A Book Apart

Authors Answer: What bit of advice would you share with someone new to your field?

Jul 12, 2018

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Our authors inspire us to no end—they are talented and experienced in their own areas of expertise and they’re lovely people full of great advice. Recently, we asked them for words of wisdom they might share with someone just starting out in their field now. Keep reading for their top tips.

Don’t feel like you need to understand everything before making stuff. Just make stuff. Nobody ever understands everything. Share what you learn—that’s the best ROI. It helps you remember your craft, leads to collaborative opportunities, and gets people paying attention to you. Ignore haters and critical family members.

—Tim Brown, author of the forthcoming, Flexible Typesetting

Find what you love. Don’t worry about needing to learn every language, technique or tool. Start with what interests you, and carve your own niche. And then use your powers for good!

—Laura Kalbag, author of Accessibility for Everyone

Ignore all future requests to learn a particular technical skill. There’s only a handful of skills essential for this job. Here’s one: get great at asking for and receiving feedback. It’s hard to hear criticism, and it’s even harder to ask for it, but if you can surmount these challenges, you’ll be a better designer and collaborator.

—Dan Brown, author of Practical Design Discovery

Share what you learn. And the best time to share is while you’re learning it. (You’ll have a voice in your head saying “Everyone knows this already” and “This has all been said before” and “Who are you to be writing about this topic?” Ignore that voice.)

—Jeremy Keith, author of Going Offline and HTML5 For Web Designers

When I was just starting out my career, I was consumed by the idea that I had something to prove—that the late nights, lost weekends, skipped meals, and unreturned calls from friends were the price of admission to a career I was never “meant” to have, and the means by which I would prove someone—everyone—wrong.

Some of the costs were obvious—poor health, frayed relationships. But the hidden cost was much more subtle, and toxic: the creeping belief that I was the sole architect of my accomplishments—that success was owed to me, that I alone had earned it. I’d rendered myself oblivious to all the help I was given along the way, and the opportunities afforded to me by my privilege. It took me far too long to unlearn that mistake.

Don’t burn yourself for fuel. Not only do you end up with a little less of you every day, it’s hell on the engine.

—Mat Marquis, author of JavaScript for Web Designers

Talking to people is most of the job of design. The more complex the problem/system, the more talking to more different types of people is necessary. Asking questions is the better part of winning an argument. No one is taught good communication as a job skill. The only way to get better at it is practice.

—Erika Hall, author of Conversational Design and Just Enough Research

Buy a domain name. Figure out how to put an HTML file up there. Isn’t that a powerful feeling? Now you’ve got table stakes. Build something.

—Chris Coyier, author of Practical SVG

Paraphrasing Stanley Kubrick, the what is way more important than the how. Think hard about what problems you’re trying to solve and for whom, and what a good solution would look like totally independently of tools and tech and fame and glory.

The internet, especially the web, is made of people; that is almost the only constant thing about the web. The web can bridge long distances and make communicating more efficient, but ultimately you are still you, interacting with, collaborating with, speaking to, or serving other people in order to produce work. It’s important to try to understand who those people are and what they need in order to do your best work. Also: you are one of those people. Who are you, and what do you need, in relation to the work?

Seeking fame/glory/self-esteem via technology work is understandable, but ultimately will take more out of you than you get back. Most reputations are made over years, by doing the work and making good choices. Focus on doing work you’ll be proud of just for having done it (whether that’s because it was a creative/technical challenge or because the client/product is super rad), and let outside acclaim be a bonus.

—David Demaree, author of Git for Humans