My Journey and Career in Web

From Developer to Engineer to Management to Entrepreneur to Freelance to _____.
by Johnny Dean, PMP. Industry Expert in Web Development, Ecommerce, Enterprise Technologies, Marketing/UX, Project Management, WordPress. @johnnydeandotco
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  • 24-years in Web Development, Marketing, Management.
  • CEO/Founder – SaaS/technology startup (acquired by NBC).
  • Award-Winning Engineer (enterprise ecommerce).
  • Managed/worked-on 700+ websites, 300+ projects.
  • Certified PMP (Project Management Professional).
  • Passionate about highly-personalized user experiences.

I’ve had the great fortune of having a career that I love. I’m artistic, analytical, and adventurous… and web development has helped me explore all these personality traits.

Discovering HTML

Professional Surfer to Web Developer

I originally went to college (UCLA) to be a Mechanical Engineer though I ended up being a Professional Surfer. Yup, it was an actual job.

1994

In 1994, while exploring the web, I taught myself how to make webpages (HTML).

1995

In 1995, I discovered people would pay me to update their websites (webpages) so I eagerly started freelance web development. It wasn’t that hard to find “gigs” as there weren’t many Web Developers back then.

1997

In 1997, I landed my first big paying client/job as a contracted Web Developer. The job was to fix some broken HTML code on the Neiman Marcus website. I was paid $3,000, although it was in store credit, it helped solidify a career in web.

1998

In 1998, I got a full-time job as Webmaster for GPSVC. Back then the “web developer” was actually the developer, designer, network administrator, IT person, and anything else computer related. Everyone viewed web and computers as the same thing. The company soon folded, so went back to freelance web development.

For the next few years I worked on various websites, marketing campaigns, though I focused more on ecommerce (SMB). I explored heavenly on a new server-side scripting language called HTMLScript, later named Miva Script which was the language that powered Miva Merchant (an ecommerce platform). Mastering this new language quickly made me an industry expert in Miva Script.

Web Developer to Engineer

2000

In 2000, I started a new job as an Engineer for Miva, the company that made Miva Merchant. Before I started at Miva, I would constantly talk about Miva Script to my girlfriend. She wasn’t a developer, but I guess my rambled on enough about Miva that it kinda stuck in her head. She worked at UCSD and one day she noticed a booth at the career fair with a “Miva” sign. So she called me and told me and I rushed on over as quickly as I could. I expressed my interest in Miva Script (which was still a bit of an unknown language). I got an interview and to my surprise I got the job. I was in awe. I now worked at the company that made the programming language that I was obsessed with.

Working at Miva really opened my eyes that while web development was different then software development, the art of programming should still be treated as a structured discipline. Code is code, and above all, quality matters most. Throughout my years at Miva, I never lost the gratitude that a company was paying me to do what I loved (programming).

Management were passionate about shaping us from “Developers” (a generalist programmer) to an “Engineer” (a disciplined, industry educated programmer).

2002

In 2002, Miva like most internet companies felt the pain from the internet bubble bust. The company was later sold in 2003. Under the new leadership of Russ Carroll, then Rick Wilson, the company (and product) thrived and is now an industry-leading ecommerce platform. Thank you Russ/Rick for keeping Miva Merchant thriving.

Listen, Learn, then Lead

Engineer to Management

Early web development jobs were treated like software development since web programming languages were still new and most Managers were more familiar with software languages then web languages. Traditional software development is very structured and reliant on traditional software tools and processes. With web development, it’s more freestyle and since still new had the ability to be pushed in very innovative ways.

To push true innovations in web development I had to take on the lead role and manage teams. This gave me the ability to inspire myself and my teams to always take web development (and design) to the next level. This is one of the beauties of the web industry. It’s always growing with new technologies. You need to always adapt.

Throughout the years, I’ve managed small teams to large teams (70+) of web developers, web designers, marketers, QA, in corporate, agencies, and startups. While I could write a lot on my management experience… I’ll write what I take most value in is what I’ve learned from my managers who helped me become an inspiring team leader myself.

