Avoiding Career Stagnation

Saturday, July 13th 2013

As a web developer the potential for career stagnation - feeling stuck, idle, and lacking progression - is higher than average. With technology constantly being improved and reinvented it's amazingly easy to find yourself falling behind. I've felt this way several times over the years, to the point where I've started to also notice what led me out of the rut and back on track. I want to share some of these in the hope that it'll help someone else out there, but also as a reminder to myself that conscious effort in these four areas goes a long way in avoiding stagnation.

Surround yourself with people you admire

The web design and development community is second to none, there are countless creatives out there that are genuine and extremely giving people. From lending a hand in IRC or forums to contributing to frameworks and open source code, in terms of resources and community we want for nothing.

Getting out to conferences, meeting people in your field, and if you're lucky enough to work with people you admire is helpful on many levels but the key especially when considering this topic is that they keep that fire burning in you to take yourself to the next level.

I'll admit I'm not the most proactive when it comes to going out to meetups, but I'm fortunate enough to work and chat with extraordinarily talented people that I turn to regularly for advice and conversation. Keeping up with the blogs and tweets of people I admire also helps. Find people that inspire you.

Work on projects you really care about

I know, this sounds obvious. But when you inevitably get sucked into the daily grind you can quickly lose sight of the forest for the trees. In my experience this has been most common in marketing and advertising projects. There have been times I've worked on one promotion after another meant to only live for a few months, all seemingly sharing the same concepts. It's hard to stay motivated when you're not challenging yourself and have no personal connection to the project.

So if you find the work you're doing is just 'paying the bills' and doesn't spark your creative interests then try injecting some yourself. Think about what could be changed/added that would make you more interested, chances are it'll have the same effect in others - including the target audience.

You could also look into freelance or pro bono side work with organizations that you truly care about. This is great for getting outside the daily norm and is a perfect segue into the next topic...

Learn something new, change it up

Everyone remembers the excitement and curiosity they felt when they were just starting out, you can get that back by trying something outside your core competency. Designers can try learning more about programming and vice versa, get into project management, take on some UX, there's always more out there to explore. I tried my hand at Ruby on Rails for a bit, and grew to not only appreciate it as a programming language but also saw myself incorporating more RoR organizational concepts into my PHP programming.

Take a break

All work and no play make Steve... something something. It's scary how easy it is to burn yourself out, you can tell you're burning out when you start to get frustrated easily and have a hard time concentrating. Take a break once in a while, go for a walk and have a good laugh, keep some hobbies, and for cryin' out loud get enough sleep! It really does do wonders.