I got my first job in digital communications in 2006. I was also a blogger for several years, writing my own content and publishing it online, prior to that job. In my career on the web, I have managed organizational websites, led web redesign efforts, and administered web content management systems. I’ve written, edited, and developed online content, coordinated social media and HTML e-mail blasts, and trained non-technical people in these skills.
Through it all, I’ve always considered myself a writer/editor who can do tech (rather than a techie who can write and edit). I always had a love and passion for writing which I’ve cultivated from high school to today, more than 20 years later.
For people interested in career paths that combine writing/editing skills with web technology, a position in the web team or online communications department of a company may be a good avenue to explore. If you’re reading this article, you likely already have the writing and editing skills required. Here are some additional skills to consider learning.
HTML and CSS
Knowing HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)—the basic building blocks and coding languages of the web—is a basic requirement for a career in web communications. And software such as Adobe Dreamweaver makes the job of writing and editing code easier and faster. But learning the software without solid proficiency in hand-coded HTML and CSS will limit your understanding and your ability to execute projects well in the long run. Fluency in the fundamentals of HTML and CSS will help you recognize badly written code and will also help you fix incorrect or superfluous code that sometimes gets generated automatically by software. To get started, I recommend the free educational resources at https://www.w3schools.com/.
The web is a visual medium. Much of the content you’ll work with day-to-day are images, graphs, charts, and logos. If you can’t edit these with the same skill you do copy, you may be lost.
Presenting information on the web requires graphical skill and expertise as much as writing and storytelling. The web is a visual medium, and much of the content that you’ll work with day-to-day in web communications are images, graphs and charts, logos, and other types of media. You need skills to resize files, convert from one file type to another, edit and crop images, and sometimes even create your own visuals and graphics.
To do this effectively, you need proficiency in image manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop and software for creating vector graphics such as Adobe Illustrator. I highly recommend learning these tools and developing a proficiency in graphic design in general.
Learn your organization’s CMS and become a power user
Most organizations nowadays use a CMS—a content management system—to house their website and its contents, which include HTML, images, documents, multimedia, and other files. A CMS allows web administrators and even nontechnical users to create and edit web pages from a centralized location. A CMS also locks down and separates a site’s design and navigation aspects from content. That means a user can edit the content on a web page without worrying about affecting a site’s functionality, design, and navigation.
Common CMS systems are Drupal, Sharepoint and Wordpress. Learning a CMS is a prerequisite to most web jobs. If you can get access to your organization’s CMS, I would recommend doing so and learning the ins and outs of it.
Accessibility and compliance
Increasingly, organizations are recognizing the need to make their websites and web content accessible to people with disabilities. If you’re not familiar with these concepts, WebAIM (webaim.org/intro) gives a good overview of what accessibility means for online platforms and technologies, what types of audiences need accommodations, and the law behind it.
Employers are increasingly recognizing that core skillsets for web operations include some component of accessibility. Simply put, a web professional needs to be able to recognize when a web page, image, web form, or PDF document is not accessible. They need to be able to either remediate the problem themself, or obtain the proper resources to get the problem solved by an expert.
Redante Asuncion-Reed works for NETE Solutions in Bethesda, Maryland, as a contractor and as a member of the web team at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. He has worked on the web since 2006, primarily for nonprofit organizations based in the Washington, DC-area. Find him at redantereed.com.