  • John Myers, CEO – Understanding small business complexities, product development, and customer loyalty.
  • Jeff Huber, Director – Management should shield their team for corporate red-tape/struggles and enable them to embrace mistakes and failures. Customer support is key to delivering a successful product.
  • Jon Burchmore, CTO – Quality code and disciplined programming is the most important factor in enterprise application development.
  • Martin Jones, Executive – The ability to navigate through corporate processes/hurdles and the understanding that collaboration is key. Let your staff take risks and have them feel supported.
  • Gordon Dankberg, IT Director – How to manage a department (people and budget).
  • Anthony Lloyd, CTO – Invest in people, their potential, not just their past experience.
  • Blake Miller, CMO – User experiences should speak to the person as an individual.
  • Darian Paterski, CIO – “Listen, Learn, then Lean.” Before you set down your management plan, listen to your staff and learn what their pain-points are, then lead based on how you can make their lives better (be a coach, not a dictator).
  • Rick Repsold, Sr. Director – Being able to push innovation, you not only need genuine passion, but also the need the ability to sell your idea/plan to everyone/anyone.

Thank you, to all who have helped me grow into a good and inspirational Manager.

My own management style could be summed up in these 5 bullet points.

  1. Listen, Learn, then Lead. Before you can successfully lead, you need to truly understand your team. Listen to them. Understand them. Then lead.
  2. Be a Coach. Let your team focus on sharpening their talents, while you do all that you can to enable that (by dealing with the intricacies of management and red-tape). Have your team feel that they can take risks, and if they fail, that is ok, because you both (you and your team) can learn from it. Foster growth.
  3. Invest in your staff. Your team should always be growing in their talents.
  4. Passion for what your team is managing/developing. Don’t be just a boss, be a mentor, and leader in the industry and product you’re managing.
  5. Tickets are key to effective team/project management.

Startup Founder/CEO

Management to Entrepreneur

2008

In 2008, I had a great corporate job as a Director, Web Portal Solutions at Hitachi. This was a great job at a big company (400,000+ employees). I was in charge of improving the online user experiences and web technologies for the entire enterprise and was strongly supported by C-level executives. This was my dream job. I even planned out my retirement plan being all through Hitachi. Much of my job at Hitachi was really a sales job, as in having to educate other executives how disjointed the current web technologies are and how we all needed to collaborate (mostly budget) and consolidate teams to fix the many costly problems/issues.

From Idea to Startup (SocialSimple)

Updating my social media profile image across my social media profiles/websites was quite frustrating since there were so many social media websites and each website had their own login and a different process. Being the developer at heart, I developed a script to auto update via the “social graph” that many of the social media websites provided. My core experience has always been in ecommerce and my passion has always been in developing personalized user experiences. The idea to use the social graph to personalize a user’s ecommerce experience was the birth of the idea for a new product.

After missing a flight, I ventured to a local bar to wait it out until the next flight. I scribbled on a newspaper my idea of combining a user’s social graph and data algorithms for a personalized ecommerce experience. The next day while attending a “Web 2.0” meetup, I casually talked about the idea/concept. The following week, I received a phone call from investors who wanted to make a product out of my idea. I was not an entrepreneur and at the time was only a concept. When you have investors offering an opportunity while many entrepreneurs struggle to find finances, I just could not say No.

I started a company (as CEO/Founder), hired staff, build the product (SocialSimple), launched a beta, and had quite the adventurous experience in business and in life. I’ll blog more on the startup experience in detail at a later time.

2009

In 2009, the startup (the product) was acquired by NBC for $4.2 million.

Something New (after acquisition)

Through UCSD, I became Project Management Certified (PMP). While my career was in web and not project management, I got PMP certified to better hone my skills and experience in delivering projects, on-time and on-budget (crucial for product success).

Now in PR (short-lived)

Since NBC only acquired the product and not the company, we still had a company intact. Some of use decided to venture into specializing in Marketing and Public Relations. Clients were mostly celebrities, clubs, and SMB (ecommerce).

