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A Day in the Life of a Webmaster

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.

Paying Your Dues

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.

Present and Future

Much of the promotion and marketing of the Web has been done by individuals with small enterprises, but the desire to be on the forefront of the Web wave (along with the amount of money flowing through the Web) has created a feeding frenzy among major companies. Even companies that cannot afford large expenditures on their net presence are hiring designers and Webmasters. According to Thomas Powell, president of Powell Internet Consulting, “Clients do not know what to do and they are paying astronomical fees” for Web talent. The strongest qualification for the job still seems to be interest. “I approached the project leader in my IS department and asked to be a part of [the IT project],” says Wesley Kraszewski, who traded in his information systems job to be a Web developer at Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare in Massachusetts. “That’s all it took-good timing, I suppose.” This situation is rapidly changing, though, and those, who only a year ago, could take advantage of this situation with only very basic skills in Web technology are not going to have an easy time now that employers have become more knowledgeable and discriminating. The ever-increasing demand for quality Web pages will inevitably mean that Webmasters be quite technically proficient in computer graphics and their marketing applications. Currently, Web developers are in highest demand in major urban markets: Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Boston.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

A self-employed Webmaster can work as many as 70 hours a week, whereas Webmasters who work on company time have weeks closer to the standard 40-hour. Reports on salaries for Webmasters range from $30,000 to $70,000 even for people who are this new in the profession. Those in the field of entertainment (such as the Webmasters responsible for the Website for the George Lucas film Star Wars) report the highest salaries, even with only two years of experience. The median Webmaster salary is more than $45,000, with no Webmaster earning less than $25,000 (according to a Web Week salary survey). However, salaries are stabilizing within a narrower range-less than $65,000-as companies start to realize what they are paying for.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Even if growth in the Webmastering field occurs at one-tenth the rate of growth of the Internet itself, the number of Web page designers and Webmasters will increase 68 percent by the year 2000, making it a colossal growth industry. People who have been in the field five years can pull in six figures. At the same time, the title of Webmaster wasn’t even recognized a few years ago, and with the ever-changing nature of the Internet, what it means to be a Webmaster today may completely change over the next few years and may even become obsolete.

TEN YEARS OUT

Webmasters haven’t been around this long. Check this space again in a few years.