The path to success on the web is emulating success
Throughout history, some of the most successful people were those who took apprenticeships from other successful people. This holds true in business circles, scientific fields, and religious groups. The reasoning is obvious when you think it through. What exactly is an apprenticeship? Well, an apprentice works for an expert, a successful veteran. The apprentice learns how to become successful by observing what the master does, and how the master does it. They get a very inside look into exactly what makes the master successful, all the while getting to work side by side using these methods. Why should the web be any different? Why do so many people try to go it alone and forge entirely new paths to the same place? This article contains some generalizations, however the method and reasoning is solid. Hopefully this will make you think about how you learn things, especially things on the web.
Applying apprenticeship to web development
How do you apply this practice to web development? A good place to start is a forum specializing in whatever area of web development you’d like to master. If you want to conquer the world of domain names, a great place to start would be a forum dealing in domain names. Of course, masters don’t broadcast their secrets for the world to hear, so you’ll need to use those social skills and become acquainted with some of the experts in the forum. Offering to work cheap (or free) in exchange for someone teaching you the ins and outs of the business is one of the most powerful ways to earn a reputation and gain some name recognition.
Your first step should be to join and lurk for a while. Just read and observe, don’t post. Many great tips can be learned just from listening to successful developers interact with each other. While you’re observing you can experiment with some of the suggestions and information they provide. It won’t be long before you know who’s who.
Approaching an apprenticeship
Not all forums are alike. That’s why it’s so important to lurk first, so you can get a feel for the atmosphere and the people. Once you’ve identified a few experts in the forum, the next step is getting “in” with one of them. Sometimes the best way to do this is to do some free work – in other words do a few favors to show you’re serious about learning and being a part of the community. Find something you’re good at that’s in demand around the forum, and offer your services for free. Maybe you’re an artist. Web developers are always in need of logo’s and banners for their different projects. Perhaps you’ve a writer. Offer to write some content. If you’re a decent programmer, offer to do some scripting. Sometimes it’s better to offer these to individuals you would like to learn from instead of making general posts, because your offer may be taken by lots of people who can’t teach you anything and then you’ve put yourself in an awkward spot.
Once you’ve made friends around the forum, you need to approach someone and ask for their help/advice. It wouldn’t hurt to have chatted casually with someone a couple times before hitting them up for advice. For some reason asking experts for help scares most people, but it shouldn’t. When you approach someone with respect, I can tell you the worst response you’re ever likely to get is “Sorry, I don’t have the time.” The majority will be flattered you consider them an expert, and will be glad to help you learn the ropes.
However, if you come into a forum being arrogant or asking dumb questions that have already been answered 100 times before expect to receive a poor response. Use the search function on the forum and also on Google to see if what you’re asking is readily available. If it is and you’re still unsure, phrase your question in a way that references the original answers so everyone knows you aren’t just wasting their time. Keep in mind respect on the web is a rare thing, and it stands out like a sore thumb (but in a good way). Use that to your advantage.
Have a plan to learn
When you do decide it’s time to approach someone have a plan for learning. Have a project in progress and get some good questions you’re honestly struggling with ready in advance, because they might just be ready to help you on the spot. Alternatively they might suggest they’re busy at the moment but they’ll be willing to help you out later. If that happens, say thanks and let them know you’ll try to get hold of them later for help or you’ll send them your questions by email. Then follow up on it.
Not everyone on the web is a nice person. That’s just the way it is. Sooner or later you’ll run into a person who simply doesn’t give a damn about anything but himself (or herself). It’s best to just move on and find someone else willing to help you. There’s no sense trying to build a working relationship with someone of the “me me me” mindset. Working with them will always be difficult.
Ask for a favor once in a while
Don’t be afraid to ask for some favors once you’ve established yourself in a forum. There’s nothing wrong with it, and if you constant give freely without asking for anything in return you’ll be the most loved person on the forum, and you’ll also be a doormat. Unless you’re trying to learn how to be a master doormat, have a little respect for yourself. Once you’ve proven your skills in an area, don’t be afraid to charge a fair price for your work. In the end, that’s what will get you more respect and propel you towards the top.