Keeping your skill set up to date

As part of life as a contractor one of the most important things it managing to keep your skillset up to date. This was fine when all you had to worry about was just HTML, CSS and maybe jQuery, but now with the explosion of JavaScript frameworks keeping your skill set up to speed is getting harder and harder.

When you look at a job description you usually see a whole list of ‘technologies’ that are required for the role. Angular, Node, React, Sass, CSS, UX/UI skills and maybe ‘if you also know PHP, that’ll be an advantage’. But keeping up to date with all these different technologies is nearly impossible. Two of these are entire platforms and not just frameworks.

So how is a lonely developer supposed to know all these frameworks, platforms and technologies inside and out, as well as work fulltime?

Well one way, and what a lot of freelancers are doing now, is niching down to a certain skill set or role. For example, is being known for creating offline first apps using Angular or creating Progressive Web Apps using Node or front-end development using HTML and Sass. These are all examples of how a freelancer/contractor can narrow down what they do in order to really understand well the technology they use.

Of course, the first thing that goes through peoples mind when thinking of narrowing down their skill set, what we use as contractors to get work, is the fear of missing out on work. If I don’t have the skill set for a certain job, then I can’t go for so many roles, I’ll miss out on work. But if you do a quick search on Google for ‘niching down + freelance’ one of the first articles you’ll find is ‘Overcoming the Fear of “Choosing a Niche”‘ by Brennan Dunn.

In the article he shows why having a niche or being a specialist is actually a good thing for your business/career:

When you go from being a generalist — that is, a provider of some commodity service, like web design — to being a specialist, who solves a specific type of problem for a specific kind of client, three things almost always happen:

  1. You’re able to charge more.
  2. Your clients give you more creative latitude and freedom, and a lot more respect.
  3. It’s easier to close deals.

In the rest of the article, Brennan goes through all the different issues with niching down, about the fear people have of doing this, the fear of picking the wrong niche to work in, dealing with the boredom that might come with only working with one technology.

If you want to read about how other people have found their niche and what it has done for them, this article Top 16 Freelancers Tell You How They Found Their Niche gives some interesting insight.

There are also some great books on this:


So in order to keep your skill set up to speed in today’s ever-changing web industry, instead of trying to be a master of everything and ending up a master of none, it might be work just narrowing your focus a little. Finding out what you enjoy working with, what projects you have enjoyed working on and becoming a specialist in those types of projects, using that type of technology in order to really learn and know that skill set.

It something I’m going to focus on doing over the next few weeks months.