What does a web developer do all day?

A client commented a few weeks ago that I am “way into my work”, which is probably true. I’m holding a lot of stuff in my head at once.

Some people might think that web developers build one site at a time. That would be so nice. But that absolutely does not ever happen. There are normal, regular delays in our work flow as we wait for client approvals or materials. And the average day involves juggling a wide variety of tasks and issues as we work on very different kinds of problems.

I like to start the day by getting all the little things done first. If you’ve sent me a small request to add or remove some content, I’ll probably do that first. Next come the status reports as I talk to Jr. and Sr. Tech about our current projects. We have a quick consult to decide what we’ll each be doing, then separate for a while.

Today I didn’t have any clients come over because it’s Friday. I try to keep the day clear because there are usually a lot of small jobs to be finished up for the weekend. This morning I started with a couple of phone call “meetings”. The first was a review of a brand new site for a small school in downtown Vancouver that we finished two days ago. Normally I like to present the results in person but we’ve been working on this particular site without meeting the client. The client and I went through each page on the phone while I made notes of the additions and revisions. I left him with a to-do list of things to send me by email, then updated our work schedule for the day as well as his invoice, and sent him a copy. Since I was into the Invoice folder, I sent out a couple of others while I was there, and wrote a couple of reminder emails.

The second phone call came from a long-standing client, a wonderful man with a great sense of humour. He likes to send the text and photos for his company’s blog and have me assemble them. I’d been receiving content from him all week and had organized it into folders. There were a lot of images but he had nicely zipped them up for us. We discussed the next three blog posts, then I spent a couple of hours creating the first one and sending it to him for his approval. I worked in Photoshop to size theimages, then created new pages in Dreamweaver, and added and edited and tested the copy. One of the blogs was about a recent auction at the Vancouver Art Gallery. It was a good read with beautiful photos. Meanwhile Sr. Tech was working on an online shop he’s added to a site, and answering the other phone.

After finishing up the post, I answered a few more emails then made an apologetic phone call to some realtors who came to see us last week. Their real estate website was originally built using a ready-made WordPress theme. It had gone through a great deal of additional modifications, including some plugins for real estate sites, and there were some problems with it. The dilemma now facing us was whether to push forward (because the site was very workable in most ways) or not to push forward (because we were bound to run into more snags picking up where the other developer had left off). We spent a lot of extra time trying to come to a decision and finally had to recommend a new build instead.

At this point I discovered some of the pictures I made yesterday for an online colouring book were “leaking”. This website has been a long-term project for an annual festival in Vancouver that hopefully will launch in the next two weeks. We’ve been adding fun widgets and games to the site to make it entertaining and to build excitement for the June event. It looks like I didn’t completely “close” some of the lines in the colouring images, so when an area was “painted” with colour, it flooded the adjacent section. Back to Photoshop to open the offending images, close the lines, crunch them through the software we bought to make the colouring program, and upload them again.

Time to check with Sr. Tech about the sites he’s working on. He’s been fielding requests from new clients so we go over the issues and concerns and make some decisions. We’ve launched a new site for a Zen Buddhist retreat in Pennsylvania this week, and a few questions have come back about the slide show I built on Wednesday. I work on this until we’re happy with it, then it’s time for my lunch time bike ride. It’s raining heavily and miserable, so we opt for some take-out sushi instead.

After lunch I review a small job for a folk band who would like to add a WordPress guestbook plugin, have us update their menu to include the new Guestbook for their visitors to sign, and add a bright green “star” shape linking to the guestbook from the homepage. Unfortunately the star image has to be uploaded through the back end and the link has to be hard-coded to the guest page URL. Meanwhile, the guestbook needs to match a sample site they sent. After spending some time identifying a couple of plugins that look good, I make the star and put the plugins aside to discuss with the others.

Next I tackled the search engine optimization on a site we built for an author. It needed a couple more hours of work to complete. I worked hand in hand with Google ad word tools to identify suitable phrases and add them to the code, then loaded an XML site map.

As I was finishing, I took a phone call from someone who needs to configure her email client to receive emails sent via the server for her site. Unfortunately we don’t actually do this work, although we will type out the information and send it to her. After being “blamed” several times for problems that were out of our control, we had to make the hard decision that we won’t help anyone install software or configure emails or register for a host. (Having said that, Sr. Tech is opening a can of worms again by offering hosting through Kits Media. He has gone to a great deal of trouble to set this up and is patiently waiting for me to create a nice interface for it.)

Next came a series of emails back and forth with a client who is thinking about compressing some of the videos uploaded earlier to their financial company’s website. We discussed using an Adobe compressor and building a Flash player, or loading them to Youtube and grabbing the embed code. After checking their Google Analytics, I discovered that only 6% of their clients are using an iPhone or iPad (which doesn’t display Flash), so their market demographics are not a problem. I recommended the Youtube solution however because she’ll be able upload and compress more videos in the future, and I can show her how to grab the embed code and add them to her pages. This is working out well because we re-built this site last year so she can manage a lot of their own updates. I spend some time on Youtube to create a ghost account, upload the videos and make them private, so only I can find them or get the embed code.

Suddenly an avalanche of emails –  it’s Preview time. Every two months since 1989 I’ve written 10 or 12 art reviews of local shows for a small gallery magazine. I start making folders to receive all the emails and images that will come in the next 24 hours.

Hard on the heels of the gallery information comes a late afternoon email from an accountant client. His site is also ready to go live and he’s spent the week reviewing the pages. His email has a list of changes which I read over and let him know I’ll start working on them. His review is extremely detailed and organized. It consists mostly of text replacements with a couple of PDF links. Lovely! It looks like we can get him online and looking good by Monday. I sort out the tasks to be done and get started on it.

Now it’s time for a stretch, a cup of tea, and a quick review of what we need to do next. TGIF!