What the hell do I do?

Paul Boag

What the hell DO you do for a living anyway???

It’s embarrassing, but this is probably one of the most common questions I get asked. It’s hardly surprising when people see how much time I spend blogging, podcasting, writing and speaking at conferences. It’s not the typical schedule for a web designer.

The truth is I have not considered myself a web designer for a number of years. Yes, I still have a reasonable eye for design and yes, I can still write HTML, CSS and JavaScript, but the skills I once had have atrophied over time.

Instead my skills, interests and responsibilities have shifted towards digital strategy, governance, business development and the future of the online space. I’m aware that all of this sounds pretentious, but the truth is it’s probably not as sexy as my old web design job!

If I had to choose my primary job title, it would probably be digital strategist.

I am a digital strategist

If you have worked on websites for any length of time, you will know that the success or failure of a website has little to do with the quality of the web designer who built it. Business models, governance issues, strategies and politics (to mention just a few) can hamper even the most talented web designer and stunt the long-term management of a website.

Over time I became frustrated with the websites I built because of factors outside my control. I found myself increasingly stretching the scope of my role as web designer to encompass broader business issues.

Today these kinds of strategic issues dominate most of my interaction with clients. My job is to advise them about the role of digital within their organisation and give them strategies to help adapt to the digital economy.

I work with clients to help them put in place policies and procedures, team structures, management approaches and strategic roadmaps, that will allow their long-term success online.

All of this sounds very fancy, but basically means clients hire me for my experience in digital.

Of course, to be able to do this job properly, I not only need to help clients adapt to the current digital landscape, but also prepare for the future.

I am a futurist

If I’m going to advise clients on their long-term digital strategy I need to be aware of what innovations are on the horizon. Therefore it is not uncommon to find me obsessing over things that are still a few years away. For example in 2007 I was writing about the mobile revolution we’re seeing now, while today I am worrying about the long-term impact of technologies like Google glasses and Siri.

This means a considerable chunk of my time is spent reading, talking to peers across the industry and attending conferences.

I also look beyond the web design field to see what influence areas like business strategy, economics, marketing or psychology is likely to have on the future of the web.

If calling myself a futurist may sound like an attempt to “big myself up”, then perhaps my final job title will put me back in my place.

I am a marketeer

I have never had a very high opinion of marketeers and salespeople, but have had to accept that a significant part of my job encompasses both of these roles.

Although my blog and podcast allow me to talk about digital strategy and the future of the web, their primary role is as a marketing tool for Headscape.

Speaking at conferences may allow me to keep an eye on the future of digital, but they also provide a platform for self-promotion.

Finally, although I spend a lot of time with clients talking about digital strategy, I am also often called upon to do sales pitches.

Not that I would describe myself as a typical marketeer or salesperson. I rarely overtly market or sell my services, instead preferring to share my experiences and ideas and allowing these to speak for themselves.

A common theme?

If I had to identify the core of what I do it is actually very simple. I love the web, I love its potential, and I love experimenting with what it can do. My job is to take that love and communicated to others in a passionate and practical way. A way that will ultimately benefit them, their users and the web as a whole.

Admittedly this doesn’t sound like a proper job, but it seems to keep me in gadgets and what more can any geek ask.

“Young Business Man Holding Question Mark Signs” image courtesy of Bigstock.com