Experience is irrelevant
I once heard that it’s not young carpenters who accidentally chop off their own fingers, it’s the ones who have been doing it for 20 years. They’ve gotten far too comfortable wielding spinning metal blades.
One of the ways individuals and companies often try to differentiate themselves is with experience. “I’ve got 15 years experience.” “Well, I’ve got 18 years experience!” In general prospective clients and employers value experience more highly than anything else, almost always willing to pay more money to the person with the most experience. But is this really the most valuable trait you should look for?
The funny thing is, when it comes to anything web related, experience is a completely null commodity that gets confused with some sort of winning attribute. Let’s face it, everyone except children have been using the internet for the complete 15 or so years it’s been mainstream.
But more to the point, if you are a web designer, developer or in any other way a web professional - having 15 years experience is not incredibly impressive. The internet sucked back then. The internet will always suck when referred to in past tense because technology improves at a breakneck speed. So really, even websites that won prestigious awards when they launched 5 years ago are a joke by today’s standards. And wicked awesome sites that launch today will suck 5 years from now because the sites of tomorrow will be doing far more impressive things with technology.
This isn’t like music, film or even video games, which are a completely artistic endeavor and can be great no matter when they were made. Citizen Kane, The Beatles and The Legend of Zelda are all amazing in their own right, even though they were made long ago relative to their medium. Great websites, except for the rare few, are business vehicles in some way. They may deliver their functionality in an artistic or creative way, but they still are there to serve a purpose other than art.
What that means for web professionals is that if you want to be considered the best in your craft, you need to be constantly learning. You can’t put self-education on the back burner because you’re too busy working on paid client projects; The fact is you won’t be busy in the future if you aren’t learning now.
This means that we are always in a state of feeling like a dinosaur - it’s our job to. Even if your skills are on par with what’s being done today, there’s always some new technology right around the corner that others are discussing. We should always have at least one topic in our given field that we know we need to follow via a blog or book.
The problem with experience is that it gives professionals a false sense of security. The amount of years you’ve been doing something occurs naturally as the Earth moves around the Sun. You have 11 years of experience because another year passed and you haven’t changed careers. It’s like running downhill. But to stay good at something - that requires more. You can have 15 years of being a crappy web designer, or 3 years of being an amazing one. Which would you pick?
In a past job, someone remarked, “I’ve been doing this since you were in junior high school!” My reaction back then was an unspoken “Who cares”, and it still is. The question is; How long have you been doing it well, and are you still doing it well? The latter one is the only one that matters. Mark Zuckerberg was 19 when he launched Facebook, he’s 26 now. Suffice to say, experience in his case is irrelevant.
It’s easy for me to get a big head and think that because I have been working as a design professional for over 7 years that I am some sort of guru. But all it takes is a look outside at all the people in the world who are truly shaping the web with technology and practices I have no clue about, and it brings me back down to reality. Guru is a very relative term.
At the very least, I want to be sure that even 2, 5, 10 years from now, I will never look down on someone with less experience. If I don’t keep my knowledge fresh, they will be running circles around me. So If you are someone who hires web professionals, don’t be impressed with the number of years on their card. Be impressed with what they can do now and hire based on that.