October 6, 2005 2:32 pm

Real Life

:note: Unknown (Mongolian Throat Singing) – “Siberia”

Yesterday I got offered a $100 rent credit each month if Daniel and I would vacuum the hallways, keep an eye on the laundry room and empty the garbage if necessary, and keep the outside free of trash and cigarette butts and stuff. I think we’re going to do it, but I need to make sure they have a vacuum we can use, and I’m also going to ask for $125 so our rent would be an even $400. Does that sound reasonable, or am I just being greedy?


I’ve been talking with Keith today (through email) about Foundation Portfolio and jobs and such. In class, I was asked the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and I answered something to the effect of wanting to do freelance work for small businesses. She then asked me what sort of services I would provide, and then acted like I fucked up when I said both the design and the backend (because nobody can do both well, of course).

Basically, I don’t want to get hired solely as a design person, because I don’t think my designs are *that* strong. I’d much rather get hired as a backend person (PHP, HTML, CSS), but um, I don’t know if I know enough to be hired solely as that either. Freelance seems like a reasonable solution, since I’d be one person doing both, and with small businesses (or organizations, whatever) it’s not like doing a site for Intel or something. It just freaked me out that she made it sound like I was being an idiot for wanting to do both.

Keith’s thoughts:
“What concerns me is you saying that you want to be a CSS or HTML person working somewhere. Truth be told, those jobs don’t really exist. And if there was a job like that, you and 4,000 other people would be applying for it because it is such a widely-known skill. Plus you could be easily and quickly replaced. You need to offer skills above and beyond that… skills that make employers want to hire you.

Here’s what I believe, and tell me if I’m wrong about this: you really DO want to work for a design firm or in-house for a company as their interactive designer. But, you’re not too confident with your skills, therefore you aren’t aiming to get those jobs. Instead, you want to settle by working on little freelance jobs where the client doesn’t know good/bad design from their anus.”

This is only sort of true. I think my problem is that I can’t really decide where I fit in. Like I said, I’d much rather be hired doing backend stuff than design, but I don’t know Actionscript, I know enough PHP to be dangerous but not enough to get hired anywhere as a PHP person, I know JavaScript but I totally suck at it, and I don’t know Perl or anything else. It’s just a weird place to be in, you know? I guess that puts the burden on me to actually teach myself the stuff so I’m not horrible at it… Which is do-able, I suppose, just time-consuming and hard. I just wish there was an obvious area that I excel at. For instance, Keith = design, Dru = Actionscript, Ben H = programming, etc etc. I’m just saying I don’t know what I equate to, other than someone who knows a bit of design and a bit of programming, and doing little freelance jobs seems to fit the bill in that sense. I think if I felt like I was really strong in a particular area, my intended job wouldn’t be so fuzzy at the moment.

I suppose what it comes down to is that I really need to decide whether I want to bust my ass and learn to create some really awesome designs, or whether I want to bust my ass and really learn PHP. I’m just not very good at teaching myself anything – I learn really well, just not from myself.

This whole “growing up and getting a job” thing is so difficult. It doesn’t even account for the fact that in five years, I may want to start a family. At this point, who knows, but it could happen. What if I wanted to stay home? I could do freelance stuff on the side and make some extra money, and what would be wrong with that? Would it be “a waste of my education,” or an appropriate use of my education given my situation and intended goals?

Can anybody give me any tips on how to effectively teach yourself something? I’m sort of talking about PHP in particular, but I’ve tried to teach myself German and I just can’t do it either. I’m not about to, like, make lesson plans for myself or anything, I just need to get better at PHP and I don’t know how to do it on my own.

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7 Comments

  • Nicole says:

    Learning things on your own is very hard.

    If you are really dedicated, I would suggest getting a text book that has tests/examples/answers at the end of each section. They have some really great books out there.

    Then, read through the chapters, do all the exercises, and then try to push yourself to combine that with other knowledge that you already know.

    Also, online is a great place to learn things, such as going through forums and asking questions, and using online forums.

    I have found that people in the forums are generally extreemly helpful.

