Teresa A. Martin, one of the co-founders of Project Cool, shares information about contract work and creating a team oriented company in this interview.
<WR>As a freelance web designer, how do you begin to work on a contract basis?
What are the pluses to working on contract? The pluses for working within a company as an employee?
Also, it helps to understand what contracting is like. You get to work on
lots of different project but you'll seldom take any project from beginning
to end. Other people are likely to take your work and adapt it after your
time is done. You won't have the on-going support of a group of co-workers;
often you'll do most of your work in your home office. You won't have a path
for growth or the chance to take on different tasks within the same
environment. Contracting is great for some people but for others it is a
personality mis-match. So take a little time to know yourself and decide
which environment is a better match for your workstyle and personality.
A few notes about contracting ...
It is a great way to get a wide range of experience, to have freedom in your
own schedule, and to try different environments.
But there are also some downsides and some situations of which you'll need
to be careful --
<WR>How did you come up with the concept of Project Cool?
Project Cool -- http://www.projectcool.com -- launched on January 1, 1996. Glenn
Davis and I co-founded the company because there was a clear need for a
place where people of all skill levels could go to find easy-to-understand
information about different web technologies. Glenn was the first web critic
and had been getting literally hundreds of emails a day asking "how do I do
Project Cool now has about 3.5 million page views per month. Our forums and
mailing lists connect web builders of many different skill levels. We have
material for people who are just beginning to build their very first page as
XML. We joke that there no "geek-speak" here -- that is, we present
technical information as straightforwardly as possible.
How do you go about hiring employees? What skillset do you search for?
Tell me about the teamwork and atmosphere you have at Project Cool.
We are very tightly staffed. It is difficult to find the right people. We
don't have a deep-pocketed investor backing us, so we can't offer huge
salaries and we need to be able to cost-justify everyone we hire.
(BTW, I find that a lot of people have read too many popular press reports
and have very unrealistic expectations about what they are worth given their
skillsets. In the past few years, lots of people have learned to code HTML
and create basic web pages. There's a lot of work, but it is fairly
entry-level work. In 1996 someone who knew HTML could command a lot of
money, but that's not true any more. HTML is the bare minimum.)
When I'm hiring I look for people with potential more than specific
experience. I look to see what the person's personal website is like -- a
personal website is a place to really show off one's skills and looking at
the work and how it was done tells me a lot about the person's ability.
I also look for people who are comfortable within a small company. Many
people, when it comes right down to it, really want to be in an environment
with support staff, nice offices, etc. So cultural fit is very important.
Because we're a small company, people really need to work together. And to
be willing to do a lot of different things. And to be willing and able to
teach each other. We have a fairly flexible environment; people can set
their own schedules as long as work gets done and they are able to work with
each other to reach the goals and there is a minimum of very direct
supervision and a lot of mutual trust.
<WR>What is most
satisfying to you in the creation of an excellent site such as Project Cool? What was your vision
for Project Cool, and has it exceeded your expectations for the company?
We started out to create a web-based publishing company. It has been a
struggle -- there is not much capital available for content-based companies
and we've basically done this off my credit cards and a very small amount of
invested money. But it has also been very rewarding. In January 1996, a few
hundred people came to the site. Today hundreds of thousands of individuals
visit each month. I have had people come up to me at events and say things
like "I used to be a waitress and then I learned about the web from Project
Cool and this week I got my first web job." So I know that what we're doing
is making a difference and that's a wonderful thing.
<WR>What are the most exciting inovations you see happening with web design and
the web itself?
One of the most exciting things is the growing number of people who have
voices on the web. I sometimes fear that the web will be taken over by
mega-corporate interests, the same people who feed you television shows and
other mass media products, and who sell you soap and toothpaste and cars. If
that happens, then something very special is lost. But I am heartened every
time I see a new face trying to do something interesting and innovative.
they let us do more with our sites, to create better reader experiences.