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Is Web Design the Hottest Job ever? Interview with Seasoned Web Specialists: Galo Matagay and Arbie Samong

May 23, 2014       Meaningful Life
Interview:  Galo Matagay and Arbie Samong

by Michael Rene D. Kanoy  for REACH Unlimited

Freelance Web Programming and Design, How to Make it Good

As content provider and product design specialist for a BPO before, I had the chance to work with two of the best web programmers and designers right before the breakout of mobile as the new standard for interface design.  Websites used to cost a premium and sometimes they still do if you want your site rigged right and you trust your designer / programmer to deliver the goods according to your specs.  The big problem is that oftentimes, companies or clients don't really know what they want so you go through a wringer just delivering something they'll pay for all your trouble.  Nevertheless, the web design and programming work IS some of the most satisfying and visually creative work as a designer for I.T. professionals.

Freelance Web Designer and Wordpress Programmer, Galo Matagay 

The Web Programming and Web Design Professionals

Galo Matagay  is a freelance web designer who cut his teeth with Wordpress and has accomplished an incredible amount of work, designing a variety of websites.  It would seem like the dream job for a creative programmer and designer and it really is for Galo, even when clients ask for the impossible, the bad and the ugly.  Galo is a professional who delivers his stuff.  We got a chance to ask him what it takes to make it as a freelance web designer and if he'd like to commit to corporate rock climbing again or risk job security for an exciting new start-up.

Web Programmer and CMS design specialist  Arbie Samong

Arbie Samong  was a former freelance web programmer and one of the best at creating custom CMS backends, or the input systems for loading a website with content.  He is now engaged in designing browser games as well as some freelance web design and programming.  Arbie has worked for several BPOs and has since chosen freelance projects as well as a particular gaming related gig for browser game programming just because he can and it is as rewarding as any other gig.

How Does Web Design Work for an I.T. Career?

Web design has also evolved to a point where it is now a wide open field as opposed to a specialist-centric career and anyone who can do good work can get many clients.  We ask our friends how to get good at what they do, how the field will be in the future and how to protect themselves from bad clients.  Both dudes tell us the lowdown of what it's like to be on your own as a freelance designer and programmer and what it takes to succeed as one, competing with everyone else. 

REACH:   Sirs, what is the best way for one to hone his design and programming skills as a web programmer and as a web designer?  What kind of entry level jobs are worth their weight in helping you get better?  Do you absolutely need to know the other parts of I.T. such as networking, hardware, and content to do your job well?  

Arbie:   Let me discuss web programming because it is my particular profession. The current trend is to specialize in either front end programming or back end programming, and this is mostly true for web start-ups rather than enterprise. I do both.  And they call us full-stack web developers. It's like a jack-of-all-trades, where you have to know a bit of everything to create a fully robust and great user experience for your client and the client's market. Usually a senior web developer would specialize in one area or technology but will still help the team on other technological concerns should the need arise.

Galo:   As a web designer, I honed my skills trying different projects that involved front end development and design for the web.  By reviewing different web portals designed by other people, I get inspired and encouraged to experiment with various design ideas of my own. Some entry level jobs can help you hone your skills on Java scripts and CSS if you are working in front end development.  Just don’t forget that you also need to learn back-end development and some IT related stuff to be flexible and self-reliant as a programmer.  In your free time, you can study the craft to better your skillset because you will need to be a Rambo, equipping yourself with all of the weapons of design and hard coding to pull off the best freelance work available as independent contractor. (pun unintended) That involves being well-rounded as an I.T. specialist.

REACH:   For web design, which many kids dream of doing, what is it like for real, in the trenches getting clients to accept realistic designs and taking pointers for what works and what does not work?

Arbie: --  (Arbie chose not to answer this question and we respectfully defer to his preference)

Galo:   Patience and understanding are a must for any web design professional.  Some people don’t know what web design entails from the programmer's end. Clients often bombard web designers with one word catchphrases that describe what they want and we’ll be totally  unsure how to deliver that because clients have to be specific and detailed in explaining what they want so that we designers can put together a good design.  Always try to share your own ideas with a client and let their vision of the web design be fully realized according to clear specs and the best we designers can create.   Some clients' ideas will be so out there that you need to explain to them what will work and what cannot be done given budget, technology and time constraints.  Making a web design idea work is what counts, but don’t make your design suffer from bad input or specs that make the design flawed.  Try to help your clients realize their vision with simple solutions because sometimes great things start small.

REACH:   You've had a chance to do creative web design as well as corporate web design, what distinguishes one from the other as far as design elements are concerned?  Is flat design really the way to go since mobile apps are changing the way web interfaces are designed today from 5 years back.

