It's been almost exactly four months since I decided to "go professional" as a web designer, and I'm suddenly seized with the desire to pause a moment and take stock. In four months I've come a long way. For one thing, I no longer feel like I'm drowning. That's good. I still might only be treading water, but at least I'm not lying at the bottom of the pond.
When I started this back in January, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. After a few weeks, when it finally dawned on me just how much I needed to learn, I didn't actually panic, although sometimes I'd forget to breath. You'd think 10 years of designing sites for fun would count for a bit more. Now I know I went into this with little more than with a rudimentary knowledge of how the web works and a skillful, almost gifted ability to write really invalid and bloated HTML.
I'm not a particularly fast learner, but I do work hard. Like in night and day hard. This is a good thing because I've had a few items to learn, like usability, accessibility, web standards, CSS, XHTML, WYSIWYGs, SEO, Photoshop, video and a whole lot more about graphic design. In four months I've almost skimmed the surface. At least I'm comfortable enough with most of these subjects that I no longer resemble a frightened deer in headlights when they're mentioned.
Reading the blogs of other designers has helped tremendously. I keep up on the latest entries of a long list of designers and often dip into their archives. I almost always come away with something worthwhile. It still astonishes me how generous many designers are about sharing their expertise with the less experienced. There's no doubt I would be much worse off without them. The blogging community of designers has been a source of inspiration, knowledge and encouragement for me.
I've also done a lot of reading. I'm a bookaholic anyway, but Amazon.com has been especially pleased with me these last few months. I read as much as time and my Visa permit, and I try to write reviews of the books that helped me most, creating a sort of "recommended list" for other beginners. The books I've talked about on this blog--and a few others I haven't gotten to yet--have been invaluable.
I still have a long way to go, but I think I'm making real progress. With the exception of cross-browser hacks, I'm finally more comfortable with CSS, although I still have to look up a lot of things in my handy books. This beats the early days when my husband came home from work to find me shaking my monitor and repeatedly shouting a certain word I'd better never hear my kids say.
XHTML has not been a problem, although my markup could be leaner and more semantically correct. I've got WYSIWYGs down enough to know I don't much like them. Usability is the sort of thing that appeals to my geekier side, and although I understand the basic concepts behind it now, I'm looking forward to delving into it more deeply. And SEO...
With all the conflicting opinions on the web, I'm more confused about SEO now than when I started trying to understand it. It's often called an inexact science, and so far I have to agree--seems to rank right up there with alchemy. As for my self-directed education in graphic design, somehow that's gotten pushed to the side in my urgency to relearn coding. I'm not happy about this, but there's not much I can do about it right now. I certainly don't think of graphic design as less important. Maybe I'm viewing it more as dessert.
So after four months, I'm still here. A bit wiser, a whole lot more tired, and most important of all, still having fun.