Is it getting harder for young web designers to enter the field?

Every year, A List Apart compile a survey covering just about everything you could want to know about people currently working in the web industry.  Whether you’re wondering how much the average designer earns, where they work from or how old they are, you can find that out and much more.

We had a look through the findings from this year’s survey, and it’s all looking peachy keen for designers in 2011. However, there was one point that made us pause and think…

One aspect the survey looked at, was how much we all enjoy working with the web. While respondents already working in the field seem pretty content with their lot, younger coders searching for their first job were a lot less happy.

Following the publication of the survey, we were wondering what could be hampering young folk’s entry to the field. Our first thought was that this suggests a lack of entry level jobs., but a quick search showed plenty of leads, so we began to wonder what else could be causing the dissatisfaction.

Our second thought was that maybe the jobs are out there, but that graduates aren’t entering the workplace with the correct skills. With the field moving so quickly and with so many different approaches, are our university courses able to move fast enough and keep students on the cutting edge of the field, or are the courses stuck in a time loop, teaching students skills and standards that have been left behind with the arrival of new web technologies?

In a previous interview with Ubelly, Andy Budd from Clearleft voiced his concerns about the quality of teaching at universities.

There are plenty of training opportunities for web designers, but the problem is the quality. Technology gets out of date so quickly, yet many of the tutors aren’t always the right people to be putting the courses together. They’re either academics who are detached from the industry, or their knowledge is so out of date it’s irrelevant.

We run an internship at Clearleft (Andy’s company) and our interns often tell us they know more than their lecturer. At 19, you’re told you have to go to college to be a successful designer, but you don’t learn what you need to know. Students then tend to either drop out or feel like they wasted 3 years of their life learning something they can’t use. It’s endemic of a larger problem – lots of people think web design is technology based, or tool based. Students get told they have to use Dreamweaver, but it’s just not true.

Andy is not alone in raising these concerns. Nor, is it a particularly new debate. In an article for JavaWorld, Esther Schindler concluded that “If a company really and truly wants the best programmers it can hire, it should ditch the “college degree” requirement. Now.”

Do you think degrees and college courses help or hinder aspiring designers and developers? And how hard do you think it is right now for young coders to get their foot in the door?

Published by Liam

Liam is a new member of the Ubelly writing team. He has a background in web, online publishing and social media; spending his time tinkering with Wordpress, Foursquare, Facebook and his DSLR. He has a love for all things creative and visual.

6 Comments So Far, what do you think?

  1. Alex Brooke

    I don’t think people need college or university to get anywhere at all. I’m currently 18, working at the digital agency gamaroff digital in London. I started web design when I was 13 and made the decision that I was going to focus on my skills and getting better at what I loved doing. Eventually I found myself with a few freelance clients and in my spare time while at school I spent my weekends freelancing rather than getting a Saturday job. I loved it. I then made the decision at the age of 15 that I wouldn’t go to uni and would spend the next few years growing my portfolio so that by the time I was to leave college I would have quite a lot of experience and some good work to look at.

    After my first year of college, I put up my portfolio. On the day of putting it up an circulating it around the twittersphere, a few mere hours afterwards I was contacted by an agency who had liked my work, inviting me for an interview. I went to the interview and a week after outing my portfolio up, I was offered a full time web design job in London, at the age of 17.

    I worked hard at the agency I was at, keen to improve my skills and eventually go up the ladder again. A year later, I’m now working at an agency that works with some massive brands, doing the job I dreamt of when I was 13.

    So my answer is no, to be successful – you certainly don’t need uni. In our industry, experience speaks for itself!

  2. Nick

    Interesting. My company gets interns in because we’re passionate about education and want to have a good effect on the web community (honestly, plus you never know, they might stay and do good things). So far we’ve found people who have the understanding of how to create websites using newer technologies/techniques, but lack the understanding of foundational principles and the habits of good web design (things like appropriate fallbacks and using the right technology for the right purpose), ie. it’s not always done with Javascript!

