Knowing Your Role in the Web Community


The web design and development industry has a lot in common with sport teams if you really think about it, and of course know enough about sports to see the similarities. Let’s take a minute and look at that. On any sports team, every player has a specific role they each must play for the team to win. A strong well-rounded team will have one star player, typically the leader as well, a diversely talented supporting cast that complement said star, a group of highly talented reserve players that can come into the game at any time and make their impact felt, the development/minor league team, and then the people who watch them and play as a hobby. The only problem a team built like this could face is that of the ego of the players. Since everyone believes they are the best, it’s going to get even worse with the freshest faces on the block, everyone feels like they should be stars. If that doesn’t sound like the web community to someone, then that person is either in denial or is oblivious to the truth.

Ever since the web industry got more crowded by people who saw all the money that could possibly be made, and at what a low start-up cost to them in the mid or late 2000s, there has grown some fascination with everybody feeling that the pinnacle of their career would be for them to reach this Rockstar status. This status, created by the community, is reserved for typically highly talented individuals who have done amazing work and/or moved the culture of the community in a positive direction at least one point. Now can you name anyone in the community who could be classified as a Rockstar that actually describe themselves as such? *crickets* *crickets* *crickets* *gerbils*

Having a hard time thinking of any? Well that is because the people who actually could be noted as Rockstars of the web community shun the title. Instead focusing on the roles they view as being the best use of their talents to positively push them, and the community. It is that kind of thinking, and its results, that make them deserve such a prestigious title. What about everyone else? Which factors decide which role is best for those not a Rockstar? Well, lets take a look at the breakdown of the rolls shall we.


*Image Credit: Miaowmatthew

Starting from the presumed highest position, lets begin by looking over the Rockstar role. Now we’ve briefly mentioned what qualifies a member of the community to be considered part of this role group, so unless you have skipped ahead to this part then you have an idea already. The Rockstar type is a community member with an immense amount of talent in one, or possibly two, areas typically and has the ability to use the results of said talents to positively move the web community’s culture. This can also be used for someone who you feel really had an influence on your career and approach. The latter mentioned way of defining a Rockstar showcases the one thing all this boils down to, individual opinion. However, this opinion must also be matched with a general consensus of enough people as well.

A good example here would be anyone that designed or developed something that has sparked many different interpretations or consistent use of said product. People that might be considered here are:

  • The creator of the 960 Grid System Nathan Smith
  • The developer behind WordPress Matt Mullenweg
  • The original creator and project lead of Drupal Dries Buytaert
  • Bloggers who always provide content that alters how their readers view things(personally I’m always keeping up with and reading the articles and/or books of Nick La, Ethan Marcotte, or Francisco Inchauste as my top-tier)
  • Or anyone else who has, or continues to, moved the culture forward positively

The Starting Line Up

*Image Credit: Fixiewrek

When you first hear the phrase starting line up, the common conclusion is to look for the star, or in this instance, Rockstar, and then grade the rest of the starters off how skilled and popular in proportion to that. Well the good thing about the web community is that being highly talented in your work doesn’t mean that you have to get hundreds of emails a day asking for help in their work, it becomes quite the annoyance. Those that fit into the Starting Line Up role are those that are just as skilled and naturally talented as those assuming the Rockstar role, if not more so, but they put very little focus on pushing the community forward. Instead, they’d rather use what is already in place and work from there. Actually thinking about, maybe those in this role are actually the ones who like fewer headaches and annoyances in their day than the ones they already get from clients? Just a thought.

Those that fall into this role category are highly talented, have a good amount of experience, and know how to use whatever new advancement that is made to their full advantage. Some examples of those that fit this description are:

  • Senior Level Designers and Developers
  • Art Directors and Creative Directors
  • The freelancer you wish you were as good as
  • Talented creatives who not only keep up with the trends and see them coming in advance, they blog about them too

Reserve Players

*Image Credit: Seth W.

