So you work on the internet. But what do you do?

New buzzwords and job titles abound in the world of online marketing and web development. This is partly due to savvy (and not so savvy, but very irritating) people inventing titles and catch phrases by the minute in an attempt to conjure up an atmosphere of uniqueness, expertise and even celebrity.

It is also, however, partly due to the complexity of the web increasing at such a rapid pace, resulting in more specialised fields and more specialised people. I’m expecting to have a lot of comments from disgruntled achronym’d ninjas, insisting my definitions are wrong, so let’s see this as the start of a learning process for us all and begin to define who does what on the internet.

Information Architecture (IA)
IA is the art of structuring and classifying information, and relationships between bits of information. In the field of web development this can range from the front-end tasks of defining a taxonomy for a particular website and defining the best way to structure navigation on the site, to the back-end tasks of working out how to best implement a website’s functionality and code, from the perspective of the information that will pass through it.

User Experience (UX) design
This field relates mostly to a website user’s perception of, and emotive connection with, a website. UX design can pervade any other discipline, but always with a focus on the user’s immediate experience of a site or application. UX designers try to make sure that people get what they want as easily as possible on a web site, that they can always find what they are looking for, and that they develop an emotive connection with the site or service that translates into repeat visits and hopefully talkability and sharing.

These guys are all the same! Don’t let them fool you by changing up the jargon every couple of years. Of course we know no two coders are made alike – some like PHP, some like Java, some like World of Warcraft, some like building robotic paintball attack turrets – but a coder is a developer is a programmer is a software engineer. This field now spans front and back-end development, now that front-end design regularly involves using dynamic technologies such as Flash and Javascript.

There is a huge range of skill sets and abilities amongst this group, who are all, on some level, using programming languages to manipulate data, to produce a useful output given a certain input.

Web designers used to do it all – whatever was required to make a website, but this was back when websites were a shadow of the engaging, dynamic, powerful beasts we know today. As web development professions have gotten more specialised, the field of “design” pertains more to the graphical look and feel of a website or application.

Designers will often craft a flat version of a website in Photoshop, or a similar application, creating the logos, beautiful backgrounds and shiny, almost tangible buttons that make the web the visually captivating experience it is today. It should be mentioned here that HTML/CSS folk span these last two categories. They write the code that describes the content on a website, and defines its layout. Whilst HTML and CSS aren’t technically programming languages like Java or PHP because they are not functional, things can get pretty hairy.

Beautiful, useful websites can be built using just HTML and CSS, and someone who does this could call themselves either a designer or a coder, and they would be right both times.

Content Strategy
This is another field that has matured over the past few years into a distinct and sizable sector within web development and website management. Content strategists plan the type, frequency, tone and delivery schedules of content on a website. This is a field that requires an all round knowledge of SEO, Social Media, UX and good old fashioned media savvy. The web has enabled a fantastic array of content types to be consumed with ease, and especially large web sites need people to strategise and deal with issues such as when to use videos, blogs, micro-blogs, images, social media feeds and standard text.

In closing
This is by no means a definitive list of even the newer areas of specialisation within web development, and it would be fantastic for readers to leave definitions of other specialist areas in the comments section. A lot of people span various of the areas I have described, or have moved from one to another during stages of their careers.

The web and its technological abilities are constantly evolving at a rapid pace, and even those of us that work with it are not always up to speed with the different tasks that people do. Hopefully now that glazed feeling you have can be replaced by the authentic comprehension you are attempting to convey with your face when some type of web geek tells you his job title.



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