Streamlining Web Technologies

Entrepreneur to Executive

2010

In 2010, I moved to Boston as I was approached by Verizon, and was hired as their new Chief Architect, Enterprise 2.0 (an Executive role). I was to lead up the “Enterprise 2.0” initiative to streamline web technologies and add social media to the corporate culture (270,000+ employees). We worked on some amazing initiatives to help the company, employees, and customers better collaborate.

Like most large corporate cultures, web technologies were still very much misunderstood (in 2010) and were passed off as IT projects. I had the ability to streamline much of the existing web technologies in place and drastically reduce the operational cost. Much of my recommendations had some pushback from other executives who were still operating with old technologies and were ok with stale technologies (that were not scalable) and ok with keeping very costly systems running. Much of the mindset was, if it’s not broken, don’t touch it, even at the high expense to the company (and shareholders). Since my recommendations saved the company millions (and millions) and I reported directly to the CIO, my recommendations for improvements were always approved.

While I loved this job (and upper management loved me), I wanted a more permanent job (as this job was a contract job, year-to-year).

2011

In 2011, I moved to New York City (Manhattan) to be Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Adoptive (a brand agency). I loved how our work environment was very collaborative and we had pride in our ability to work together as a think-tank. Majority of our clients and projects were in product branding (big brands).

Freelancing

Executive to Consultant

2013

In 2013, with the birth of my daughter (who is my world), I moved back to California to be closer to family. Getting a new executive job always takes quite sometime so I decided to do some freelance consulting until I land a new management job.

It’s been 6 years now and I’m still Consulting. While I thought freelancing would be a temporary thing, it’s lasted so long as it’s always been easy to get new projects (with my now many years of experience in web).

Consulting has been 1/3 Business, 1/3 Marketing, 1/3 Development.

Most of the projects have been in product development, ecommerce, or enterprise technologies. I’ve also worked with many startups, serving as CTO (mostly interim-CTO). Helping startups form a new company/business/product, and building a top talent development team.

2019

Exploring Freedoms

Now 2019 (present), I’m still freelance Consulting. I have a lot of freedoms (financial and travel) as most of my projects are remote. Also being a Minimalist (no possessions) gives me the ability to easily travel. Last year, I traveled quite a bit, all while working on projects.

I get a lot of people expressing their desire to have my work lifestyle. Yes, I am grateful, though I do miss the structured 9-5 work day, the corporate culture, the agency creativity, the startup innovation, and mostly managing a team (being a mentor).

Since I don’t need to take a job/project for the money/paycheck, I have the freedom to selectively choose new projects. With that, whatever I choose is because it’s something I’m passionate about and would do for free.

Career Summary

24 Years of Experience

Present

Throughout the many years in my career, I’ve worked on/managed many websites (700+), projects (300+), ecommerce/stores, enterprise applications, mobile apps, marketing campaigns, and artificial intelligence algorithms. What I’ve always loved about the web is it’s ability for the technology to change and adapt to offer better customer experiences.

High-quality user experiences will always be my core passion.

The advice I would give to anyone having a career in the web industry.

  • Websites should be about sharing information (for free). This has always been the core backbone of the web. Content is knowledge.
  • Always push innovation. Web technologies are constantly changing and you need to be able to adapt to changes in all aspects of a web project/website/app.
  • Don’t rely too heavily on development automation tools and frameworks. Know how to write code manually (not just calling functions).
  • Design and user experience should be for the customer (online audience).
3 keys to a successful project
  1. Collaboration.
  2. Tickets.
  3. Documentation.
3 keys to managing a development team
  1. Listen, Learn, then Lead.
  2. Inspire innovation.
  3. Coach your team, help them grow in their talents.
5 innovations to lookout for in the web industry
  1. AMP (true “mobile” web, not just responsive web).
  2. Virtual Reality (web experiences inside the VR).
  3. Ecommerce (digital commerce beyond the web).
  4. Consolidated user data across websites/apps (semantic web).
    • This will enable a more personalized user experience.
  5. Immediate user-generated content/media.
Johnny
@johnnydeandotco

SERIES: This post is part of a series of articles: My Career.