Owner, drw Design, LLC
Industry or specialization:
drw Design builds websites for a diverse group of local, national and international clients.
What got you into Web Design/Development/working on the web?
I got on the internet early in the 1990s through my corporate job as a game show producer for an interactive TV network. Through that, I got a job with Microsoft running some of their content areas on their new network—MSN.com. I think I was one of the first remote workers, although we didn’t call ourselves that. We were “non-location specific”.
I had a company in one of my content areas that refused to pay me, and we eventually settled on them handing over their website to me. I had no idea what do with it, but I had graphic design experience, and I figured out HTML fairly quickly. Then I suspected that other businesses might want a website, so I made business cards. And I told everyone “I’m a web designer now”.
The real estate agent that sold me my house introduced me to the owner of his firm. She asked me, “How’s all this going to work?” I took out a napkin. I drew a square labeled “server” on the top side. Another square labeled “browser” on the bottom. A square labeled “database” in the center. Then, I drew curved arrows between server and browser and wrote “magic”. She hired me. I got someone to help me make the thing.
That was it. I started building my business through referrals in 1996 and am still at it today.
What does a typical day or week look like for you? What sort of things do you do?
Most of my clients manage their sites in-house, so my time is divided between assisting existing clients with upgrades, issues, training, new functionality, and working on development of new projects. I also run an association of local tech professionals here in Charlottesville, The Neon Guild. I moderate our private email list of 500 people. That takes some time.
What types of web technologies do you work with most often?
What is your favorite thing about your job?
I like taking someone’s vision and making it real. I like seeing a business or organization grow because something I made is working as it should. I like it because it’s art and a puzzle. I love art and puzzles. Also, I love being the boss of me.
What do you wish you could change about your job?
Technology is constantly changing. Which means having to constantly learn new ways of doing things. I’m not saying it’s not great for your brain to keep using it. I’m just saying it can be tiring at times.
Where do you see your section of the web development/design/etc industry going?
With so many DIY website builders out there, I feel like folks don’t appreciate what you get with a custom solution. But I’ve thought that for a long time, and folks keep hiring my firm, so what do I know?
What technology and/or skill do you wish you learned before you entered the industry?
I wish I had had a stronger background in programming concepts. I bump around pretty well in the languages I need to use, but I could have a stronger handle on the overall logic.
What are you looking to learn or what skill are you looking to build next?
I’ve just been accepted into the beta for Adobe Firefly, and I’m more excited to futz around in there than I care to admit.
What questions should I have asked that I didn’t? (Please also answer it :-D)
What’s going on in your backyard, Debra?
Oh. I built a house out of recycled and salvaged materials. It’s called The Recycled House. You can rent it for the weekend. There’s a cool video on https://recycled.house. It got on TV.
What would you tell someone to do who’s looking to get into the industry? How should they best prepare themselves?
Many “web design” courses teach HTML, CSS and other web technologies, but they do not teach actual design. Which is why people just buy templates now. Which is why all websites look the same to me.
If you’re going to buy templates, and your client is thrilled with your end result, great. No judgement here. But having a solid knowledge of basic design concepts, what CSS and Flexbox actually do, along with basic programming principles will go a long way to becoming professional in this field. So maybe a little judgement.
Anything else you’d like to tell future designers, developers and web people?
Web design/development is not going away anytime soon. It’s a great career choice for so many people, it pays well, you can do it from wherever you are, you can work with others or by yourself, you can be creative and thoughtful. It is challenging and ever-changing, and who knows where it will go? (Probably AI overlords will take over, but hopefully, I’ll be retired by then.)
Is there a way people can get in contact with you to ask questions etc?
I’m debra [at] drwdesign.com.
Last Question: If you had to be a zombie and you had to eat someone’s brains, whose would it be and why?
I don’t want to turn this lovely interview into an angry political rant, so I’ll just say I’m a vegetarian, and brains aren’t on the menu.