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Interview with Front End Developer Anna Debenham

Anna is a front end developer at Message in Brighton. You can also follow her on Twitter

Can you tell us a little bit about how you first got into the web design and development industry?

Anna Debenham I learnt my first HTML playing an online game called Neopets. It had this “create a webpage for your pet” feature which I tweaked obsessively. I then decided to start a real site for my friends where we could add funny quotes and that sort of thing. Then I started getting a few people asking me to do websites for their businesses and it kind of went on from there.

Do you consider yourself to be mainly a designer or developer (or a bit of both?)

I’m definitely more comfortable coding because it’s much less subjective. I do design when there’s nobody else to do it, and I love doing it for my own personal projects (because there’s no client to please), but I generally prefer working with a really good designer.

How did you find going back to full time employing after freelancing? Was it a difficult decision to make?

It was an incredibly difficult decision to make. I’d been freelancing since I was 16, full time since I was 18, and I really enjoyed it but I found it almost impossible to switch off at the end of the day. I resented spending a disproportionate amount of my time doing all the admin stuff that comes with freelancing rather than getting stuck into some code. It was also pretty lonely, and I was desperate to work alongside other people. It’s nice not having to worry about that sort of thing any more. Message

What was the most important thing you learned while freelancing?

I guess the most valuable thing I learnt was how to be self sufficient. I had to learn how to do everything for the first time very quickly, and deal with all the mistakes I made along the way. You don’t get a guaranteed paycheck on the same day every month, and if you don’t get up in the morning and get the work done, you don’t get paid.

What do you think about the current state of education for web design and development courses?

The majority of students I’ve spoken to feel disillusioned with the courses they’re taking. A lot of the content is so out of date than when they leave, they’re not equipped with the right skills and really struggle to get a job. I’ve talked and written a lot on the problems I had when deciding whether to go to university. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a course that wasn’t going to be value for money, and I think I made the right decision at the time by not going. In my experience, a lot of web development courses try to dumb things down to make them easier to teach and mark, but in the process they abstract things so they’re no longer relevant. For example, web design is part of the IT curriculum for secondary school students in England, but a lot of students are being taught how to make websites in Microsoft Powerpoint, or in some cases, in tables in Microsoft Word.

How would you improve things with current web development courses?

The best courses I’ve seen have really close ties with industry professionals, and adopt curriculums such as WaSP’s InterACT curriculum and Opera’s Web Standards curriculum.

WaSP Interact

I did a Q&A with students in Damascus High School and they were studying InterACT’s curriculum and were very enthusiastic about it. Ideally I’d like to see an institution like the Open University offer one of these courses. Open University courses are cheaper than traditional university courses, and you can study remotely while you work, so they’re incredibly accessible.

Can you tell us about Scrunchup and how it began

Scrunchup began in 2008 when I was talking to some friends about how there isn’t really anywhere for young people to go when they’re starting out. There are a lot of negative stereotypes associated with young developers, and there’s also a lot of bad advice, so I wanted somewhere to put stuff that people like me would find interesting. Scrunchup

Do you have a particular favourite web design conference or event that you never miss?

I have quite a few. There’s dConstruct in Brighton in the summer which is nice because the content is quite theoretical which makes it different to other conference. I spoke at the Web Developer’s Conference in October which was great fun because the majority of the attendees are students and it’s in Bristol which is a lovely city. I went to my first Full Frontal conference a couple of weeks ago which was cool and of course there’s Future of Web Design which I look forward to every year because it’s such a massive event.

What hobbies do you have and do they help you ‘switch off’ from the internet?

It’s difficult to switch off because my work is also my hobby, but I’ve always been into drawing and photography and I’ve been trying to get more of that into some of the work I’m doing. I also enjoy cooking and would like to get more seriously into that, it’s just the washing up at the end that puts me off!

Thanks very much Anna! 🙂

Anna is a front end developer at Message in Brighton. You can also follow her on Twitter

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  1. There are pros and cons into being a full time employee versus freelancing. One of the benefits of being a full time employee is that you get a steady pay check month after month. With being a freelancer, it depends if you work or not.

  2. This is really interesting, I am fascinated between the different of freelance and being fully employed. Sometimes security just overrides everything when it comes to being employed.

    Hope fully I will be braver in the future!

    Thanks for the interview, good read.

  3. A really interesting interview. As a designer who can develop it is always interesting to see another perspective on things. I really enjoy designing and want to develop my coding skills and abilities so looking at people such as Anna and her work gives me real inspiration to develop my coding interests.

  4. Was interested in the comment Anna made about web development courses dumbing things down to make them easier to teach and mark, which makes them no longer relevant!
    Feel sorry for people who end up doing one of these courses unaware that they could be learning much more on a slightly different path.

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