A time for earning, a time for learning

Date published: Thursday 18th of February 2016

Twenty years ago I sold my first website. It was for a company called Duncan Yacht Chandlers, who sell boating equipment. From memory, I think the deal was something like 20 pictures, with text. The cost? £2,000.

Looking back, I think it's safe to say I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I used to just sell the sites and then get my brother, Gordon, to build them. I think it's reasonable to say we were both winging it. Anyway, that was day one of my career in the website building industry. On day two I scored a second sale. This time it was for a company called Wholesale Domestic. They paid £2,500. So, picture the scene. Here's me - a clueless student whose previous jobs had been delivering pizzas and cleaning, now bringing in over two grand per day.

The mid 90s right up until February 2000 were an incredible time to be involved in web development. All you had to do was walk into a shop or a factory and say the word 'website' and people would be practically throwing money at you. I think I was one of the first to get involved in the industry (in Scotland), so I pretty much had the whole city to myself.

Then on 2000, there was a sudden change. I used to go out cold calling. So, I would literally just drive to an industrial estate or some built up area and walk door to door, selling websites. Anyway, I remember turning up at Hillington Industrial Estate in Glasgow and as I got out of my car, what did I see? DOZENS OF PEOPLE RUNNING AROUND WITH LAPTOPS - SELLING WEBSITES. I can remember having an appointment with some company who sold prams and gear for babies. It was to see about building a website for them. However, as I waited I remember peeking into the main office and seeing some very smartly dressed suit with a laptop, doing a pitch for HIS web design company.

So, suddenly there were dozens and dozens of website building companies all over the place. Then, to make matters even worse - the dot com bubble burst!

Literally overnight it seemed as though the whole vibe changed from 'we love websites' to 'piss off website guy!'. You couldn't sell a website for love nor money. Of course, the prices also dropped. On February 20th 2000 I sold a site to The Copy and Print Shop for 200 quid. This was less than a tenth of what I had previously been charging. It was a total race to the bottom. A nightmare.

So, what happened?

Well, I left the whole website scene for four years. However, when I eventually decided to come back I realised that the time for earning had past. In order to remain competitive, it was NOT ENOUGH to just give people sites with pictures and text. Somebody had to learn about databases, code and all that miserable stuff. So, I figured - why not me?

It took me four days just to get my computer to say 'hello world' in PHP. It took me TEN MONTHS to read the book, 'Build a website in PHP, MySQL and Apache in 24 Hours'. I was a hopelessly slow learner. However, I worked very hard for about a year and when I reappeared on the scene I suddenly had something which made me stand out from all those other people. I knew about PHP. So, with this new knowledge I suddenly was getting all sorts of offers of work. The time for learning had past and finally, I could go back to earning.

When you have been involved in the game as long as I have then you start to see how the cycle of learning and earning is a theme which continually repeats within the IT industry. So, that's the vibe. You learn stuff, then you earn.

So, why am I telling you this?

Well, I know that a lot of the people who come here know about PHP. Some of them may be following my CodeIgniter tutorials on YouTube. I think it's a very intelligent bunch of people in here. HOWEVER, based on what I'm seeing both in the IT industry and in the economy, we are now entering a time for learning.

Now, don't get me wrong - you can go out there and just build sites with PHP or maybe CodeIgniter and I'm sure that you'll always be able to find buyers, if you have your act together. However, in my opinion, this is a very dangerous game to play. You'll be basically living on borrowed time and you'll be just like I was back in the day, walking around Hillington but being drowned out by competitors who were much smarter, sharper, better dressed and more on the ball than me.

The web development industry is moving on. It's happening right now. Let me tell you - without going into too much technical detail - those javascript frameworks are here to stay and in my opinion they are going to be TOTALLY GAME CHANGING. The web hosting game is also changing. In the past, people who had sites had a choice between (1) cheap, crappy shared server or (2) totally over expensive dedicated server. That has all changed thanks to companies like; Linode, Ocean Digital, Webfaction and others. As a matter of fact, anyone who pays more than 500 dollars per month for hosting these days is probably grossly misinformed and throwing money down the drain.

Anyway, for those who are involved in IT, I think it's good to always be mindful of the idea that there is a time for learning and a time for earning.

We are now going into a time for learning. So, let's learn together. Let's have fun. Let's enjoy the process and let's help each other. The world is big enough for all of us.

Peace, love and vegetables,


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