-level conceptual knowledge on digital development and marketing matters. 

You may not necessarily possess the skills to perform the digital tasks yourself. But, you will possess the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to obtaining digital services.

Pro Dev Tools vs Amateur Webpage Builders

According to many in the web development field, there is a “right way” to develop a website. Here I emphasise “right way” because this is a fiercely debated point-of-view when it comes to hand-coding.

By hand-coding I refer to writing the code, line-by-line. In this camp a web developer meticulously outputs the necessary code to build a website platform.

These developers have in-depth knowledge of technologies and frameworks such as:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript 
  • PHP

And Programming principles such as:

  • Strings
  • Variables
  • Operators 
  • Loops
  • Filters
  • Hooks

It can be hard to convince some web developers in hand-coding camp, that there’s some viable tools out there which make working with the above-mentioned technologies faster than hand coding.

Automobile industry analogy

The evolution of car manufacturing is a good example to compare with the brief history of web-development. 

The first cars were built by hand by coach builders, who up until then crafted horse-drawn coaches. These were beautiful pieces of engineering, and they were made available for the coach builder’s customer-base, the wealthy minority.

Then along came Henry Ford with production line innovations to building cars. And the Model T Ford was introduced to the world. The Model T was by no means a well built car, but economies of scale made it far cheaper and available to working families.

The rest is history as we know it. Nowadays a minute fraction of automobiles are hand-made, and you need deep pockets to acquire these beautiful pieces of engineering. To some extent engineering websites are evolving in a similar way.

Modern alternatives to hand-coding

On the web there is now a plethora of tools that can assist the common layman to build a professional looking website, ‘without knowing a single line of code’. I am sure that you’ve heard that phrase in the past. 

However some of these tools are more like toys in the professional web-development arena. Sure these tools are a great asset in helping a student, or an everyday person to get something online for their studies or for a hobby/club that they’re involved in. The companies selling these amature level tools also provide shopping-cart or eCommerce functionality for them.

These tools however, bypass the best-practice standards that are required to have a credible and competitive commercial website, according to Google. This can be a technological pitfall for business owners that are aiming for digital growth. 

What can seem like a great professionally built website in your eyes may not necessarily be viewed in the same light by Google.

Meet the judges

Here’s where the rubber meets the road, when it comes to discerning whether a webpage, or an entire website, is built to the professional standards that goes toward delivering growth online for your business.

The following online tools are used to evaluate a web page’s:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Page Speed

As at 14 Sept 22 the Wikipedia definition is: Accessibility is the design of products, devices, services, vehicles, or environments so as to be usable by people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design and practice of accessible development ensures both "direct access" (i.e. unassisted) and "indirect access" meaning compatibility with a person's assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers).

Developing websites to start meeting the standards of accessibility, with minimal page load times (page speed) requires additional development resources. The payoff is that Google favourably views webpages that meet this criteria, and rewards them with higher ranking in their search engine. 

A professional developer with your interests at heart will develop pages to this standard. As a business owner you should ensure that these standards are clearly defined in the Statement of Work and any other specification documentation.

Disclaimer: I am by no means claiming that my website meets these standards. At the time of writing, I have not decided on a final template design for my website. My particular digital strategy involves starting out by ageing domain: clintneilsen.com, then producing an amount of blog posts as a website foundation. Then optimising with templates designs and service webpage content.

Accessibility tests

Accessibility testing is typically a three stage process:

  1. Using tools: catching the easy 30-40% of issues
  2. Human tests
  3. Using assistive technology

The first stage of using tools is typically enough for the average business. Your vendor selection process for web-developers should include running their webpages through an online testing tool to see how well they have addressed accessibility.

I also go to their customer’s websites, via the portfolio page, and really cruitinise their client work for accessibility. It’s one thing to have a work in progress like me, but their final client projects should have OK accessibility if they really care about delivering the best outcomes.

Page speed test

Part of a professional web development process is performing speed tests on the pages of the website as they are being developed. The idea of a speed test is to evaluate how well the page is performing against the criteria that Google uses to judge and rank webpages. This process also involves diagnosing and fixing issues or errors.

Not considering, or spending the time that is required to speed test, and optimise a website, could well be a reason behind lower pricing. If speed testing and optimising is not in scope, the development costs quoted may be considerably lower. This is effectively cutting corners, or not a consideration to a lay web-developer.

Worse still, a business may be paying the industry average for web-development, yet not  receiving this vital service. 

Building construction contractors in Australia are heavily regulated to protect domestic customers against shoddy workmanship. But software and web-developers are not regulated; the onus to ensure a web-developer has the right processes and standards resides with the business owner. 

I have intentionally not detailed the tools that enable laymen or amateurs to build websites. As I am sure you have seen them being advertised. My intention is to keep this as greenfield as possible, as these tools may evolve into powerful developer tools, Nobody knows what is in the future.

Your future as a successful website owner should be a little more secure now. A couple of quick tests that you can use to peel back a website, to verify the level of coding expertise may well save you time and money. And hopefully these skills can contribute to digital growth for your business.

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