870. A Day in the Life–What's It Really Like to Be a Web Developer?
Keith Freund is a self-taught coder and freelance web developer based in New York City. His work receives over 70 million hits a year and includes projects for American Express, Switzerland’s Department of Tourism, IMG Talent, and Harvard University. He focuses on the WordPress platform, which powers 35% of the web.
The Most Impactful Turning Point?
“The economic collapse and housing crisis of 2008. At that point I guess my inclination was never to have a quote-unquote ‘real job’ or a desk job or something like that. There are a million think-pieces about how millennials don’t view some of the things that the generations before us viewed as stability, as being something that can be relied upon. So: buying a home. Millennials are more likely to rent. I’m totally in that boat. I have no desire to ever own anything. I don’t want to own a car or a house. Even having an employer… it’s the kind of thing where it’s stable until it’s not, you know? It can go away like that and then you lose your health insurance and then you have to explain to your next employer why you left your last job. So it creates a weird dynamic. I think that made me definitely double-down on being independent, being freelance.”
The Most Powerful Lessons and Experiences?
1. My favorite thing to recommend for people wanting to test what it is like to be a web developer: think of something that you want or that you would enjoy and then try to build it online. Something as simple as possible. Come up with a personal project for yourself. Because one of the biggest things that happens to people is they take an online course on coding and they don’t have any projects lined up and that knowledge all goes away. You need to be regularly working on something in your free time. And that could just be your portfolio website.
2. Another thing you can do to explore this work is offer to build something for free for someone that you know, who has a business of some kind. Somebody who does nails or has a restaurant or is a freelance copywriter…. It could literally be the Chinese restaurant down the street. Say, “Hey, let me build you a website.” And then just go from there.
3. I was naturally curious, and my first inclination was to take things apart—whether it was a circuit board or a chemistry set. But what I quickly learned is I’m not good at that for some reason—taking things apart physically with my hands. It just didn’t click for me. That all changed when I got my first computer when I was 14 or 15. That was when the internet was starting to come into its own. Then I was off to the races. I was like, okay, I can work with this.
4. My work is kind of a mysterious, dark art to people—they don’t really know what I do. But usually when I send people something I’ve done, what they’re noticing is the design. They’re saying, “It’s so beautiful.” But the one thing that (non-developers) do notice about my work is when something loads really fast. I love it when (an app) just does what I tell it to do right away. So yeah, that’s really gratifying.
5. Something I’m really excited about right now is making the web more accessible to differently-abled people—people who are blind, visually impaired, deaf, have cognitive disabilities…. Doing that, especially as I’m working on bigger and bigger websites that are reaching more and more people, gives my work a bit more meaning.
On His Bookshelf
The Four Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferris
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, by David D. Burns
Connecting With Keith Freund
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