In the mid-1990s, I was the Director of Information Technology at a high-tech company, and the corporate website happened to fall under my department. At that time, I started getting into it for fun, and developed a website for the elementary school my children attended. Since then I have designed and created over 560 websites.
In those days, all of the Web Geeks were guys, and the term “Webmaster” quickly gained popularity. Unfortunately, it also reminded me of the Dungeons & Dragons addicts in college, some of whom were Dungeonmasters (and one of whom I married) — so I took to calling myself a Web Diva®. One of my clients so loved that title, she presented me with an award at their holiday luncheon.
What? You mean I don’t just get to play on the computer all day?
When I speak to students about a career in website design, I tell them that there are a number of skills required to be a Web Diva, and just because someone knows how to do the programming to produce words and images on a web page, that doesn’t mean it will be a great website. They think it sounds like a super-fun job, playing on the computer all day. I hate to burst their bubble, but there’s more to it than that. A professional, skilled web designer must have skills in:
Programming: Program in a several languages, in accordance with current standards. Evaluate technical approaches and make choices.
Graphic Design: Create original artwork using standard tools and software. Understand graphic design theory. Modify or edit items created and/or provided by others.
Writing: Create original content. Edit content provided by clients. Clearly articulate information to a wide variety of audiences.
Internet: Recognize the constant change and trends of technology, standards, usability and design – including programming techniques, viewing devices, search engine optimization and social media.
Business Understanding: Clearly organize and position materials to accurately represent the client online. Understand basic business principles and the activities involved with client interaction.
Client Focus and Customer-Oriented Attitude: Deal with a variety of people in a cross-section of industries and businesses, spanning a wide range of ages, backgrounds and levels of technical understanding. Patiently answer questions.
Problem-Solving: Track down and debug problems.
Project Management: Manage budget, schedule, requirements, multiple sources of input.
I like to think that I bring all of these skills to the party, in some form or another. And it also helps to be a lightning-fast typist.
From early days, I was enamored with writing, encouraged by both my mother (a teacher and librarian) and 4th grade recognition in a regional Great American Inventors essay contest sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution. My topic: the Wright Brothers. It’s anyone’s guess as to why I still have that medal in my top desk drawer.
In Junior High, the year-end career predictions included “Lisa Barowsky will write her own dictionary,” and it was a big deal to be voted Brain of the Class in my math class (unheard of for girls, at that time).
In high school, I took many art classes, and garnered recognition at the school, district and regional levels. I was definitely not the person you wanted on stage, but I provided decent hand-drawn artwork for a number of programs and tickets for school plays (long before the days of computer artwork, mind you). A bounty of certificates and praise; alas, very little financial reward.
I was voted Most Organized in my high school senior class. At the time, I did not feel particularly honored, but the skills that led to recognition certainly proved helpful. I always thought my naturally curly hair was deserving of Best Hair recognition, but it wasn’t appreciated by my peers, only adults who were spending a fortune on perms.
A favorite weekend treat was venturing to Walgreen’s with my father to test broken radio tubes on the machine, while he fixed various appliances for both our family and neighbors. To my mother’s chagrin, we lingered at the family dining table long after dinner, working math problems on paper napkins, and preventing her from completing her clean-up tasks. Clearly, technical skills were genetically transferred.
Under the circumstances, my skills in both writing and art were not seen as a sure career path, so I turned to technology, having been told, after all, that I was “pretty good at math — for a girl.”
My first programming work was in FORTRAN in high school, in an era prior to the arrival of home computers. I was the lone girl in a group of boys who were ferried to the district office down the street at lunchtime, to run our decks of punch cards through their computer.
Fortunately, a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from UC San Diego (1980), and an M.S. in Computer Science from Stanford (1985) enhanced those rudimentary skills and provided a solid foundation for a career spanning engineering, software development, knowledge management system design, process development and technical writing.
My corporate career included positions at Hewlett-Packard, Logitech and Quantum, with Director-level responsibilities in Engineering, Quality Systems and IT. I’ve also worked at start-ups, focusing on the initial organizational set-up, developing complete process architectures covering all aspects of the business — from establishing policies and procedures for operations, to creation of IT infrastructure, intranets and external websites. These experiences provided a solid base in business understanding and client focus.
In addition to my work in professional technical and website writing, some of my non-technical writing has been published in print and online venues, including East Bay Monthly, American Fitness, Consumer Health Interactive, Suite101 and CIO Insight. My book, Web Diva Wisdom: How to Find, Hire, and Partner With the Right Web Designer for You, was published in June, 2014.
I’m a member of both the Fremont and Mission San Jose Chambers of Commerce. I enjoy working with local nonprofit organizations to help them establish and develop an Internet presence, and also enjoy volunteering in a variety of non-technical capacities. Some of my favorite projects have included working on costumes for a fabulous local musical theater company and putting my knitting and quilting skills to work providing items for sale or auction at various fundraising events. In 1990 I designed the curriculum for a semester-long seminar course, Women in Science and Technology, which was taught at Ohlone College in Fremont, California, and several local high schools, for over 10 years.
Nothing beats those awards of my youth, but the grown-up recognition of which I am most proud includes a Leadership Award from Hewlett-Packard, an Outstanding Faculty Commendation from Ohlone College and the Don Gercich and People with Purpose awards, both for service and volunteer activities.