How to Rock Your First Year as a Web Designer

With the constant growth in the New Media and Web development industry, it seems that many post secondary institutions are in a race to offer the quickest digital skills training programs that they can. “One year to gain certification in web design” sounds fantastic, and nine months sounds even better – but can a few shorts months really teach a fresh developer all of the skills necessary to land that dream job at a tech firm?

These programs tout job readiness in a year or less: “All the things you will need to know to get a junior web dev. position straight out of school”… and though I really did learn a tonne of theoretical knowledge in my year long program, there is certainly a discrepancy between what you learn in a few months of training, and what the industry expects.

It’s the on-the-job training that school cannot mimic.

As a recent graduate of a New Media program, I can hardly be considered an expert on how to make it in the workforce. What I can offer, however, is advice for students who have newly completed a “sprint” web developer program. My advice is to be prepared to do as much learning in your first year in the workforce, as you did in school.

Treat your first year in the workforce as if it’s school.

The disparity between school training and workforce expectations became very clear to me when I was interviewing for my practicum placement – the final requirement of my 12 month program. During my final term of the program I started to feel really confident in my newly acquired knowledge and after a successful website launch, I felt as if I’d be taking over massive design firms in no time. But when it came to answering questions about my abilities in a job interview, I realized that there was so much more I had to learn. It felt like I was back at square one.

So if you’re feeling lost but with a degree in hand, allow me to offer these few survival skills that got me through my first year.

1. Find a mentor who understands your role.

I learned the hard way that theory is not the same as practical time spent in a workplace environment. It’s hard when all junior designer positions seem to expect years of experience and you are just trying to get your foot in the door to get any experience. It doesn’t hurt to apply to a position that might seem like it’s a little over your head if you truly are willing to learn. Set some realistic goals for yourself about where you would like to be down the road and what things can get you there. Talk to your (potential) employers about your goals and plans. They will respect your drive and focus. If you are serious they will likely be interested in helping you to achieve those goals.

2. Set reasonable expectations for yourself.

It’s easy to feel like a rookie if you constantly compare your work to the work of your colleagues who have years more experience than you. Instead of getting down on your own lack of ability, go for coffee with the senior designer and developers at your firm. Ask them for tips on how you can improve. Set an expectation that both you and your supervisor understand (See tip #1): you might need more time and more thorough guidelines, but it will better your career and ultimately, the industry as a whole.

3. Allow yourself space to learn.

The kindness of allowing someone the learning space to get up to speed is a gift. And it is extra hard to do that for yourself. Once you are okay with the fact that you aren’t an expert yet and allow yourself the time and space to learn, it’s amazing how much more you are able to absorb and achieve.

4. Accept and embrace the knowledge gap.

One of the greatest achievements I have gained during my first year as a designer is that it’s okay to admit I don’t know. Supervisors will see that you’re dedicated to solving the problem and will admire the way you handle yourself when faced with an unfamiliar situation. We have so much knowledge at our fingertips, from colleagues to experts, forums and bloggers. The clue you need to spark some problem-solving inspiration is out there. You just have to find the right person to ask or place to look.

Now, get out there and show ’em what you’ve got!


  • Author: Haley Hunt-Brondwin

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