: --  (Arbie chose not to answer this question and we respectfully defer to his preference)

Galo:   The major difference in corporate web portals and more creative individual ones are how the pages flow, Corporate web design is more focus on clean front ends and an ordered fluid flow of pages.  Some creative web design are more visually focused and sometimes presented in a very strange or unusual page flow. I can’t say if flat design is better today because it is used more for mobile app front ends rather than widescreen desktop front ends (beveled buttons, 3D effects and animation).  The needs for one device are different from the other.  There is no right and wrong with web design but everything depends on how your product is visually portrayed by your design and that should not betray what the client wants its audience to perceive and interact with.

REACH:   Are you guys also gamers?  How does a hobby of gaming improve one's sense of design for the web?

Arbie:   Yes, I consider myself an avid  gamer.  Starting out early in the 2k era playing 90's games like all the kids. Would skip classes for CounterStrike at that time. Then I developed a taste for epic DND RPG style of games like Baldur's Gate and Fallout. It was a very inspiring and encouraging experience for me and I am now spending time programming a web-based educational game. While I do not perform game design per se, I try to mimic the experience I had with the games I played, particularly the immersion aspect.

Galo:   Yes I do play games intensively (and a lot of variety like Racing, Fighting, 2d RPG, 3d Rpg, MMO, FPS, Puzzle games, and even classic 80’s)  and yes, they do help since some current UI designs originally were derived from game interfaces.  Gaming might also be a heavy influence on your portal design and you find your interface leaning to some degree to a game's. so better leave game interfaces as just an inspiration rather than the main focus for your own web design projects.

REACH:   Realistically, how does a freelance web designer and programmer make ends meet every month if he or she takes work on a per project basis?  What is the turnaround time per project para hindi ka lugi?  

Arbie:   Right now I work full time, but before when I was doing freelance work, my projects were usually long-term having to do with large scale systems. That meant guaranteed work for many months. Aside from my current work, I try to maintain good relationships with my good clients for more referrals. I have to emphasize good clients, as not all clients are created equal nor is everyone worth your time. It is also prudent to choose your clients wisely.

Galo:   One of my Clients gave me a tip about project compensation.  You should price your projects based on your capability to deliver aligned with your target income, so that when you have problems getting another client in between projects you will have enough to make ends meet at the end of the month. It’s hard to be a freelancer if you don’t know how to get clients, so try to get as much experience and try to advertise your portfolio or get projects from referrals. Always choose your clients wisely since this will be reflected on your portfolio.

REACH:   You've probably been around long enough to know that there are some unscrupulous clients.  How do you protect yourself from bad experiences and lost time dealing with such people and companies?

Arbie:   For packaged projects you always ask for 50% down payment. That will prove to you that your client is serious about the project and the trust and benefit goes both ways. Contracts are important too. I never did hour wage, but instead opted for weekly compensation, which is good and long enough to determine whether the relationship works. Once you get it going, be sure to see the project through completion and actually help the client with their problem, not just wait for the bill.

Galo:   Before starting, always secure yourself with a failsafe: also known as contracts.  Always ask for HALF of the total amount of the web project before you start working and that your clients sign the contract you made so you won’t be bothered with infinite amount of revisions and alterations. Deliver on time and you will get more clients and never bite more than you can chew.

REACH:   Do you also get the opportunity to choose what kind of projects are worth your portfolio and what projects are not worth a week's time at all?  How do you choose clients if you had the chance to?

Arbie:   I only work on projects I'm interested in. If it's not interesting then it's unfair to both parties. Now that's not an absolute statement; there's nothing wrong with doing something just for the payment. It's just that I have choices, and to maximize the benefit of all involved I just choose the projects that suits me well.

Galo:   My current contractual work prevents me from choosing my projects, so in my freelance work on the side I do choose what projects to do.  It may differ from person to person. If you’re stuck on a bad design, try to make some suggestions to improve the situation and see where it goes from there. If I was given a choice, I'd like to work on projects that pique my interest or get a client whom I see need a redesign for their portal that can help them improve their website.

REACH:   For corporate work, we've been there before, you are secure and stable, and you learn a lot from a particular professional work environment.   Would you trade your station today as a freelancer for a cushy corporate job again or some promising start-up gig?

Arbie:   While I am not currently freelancing, my work with start ups had the same pace, if not more hectic. Sure it's also stable-ish, but not on the level of a corporate job.  Most start-ups come and go by the minute.  It just suits my line of thinking:  I'll really be happier as a specialist or contractor rather than a "lifer" to some big company. By the way, this is not for everybody, and it may or may not secure your retirement.  But so far I find the pacing to be incredible.

Galo:   My current job, some call it “Permalance,”  it’s more of a permanent type of contractual project with some benefits.  And I control my own time and I work from home, which is way better than a stuck up corporate environment.  I am happier in the way that I get to have more time to do my own thing without the fear of someone looking at my back.  I do my work way more efficiently and at my own pace.  It’s not for everyone, I just like my freedom better so my current job suits me just fine.

