In 1996, 80 percent of all Fortune 500 companies were online in some form or another, an increase of 34 percent from the previous year. The Internet has continued to grow exponentially through the 1990s, and now in the twenty-first century, everyone is online-big and small companies alike. This has, understandably, created a huge demand for “net presence” and companies are scrambling to hire Web designers and their counterparts, Webmasters. According to a 1996 survey by Web Week Magazine, 35 percent of respondents reported their official title as “Webmaster” (either exclusively or in addition to another title), while none reported having that title the previous year. They weren’t all computer science majors directly out of college. According to the same survey, 29 percent of Webmasters are younger than thirty, 40 percent are in their thirties, and 30 percent are older than forty.
Webmasters, like the web designers they work with, may be the authors of the Web pages they tend. Webmasters also need to share the basic technical skills and knowledge of their designing cohorts. They must be competent in HTML and other extensions, browser compatibility issues, and Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripting devices such as Java and UNIX. In fact, the more technical knowledge Webmasters have, the better off they are, especially since scripting languages and HTML protocols continue to upgrade and change at a blinding pace. Though Webmasters are not often responsible for creating the programs a site needs, they must, in any case, keep abreast of these changes in software.
The majority of a Webmaster’s work tends toward maintenance, augmentation, and improvement of existing sites and pages. Much of this takes the form of an on-screen editor responsible for presenting a uniform visual quality to a site through font selection, formatting, and icons-essentially streamlining a designer’s work. The Webmaster also checks for consistency across a site and creates and installs tools for updating Web content. To accomplish these tasks, Webmasters are usually the liaisons among designers, systems administrators, and Internet/Intranet managers. As such, they ensure that HTML validity and active links are upheld for the administrators, and that content, function, quality, and presentation are meeting the goals of the managers. Webmasters are also responsible for optimizing navigability of Web browsers, promoting proper use of URLs (Uniform Resource Locators), establishing efficient Web architecture, enforcing the house style, creating liaisons with graphic artists, and providing first-level user support by creating and maintaining FAQ (frequently asked questions) pages for the sites they oversee.
Since the federal government has yet to classify Webmaster in its dictionary of occupational titles, it is impossible to say exactly how many people are working in this young profession. Industry estimates show as many as 20,000 Webmasters and designers working nationwide. Additionally, many webmasters are self-employed and work on a consulting basis, handling up to five different sites at any one time.
In this rapidly emerging occupation, no rigid standards or training requirements have been set, and the skills that are sought vary. Both creativity and straightforward technical skills are necessary. Strong writing skills are valued, as is knowledge of computer science, programming, and advertising. A bachelor’s degree in computer science and/or English is useful. In terms of learning the skills needed for Web maintenance itself, anything you study today could quite possibly be outdated tomorrow. So, on-the-job learning is going to continue to be a part of Webmastering for the foreseeable future.
At this point in the profession, Webmasters have much in common with copywriters, computer systems analysts, Web designers, and workers in other multimedia fields. Since a unique variety of skills is required of Webmasters, any of these other careers offer the chance to use some or all of those skills. It is also an attractive option for many Webmasters to stick it out and gain the necessary years of experience to gun for a promotion to Web/Intranet manager. Why? Because salaries in this area tend to be higher.