Part of being a successful web designer is having the right tools (and the requisite knowledge) to get the job done. Fortunately, those of us who work in this industry have an incredible amount of resources available. Here’s the kicker: many of them free.
Okay, perhaps that last bit of information isn’t new to you. But, to those who work in other fields, it may just be astonishing.
Free tools and even educational materials are not something that, say, a mechanic would have access to. Nor would a plumber or a pilot. Yet, web designers take advantage of these perks every single day. Not only that, we also benefit from a large community that is centered around comradery and the sharing of knowledge.
And perhaps the biggest, most influential contributor of all is the open source software community. As such, let’s take a look at why open source means so much to those of us who work on the web.
A Fast Start (On the Cheap)
In just about any service-related industry, there are certain costs required to get started on a project – the “materials”, if you will. A restaurant can’t sell you food without first having it readily available in their kitchen. A carpenter can’t build you a shelf without first having a supply of wood. So, what about web designers?
Well, this is somewhat tricky. Yes, a designer could conceivably build every component of a site from scratch. This is easy enough to do for a simple, static website.
Odds are that one or more of the above needs would benefit from some premade software. In other industries, relying on apps built by others could cost a lot of money. In web design, you may not have to pay anything at all. Not only does this relieve us of large overhead costs, it also means that our clients can save some cash as well.
More than that, tools like WordPress or Bootstrap give us a huge head start on our projects. Could you imagine having to build from the ground up, every single time?
Opportunities for Growth
One of the most effective ways of moving up in your career is to learn something new. By increasing your knowledge, you’re opening up the door to different types of projects. Plus, having a greater level of expertise means that you can also legitimately charge more for your services.
Here again is an area where the open source community benefits web designers. Learning to do more with the various tools out there doesn’t necessarily require you to enroll in a traditional school (although, you certainly could). You won’t even be required to become certified in any one company’s way of doing things (think Microsoft).
Instead, education is a much more personalized and affordable experience. You could choose to take an online course at relatively little or no cost. Or, you could opt to dig into one of the millions of free tutorials out there. Why, even studying official documentation or support forums can be a great way to further your learning.
The idea is that the open source movement has led us to a place where gaining knowledge isn’t just for those who have enough money to do so. While there are still a great many benefits to formal education, it’s no longer the only way to learn.
This flexibility has enabled both the formally-educated and self-educated to thrive in the web design industry. We have the freedom to choose how, when and what we learn. There’s no longer just one “right” way to do it. Instead, we can all follow the path that best fits who we are and what we wish to achieve.
A Friendlier Way to Work
It’s a fairly safe bet that every one of us have run into a situation where we weren’t quite sure how to make something on a website work the way we envisioned. And chances are that there is someone else out there who faced the same challenge and documented a solution.
Not only has the world of open source made it easier to learn, it has also helped to build a culture that encourages the sharing of knowledge. Indeed, there is no shortage of people out there who are willing to share what they know and lend a helping hand.
One interesting aspect of this is that the sharing isn’t just contained to the virtual space. Events like WordCamps are literally full of people swapping knowledge. You see it in both the presentations and in the attendees chatting with each other.
This isn’t to say that we’ve created some sort of Utopia. Like any community, there is good and bad. But the overarching theme is that of doing things, however small, to benefit others. That has led to a large collection of decentralized repositories of helpful information.
Plus, it just makes our jobs more fun. When you can interact with others who work with the same tools and face the same challenges, it really does help to create a lasting bond.
Open Source Opens Doors
Without open source tools and libraries, the web would be a much different place. For one, the barriers to becoming a web designer would be vastly higher if everything were run with expensive proprietary software. That would not only negatively impact a lot of would-be designers, but also diversity and innovation as well.
But having access to free and low-cost software has empowered people all over the world. We can learn it, customize it and leverage it to make a good living. That’s a pretty profound impact.
So, this is just a small note of gratitude to the open source movement and those who contribute to it. The web continues to evolve, as do our careers, thanks in part to your efforts.