Ask Away: Judging Your Skills

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I recently got an email from one of my tutoring students about how he had finished setting up an e-commerce site for his Dad’s salsa business, which was a pretty big accomplishment. But there were two things in the email that I took issue with. One was that he thought it was weird that another web dev shop had asked for $3,000 to set up a shopping cart in Spotify and the other was that he felt that using an off the shelf solution (BigCommerce) was a cop out and he should have been able to build it himself. I think everyone’s felt both those things at some point–I know I have–but I sent him this in response:

I don’t think BigCommerce was a cop out at all, it solved the problem and that’s what this work is all about. You don’t have to invent everything you use or reinvent the wheel. Think more about standing on the shoulders of giants and leveraging what’s already been built. The people that hire us care about solutions, not really how we get there or how much work it is or if we use something off the shelf or built it ourselves. They care that they can now sell stuff on the internet and start making more money with a solution that you provide.

So, yeah, the Shopify thing does sound pricey, but it doesn’t sound crazy. If you think you can do better (and you’re definitely building the skills to do just that) start up your own little service and compete with them. If you can get someone’s products online and having them making another $5,000 a year in profits, $3,000 is nothing. And I would say that what you did is more valuable than $3,000 with the Quickbooks integration, Paypal and design. It looks great and you really rocked it out. You just learned a lot of crap that most people are happy to pay someone else to deal with. If you took the angle of setting up online stores for little businesses like your Dad’s, you could find some clients that want you to do that and they would pay, possibly a lot depending on how well you can get their products selling.

I’m looking at this site again and what you did here is easily worth more than $3,000. My mouth is watering just looking at these pictures. Now your job is promoting this to get traffic and sales. If you can do that, you’ve just built yourself one hell of a fine resume entry and a possible freelance business in the making. This seems easy to you now and you have no idea why anyone would pay for it. This is a common ailment among us developers, but no one else has a clue how to do what you just did and they will happily pay you to do it for them.

Whew. Sorry for the rant but I’ve been in your shoes and it’s cost me money and happiness and I don’t want you going down the same road.

I think you’re ready to move to a new level, but I know it’s hard to see that sometimes. You’re at a stage where you can figure stuff out, even if you don’t know it off the top of your head, and that’s a powerful skill to have in this business.

This blog is sort of centered around the web development business and we need to keep in mind that learning to program is just a piece of that. There’s so much involved in this business that trying to learn it all at once will just leave you frustrated. If you can find a niche like the one my student did and go after it, the learning will come because now you’ll be motivated by helping other people–and motivated by the money they’re paying you–while you continue to hone your skills. You don’t need to learn it all at once, just learn enough to get you started in the right direction. That’s the path to profitable programming.

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Published in Web Development Learning, ask away, domain knowledge and web development using 699 words.