    It’s difficult to find well rounded interns with a breadth of knowledge, though this isn’t me complaining. It’s fun to try and figure out what they need to learn and the best way to help them learn it. Once that’s done, suddenly you can find everything clicks. The only snag is that often the things the intern needs to learn are seen as the boring bits. I can see that making that exciting *and* working within the constraints of a production environment may be too much for even the most dedicated intern or employer.

  3. Katy Watkins

    I think it’s entirely up to the individual whether or not college courses or degrees help aspiring designers and developers. As a recent college graduate, I can confirm that college often doesn’t teach exactly what you’d need to know to do good work on the web today. In fact, I barely had any web design instruction at all. But, I didn’t go to college to become a web designer. I went to college because I wanted to be challenged intellectually, and I picked a school based on that, not the design program. I wasn’t 100% certain out of high school what I wanted to do. That being said, I grew a lot in those four years, in ways I never would have if I hadn’t gone to college. I learned a lot about myself, about people, culture, psychology, sociology, art, computers, and yes, design. I think there’s a lot more to being a good designer than just understanding the principles of design, and it’s easier to learn them at college, but hardly impossible to learn them outside. The technical stuff is a lot easier to learn outside of school. For me, it was absolutely worth it. There’s nowhere else in the world where I could have met the friends I made (almost none of them are designers or even in tech at all), or learned all that I learned in those four years, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

    On the other hand, I also feel like I got out of college knowing next to nothing about the real world of design, and now that I’ve realized I want to work with the web, I feel like I don’t know nearly enough about that either. That’s a choice I consciously made, and I’m okay with working as hard as I can on my own to remedy that now. The internet makes it wonderfully easy to teach yourself a lot of the skills you need. But that’s also why I don’t think college is right for everyone. I think most people *could* benefit a lot with the right attitude and the right major (which wouldn’t necessarily be in just design or tech). But some people aren’t going to want to go to class and learn, and more importantly, college an extremely expensive life choice. If you’re not going to work hard and get the most out of those four years, don’t go. If you don’t want to go, don’t go. If it’s going to set you back financially to the point that it screws you for the rest of your life, think seriously about whether or not it’s going to be worth it, or if you can make it worth it. Because with the right skills and attitude, in this industry, you can go just a far without a degree as anyone who has one.

  4. Andy Booth

    I studied Graphic Design and Illustration at Uni for the simple reason I liked the subject and I wanted to experience the uni life.

    I finished with an average grade but couldnt get more than an interview anywhere without being told lack experience.
    So I took an unpaid internship as a web designer and learnt more in the 3 months doing that than 3 years of uni. I also gained the job full time and am entirely focused on web design.
    University courses simply can’t keep up with Web Design as it is such a fast changing industry. For example I finished uni just over a year ago. Mobile browsing was only just being used properly and now you have to consider tablets, changing mobile sizes eg iPhone 5 within the space of a year. Teachers wouldnt have time to learn all that as well as tutoring current classes.

    But if I had a choice I would still do it all again even if I didn’t learn much it was a good introduction into the field working with so many people wanting to do the same thing.

  5. Tony Cheetham

    As a manager now and a web developer of over 15 years, I find the quality of applicants is shocking these days. The great thing about people fresh out of college is they are very easy to hire and vet. If they think they know everything, they know nothing. If they want to learn and they show an interest, then they get a job.

    It’s hiring experienced staff that is actually hard work, as the level of excellence at one company can vary vastly from another. I’ve had people with no qualfications or experience who admit to knowing little do very well, and people with very solid and long CVs turn out to be clueless.

  6. Simon Clarke

    I am just coming up to the 1 year landmark in the career in a small agency. Started tinkering around at 12 and now 19. Left college twice and never went to university.

    I didn’t need the education, I needed a little bit of experience, but mostly, the passion for it and willingness to learn. If you have those 2 things, the rest will fall in place. Sure, it’s not easy and I was probably very lucky, but if I did it, why can’t anyone else?

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