Staying ahead of the game

Dafydd Vaughan on 28 November 2008

I keep track of my feeds in NetvibesThe web design & development industry is incredibly fast paced.  What is current and acceptable today, might not be tomorrow.  New technologies are being developed all the time, new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking.  As I’ve mentioned before, keeping on top of these changes is almost a full time job in itself.  With everything changing so quickly, you can’t afford to fall behind the curve or you risk losing clients to other developers.

So, how do you keep your head above the water.  Well, everyone has their own ways as you can see from the discussions over at Freelance Folder.  I have a number of methods I use:

Read blogs
I subscribe to a large number of blogs from other web developers from both the design and development ends of the industry.  A huge amount of useful information comes from people who are facing the same struggle to keep fresh and new.

Twitter
Twitter is a fantastic resource for developers – how we all coped before it existed I have no idea.  I follow many designers, developers, freelancers and technologists on Twitter.  These people regularly point me in the direction of new and interesting things on the web which help me to produce better sites.

CSS Galleries
I find that looking at CSS galleries such as CSSMania or Best Web Gallery help inspire me to create better designs.  They show off some of the web’s best websites and really help to formulate ideas.  There are plenty of galleries around the web, covering all sorts of niches.

Magazines
A few people say that magazines are a waste of time – by the time they’ve been written, subbed, edited, printed, distributed and read, the industry has passed them by. I don’t agree, the internet moves so fast that it is easy to miss out on important information if you happen to blink (literally).  Magazines help fill this gap.  I have a subscription to .net magazine which is a fantastic resource for designers. (But then again, I would say this – my partner is a magazine journalist… but no really, mags are an invaluable resource).

Conferences
This is probably one of the most expensive parts of keeping up with the industry, and something that until now, I haven’t been able to afford.  There are a huge number of web related conferences throughout the year and across the world, from Future of Web Apps in London, Miami and Dublin, to DeveloperDeveloperDeveloper! in Reading.  Conferences enable you to hear from some of the most influential and knowledgeable people in the industry.

Contribute
Probably the most important thing you can do.  The web is shaped by the people who produce it – whether designers, developers or writers.  If you don’t contribute, you can’t make an impression.  If you follow people on Twitter, respond to them, talk to them.  If you read blogs, comment on them, or better still, write a full response.

So how do I fit all of this in.  It is very difficult – you have to strike the right balance.  Spend too much time keeping up with the web and you don’t get any work done, spend too much time working and you drop behind the curve.
On the train into work in the morning, I read blogs, and last night’s twitter messages.  At work, I have TweetDeck keeping track of twitter for me – letting me know when new messages arrive.  When I have a bit of downtime (such as when I’m waiting for something to load or compile), I look at new blogs that have been posted.  In the evening, I read things in a bit more detail, and at some point I find time to sleep!

As I said, trying to find the right balance is difficult a challenge, but whatever you do, don’t fall behind or you’ll discover it is difficult to get back on track.

Any views stated here are my own and not those of my employer unless otherwise stated.