In sports, these are the players that come off the bench into the game and it’s their job to keep the momentum in their teams favor or make it in their favor. Well for the web community, this isn’t so much the case. Here, reserve players a more devious bunch. Those that fall into this role are actually quite easy to spot, and actually called out often enough. Do you know someone who honestly does horrible work, yet still receives clients consistently and makes out like a bandit? How about someone who waits until after someone redesigns their site to work on their own, and end up ripping off that person’s entire design? Everyone has read an article somewhere and has been blown away, and then are surprised to see basically the same thing somewhere else. Of course this doesn’t apply to list articles, unless someone takes the author word for word. That’s just down right criminal on the lowest level.

Well that is the Reserve Player of the community. These members who only duplicate what they see, have no real pursuit in pushing their skill and only want the money to be found in the profession.

Development/Minor League

*Image Credit: Ed Yourdon

The name says it all, these are the up and coming designers that are looking to develop their skills and gain experience. Everyone starts here, no matter how naturally talented a creative may be. This group can be divided into two categories, the ones that are willing to push through the awkwardness of their start in the industry and those intimidated to take that chance.

The Hobbyist

*Image Credit: Don Fulano

Have you ever just driven by a park and seen a sporting event where it is a group of people just giving their all, as if it were their actual profession? Most began to wonder why would anyone put so much into a game, especially considering they’re not being paid to play. Well speaking as a person who actually will get like this in any sporting event, it’s all about a passion and a love for the game. This is the same reason anyone who spends the few hours they have to themselves when they get home from their full-time job, or school depending on their age, reading blog posts and books on the latest advancements in the web industry. These are also the same people who spend many hours just playing and trying to learn as much as they can about web technologies, just for fun. They may never have the same level of skill or expertise as a professional, but the passion is all that really counts.

How Knowing Your Role Improves Your Career

*Image Credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis

What is the point of trying to make pushes for advancement in the community like a Rockstar type does, when you are actually a Hobbyist? It is a waste of time, energy, and a good way to raise your stress level through the roof. Is there any value in trying to make the next great open source CMS or any framework when you are better suited for maximizing what is already available? Maybe even show what is possible beyond what was initially intended, WordPress wasn’t always viewed as an awesome CMS option.

It goes back to what many of us learned in school. It takes so much more energy trying to be something you’re not, why not redirect all that energy into being the best YOU you can be. By doing this you can properly grow, and then gradually let your talent take you into different roles in the community. There is no rush, or any actually role that defines the pinnacle of your career. It all depends

In Conclusion

The assumed size and public acclaim that one sees with a role, doesn’t make it more important than any of the others. There has been a lot of talk about being a Rockstar in the community. Topics like why someone should want to be one, how being able to call yourself one will boost your career, the skill level it takes to reach this role, and much more nonsense. Why has everyone done this? There is no way any industry full of professionals who focus on how they can be viewed as Rockstars could possibly prosper.

Take the time and talk to some of the most successful people in the web industry, they will tell you the same thing. The people who are successful, and aren’t stressing every two seconds, know their place in the community and maximize their potential in their position. There is more to being successful and enjoying what you do then being known as a Rockstar. For those of you that see the final frontier of your career is to reach Rockstar status, then honestly you might be in the wrong field.



  1. Cosmin

    Very nice article, Jamal! Is indeed vital to know what your place is, but if you want to maintain an online business, you definitely need to learn a bit about each one of these activities in order to be able to control them…at least at first.
    I guess you need to go thorough each of them, experience, learn about them…see what you really enjoy doing and settle on the one that fits your needs. Whatever you choose and doing it very good will lead you to becoming a “Rockstar”.

    • Thanks Cosmin! Yeah, as long as you understand where you’re at now anything is possible. We all can’t just start out ahead of the pack, the growth into different roles and positions in the community gains experience and techniques you can’t get otherwise.

  2. Donovan

    Looks like I am the Hobbyist… I love design, especially web-design, and development. Hell yeah I love CSS3 and HTML5, the new features are just awesome! I also love to read blogs (reading about 25 blogs in different categories) … maybe a bit too much, but I do not have the time to be a full-time designer/developer cause of my studium and work. Maybe one day :)

  3. Jude

    Bloggers have a great role in offering the web community information that is necessary for development. Thanks for this article. I’m proud to be one of the millions of bloggers worldwide.

  4. Joe Zim

    So, which role do you play when you’re the sole developer for a small application/site, like I am for my site ? Am I all the players!??! Whoa. :P