REACH:   Some pundits claim that web designers and programmers are crazy people to sit through the drudgery of coding and abusive clients as well as clients who don't have a clue but insist on specs that don't work.  What makes the work special for you? As both programmer and designer?

Arbie:   As a programmer, I think that is true in every industry. It is unfair to lump clients as a kind of breed among humans that has money but understand nothing of a programmer's craft.  Every client and every project is different.  No same person handles stress the same way. Most importantly, I do not find coding to be drudgery at all. What makes everything tick in my line of work is knowing that somebody somewhere in the planet used my web app and found their lives enhanced afterwards. That's magical for me, and it helps me deal with some difficult personalities. Ultimately, you reap what you sow - give others respect and kindness so you can expect the same, otherwise move on.

Galo:   No work is menial unless you love what you do, respect what you do and you’ll learn to respect everyone that they do what they do because they chose to do it.  Everyone has their own reasons for committing to their line of work. For me I like the feeling of completing something that is meaningful.  Any small way pf being helpful to my clients is an achievement that I cherish.

REACH:   Some kids don't have an idea of what a career in web design and programming is like and just get into it because they see cool websites and hear about seemingly overnight apps getting sold for more than they're worth and gobbled by giant corporate brands.  Can the dream be made real?  How long do you have to bust your chops before you do your own thing?  How do you know which projects will help you improve your skills as well as your portfolio?  

Arbie:   I think that's the only true and proven approach. You cannot really gauge a certain craft the first time you get mesmerized by it. That, and not many of us can know exactly what we want to do in life after finishing college. Programming is one of those skills that really has no shortcuts. You just do it every day until it makes sense. You make mistakes, work with different contexts and tribes, understand principles deeper as you go. I'm still busting my chops. I'm still learning. It never ends. The only factor for learning something is that if you don't know about it before, and you really can never know it all.

Galo:   Learning never ends and it’s always fun, I started out a computer engineer and I even hated math.  But hey, who would have thought that my hobby of tinkering with stuff would eventually lead me to a career in web design.  I still have a lot to learn and the only thing that keeps me going is that I have a blast doing what I do and learning new things along the way is never futile.

REACH:   What works on the web as far as design ans coding change faster in three years than it used to and most changes depend on what user devices are coming into vogue, with mobile now becoming as prevalent as the standard gadget, while PC users are dwindling.  What are the trends that you see coming for both hardware and for design and coding that everybody must have in his skill set to be competitive as a freelance web programmer and designer?

Arbie:   As far as web development technologies go, I focus more on Javascript and the new full stack movement which changes every *month*. The tech updates are so fast now that one has to keep abreast of them to stay competitive as programmer and designer.  The software component is slowly catching up to the hardware which used to have Moore's law as an advantage or lull for when the next tech standard came into vogue.  I can see wearable devices gaining foothold among tech savvy users and these are just extensions of the current mobile trend. but with far bigger implications (like how Facebook values Oculus) for the future. It's all about getting in touch with the latest in these disciplines and following the new sites or tech blogs to learn more. What never changes in the consumer-centric software business is having and implementing a good intuitive User Experience. Once you get that, everything else are just tools waiting to do your bidding.

Galo:   Designing how users interface with web technology is changing but only in the way it is being accessed. From desktop to mobile to wearable tech.  Standards are now being challenged with new and bolder ways of interactivity.  Always, web products and apps will involve designing how things are viewed. JavaScript is still the most widely used and still should be one of the tools that should be in your belt as a Front End Designer.

REACH:   Do you buy into Grunge design for the web?  How does this format for web design work for web programmers and designers?  Does it work for app design and mobile interfaces too?

Arbie:   I do not see much application of Grunge Design when it comes to web programming. The grunge mentality, however, is at the root of the hacker culture. It's all about what works best for an individual according to what he can accomplish, and there is complete disgust for authoritarian and repressive mores, or the snooty cognoscenti's opinion as a measure of one's success. I came from this generation where nobody is special and you are not entitled to anything in life, except whatever you negotiate for in a proper and mutual agreement. As a programmer, the grunge attitude embodies the creative desire and humor prevalent amongst both young developers and old-school beard guys.

Galo:   I really like black as a base color for design on the web, but front ends do not have to be grunge designed to rock. Depending on the lifestyle image or attitude of a portal's design, grunge design per se may or may not work.  Some designers are zen calm like still waters and choose spare layouts, while other designers have ideas flow like a rude and dirty mud slide down a mountain--aka grunge design.  Grunge design will only work if it targets the right audience, and presents the  information that its audience is looking for.

REACH:   Thank you for the chance to interview you guys about web design and programming as a career. As seasoned young web design professionals, we hope your experience and advice can provide our younger readers with a better idea of what it is like to get into web design and programming as a career as a creative person and tech junkie.


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