Becoming a freelance web developer: skills review

A first step to getting the skills necessary to work as a full-time freelance developer is to assess where I am currently skills-wise and where I need to improve.

I’ve been working as a board member of the Greensquare housing association for a number of years. Each year I have an annual assessment of my skills to highlight my strengths and weaknesses and guide further self-development. I’ve decided to use this system to assess my web development skills and help me to decide my priorities for improving my skills.

The assessment is based on a simple scoring system where each skill is given a score from 1 to 5. A score of 1 means I have little to no knowledge of the skill area, a score of 3 indicates a good general knowledge, but not detailed expertise, while a score of 5 indicates expert level knowledge.  While nobody can be an expert in everything, and a web developer requires generalist skills across a broad field, I would expect a developer to score a 4 (professional level skills) in the primary areas, with at least a 3 in a wide range of supporting skills.

I’ve got a big advantage over many people who set out to be a web developer. I first started using computers at school – gaining my first computing qualification (O’level) in 1981. I studied computer science at college for one year, had extensive training and experience working as an analyst/programmer, web developer (HTML) and systems administrator.

I’ve continued to work on my skills while working as a charity administrator and copywriter. I’ve worked full-time and as a contractor in a number of sectors including government, the city of London, fashion, the police, charities, and for major technology companies (SUN, Logica, ICL, DG).

A great deal of my professional work has been finding solutions to problems including customer support and bug fixing. I’ve also got experience with different work models – full-time, contractor, part-time and freelance, and for many years I’ve been a board member for a large business.

As with many people working in IT, I have a wide range of skills and experience, but often this has been based on addressing the immediate task at hand. This inevitably leads to prioritising breadth of knowledge over depth. To work as a full-time commercial web developer, this will be the main issue to address.

Here’s my initial assessment of my skill levels:

  • HTML – 3
  • CSS – 3
  • Javascript – 3
  • Bootstrap – 3
  • jQuery – 3
  • Web technologies – 3
  • Linux – 3
  • UNIX – 4
  • Graphic tools (Inkscape) – 3
  • WordPress – 2
  • Site builder tools – 3
  • Algorithms & programming logic – 3
  • Programming – 3
  • Scripting – 3
  • Responsive design – 2
  • Working with APIs – 2
  • Solution research and bug fixing – 4
  • Networking – 3
  • Git – 2
  • C/C++ – 3
  • Python – 1
  • Ruby – 2
  • JAVA – 2
  • PHP – 1
  • SQL – 2
  • Wireframing – 1
  • REST/JSON/AJAX – 1
  • Databases – 3
  • Team working – 4
  • Agile working – 2
  • Reporting – 4
  • Copywriting – 4
  • Technical writing – 4
  • Board level and committee working – 4
  • Working as a full-time employee – 4
  • Contracting – 4
  • Freelancing – 4
  • Risk management – 4

What this process has made clear to me is that, while I have a lot of the skills I need to work as a full-time freelancer, my core web development skills need some work. So, over the next year (as my copywriting work allows), I’ll be undertaking a full and comprehensive review of my skills with a particular focus on front-end development. I’ll post updates explaining what I’ve done and will reassess my skills ratings in the light of the training I’ve undertaken.

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