    Good Luck :)

  • Paul says:

    Well coming from a person who’s taught himself very few things (besides everything about computer hardware) books are too hard, and school only gives you a starting point. Since you’ve learned a bit of PHP and such you have a foot hold to leap from, maybe finding something out on the web that uses PHP and trying to recreate it from the ground up. I dunno though, it’s just kinda a matter of waiting for something that forces you to do it. Like a job offer that requires said skill, or getting a freelance job that is over your head and forces you to catch up.

    We’re all just amoebas floating around in life, waiting for the proper hot stick to prod us in a direction.

  • Melissa says:

    That’s kind of a hard question to answer. I’ve never had a problem teaching myself from books. I don’t know, I’ve just disciplined myself to it because I’ve done it all my life. I really don’t remember a time when I wasn’t teaching myself something. Usually I’ll focus on something and become obsessed with it until I learn as much as I can about it. Isn’t this obvious? :D Just pick something and go with it as far as you can. And if it becomes hard, work harder. The harder you have to work at something, the more you have to think about it, and the more likely you are to learn from it/about it/whatever.

    Discipline is the key. Learn to sit your butt down and do tutorials, read books, pick apart other people’s code, fumble around within your own code, etc. This is what I did with German. Hell, I spent 12 FREAKING HOURS today doing nothing but studying German…after I came back from my German class. Sometimes I just get in these moods where all I want to do is learn and nothing can break me away from it until I decide that I need a break. I’m still tempted to go on and read more stuff, take more notes, make more tables, etc. but I seriously think 12 hours out of my day devoted to nothing but German is ENOUGH! Haha.

    One thing that I’ve found that helps is to try to redo something (whatever you’ve just learned) in a way that would teach other people whatever it you just learned. Think of a creative, different way to present the material to somebody else. This is why I like to make little webpages about stuff I learn in German. I make them so other people (and myself) can use them as resources. The true test to whether you know something is to see if other people can learn from YOU and what you know.

    Viel Glück!

  • I’ve never been able to teach myself anything more advanced than html. Have you ever considered some kind of online course? I’m sure colleges offer that (not sure if my school does PHP online yet…I know we do cgi scripting/perl), and there are bound to be some non-college affiliated tutorials out there. Do you think the online format would be your learning style? It’s something where it’s almost like self taught, but you do have the advantage of an instructor or facilitator to answer your questions or to bounce your theories off of.

    And I really don’t think it’s such horrible thing for you to have understanding of both the design and the backend components. You may want to become more proficient in one or the other, but I think having some idea what happens on both sides of the operation only makes you more marketable. Employers need people who are flexible – it’s expensive to hire a specialist for everything.

  • Meggan says:

    Wow, thanks for all the advice, guys!

    It is a matter of discipline and time, I think. Of which I have neither. But I will definitely try some of these things out, they seem like they’d work for me. Especially the re-doing the thing so you get a better understanding of how it works and whatnot – I could totally do that. Or re-creating something that already exists just to show I can do it. :D I’ll start on this soon.

  • Yolanda says:

    And if there was a job like that, you and 4,000 other people would be applying for it because it is such a widely-known skill. Plus you could be easily and quickly replaced. You need to offer skills above and beyond that… skills that make employers want to hire you.”

    Another thing to consider is possibly developing a niche. When I was working as a designer I worked for several insurance agencies. Not to say that in particular is something to strive for but if you find that you enjoy designing a particular sort of site that can lead to more specialized job opportunities.

    I definitely agree with the practicing recreating what you’ve already seen. I learned a great deal from forums as well. Though you are already completely busy with school and all I took some in depth 2 or 3 week continuing education courses at JuColleges that helped me to learn specific types of programming. Having good resources to work from is key- you shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time but having thorough books and websites for reference will let you see that you are probrably better at this than you think. No one will expect you to be able to speak code- you just have to decipher what’s going on to be able to create. Have confidence in yourself you’ve done well so far and that’s not by accident.

  • Yolanda says:

    woops i forgot to close my blockquote in that comment- sorry!