An open letter to the Web/HTML job post area of Las Vegas Craigslist.

[I originally tried to actually post this to the “Web/HTML/info job listings” area of lasvegas.craigslist.org, but I had to fill out a thing and verify another thing, and screw it. So it’s here instead.]

I’m sorry, but I’ve been reading this area of Craigslist for years now and I feel like I ought to say something as a sort of public service.

Many of you who post jobs here repost them again and again, which suggests to me that you’re having difficulty filling these positions. If I may offer some suggestions?

1) You’re asking for fictional applicants. The chances of finding someone — anyone — who can do HTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL, Javascript, C++, Perl, Java, and Actionscript as well as advanced SEO and social strategy and also video production and copywriting is very, very slim. The chances of finding an applicant who does all of these things equally well or even at a competent level are nil. Absolutely nil. You don’t know that, because you’re simply firing off a list of qualifications you read somewhere. You’re trying to fill the work of several people with one person, and you’re also…well, that’s the second problem:

2) The pay many of you are offering is frankly embarrassing. First of all, paying programmers by the hour is absurd. You pay them a salary. That’s how the grownups do it. And offering someone with serious technical skills $9-12/hr to write code shows potential applicants that you’re either completely clueless about your market or you’re going to be an absolute horror to work for — the kind of boss who complains when a worker is back five minutes late from lunch.

Yes, we’re in a recession. But you’re still asking someone with complex technical skills to work for the same rate or less than a Starbucks barista. Actually, definitely less, because baristas get tips. Perhaps you’d attract more applicants if you offered to stick a $5 in their tip jar whenever they came up with a particularly efficient SQL sorting algorithm?

3) Many of you are extremely firm about not allowing workers to work from home or telecommute. Frankly: grow up. I’ve been a professional designer and developer for almost sixteen years and in those years, my experience has been that really good coders don’t work well in cubicles, in business casual attire, with you peering over their shoulders to micro-manage every moment of their time. Coding is a technical skill, but it’s also a creative endeavor. Not to mention design, of course. On the few occasions I’ve met with or worked with the sort of employers I’m talking to here, most of them had no idea what hardware/software was required to do even simple Photoshop-based development. They didn’t want to buy fonts. They didn’t want to purchase stock images — their command was invariably “Just go find something on Google”. They make it impossible to actually do the necessary work.

I am incredibly good at what I do. Better than the folks you’ve hired. But if you put me in a carpet-covered cubicle under bright florescent lights with some idiot next to me giggling over the funny cartoon of Obama getting cornholed by a Republic Party donkey and some sweaty middle-managing douchebag who peers over my desk every five minutes to see what I’m doing, I’m not going to work at the same level I do when I’m working at home, connected to my office via Skype or simple IM chat. It’s the Web, folks — I can update your site from a beach in Fiji if I need to.

If you pay your devs/designers a salary rather than an hourly wage, you won’t feel the need to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth by demanding they work in front of you. If they suck after their probationary period, fire ’em. Again, that’s how the grownups do it.

4) Many of you are frustrated by former employers/contractors and want to let us know about your problems. Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to you that the guy who promised to make you a Facebook-killer website for $500 might have been kind of a shady dimwit. Facebook cost millions of dollars to develop and thousands of human-hours. You are not going to make a viable competitor with Joomla in two weeks using the phat logo your sister’s kid did in Microsoft Paint.

Most serious developers or contractors don’t work for less than a few thousand dollars per project. I charge a minimum of $1000 for anything — setting up a WordPress site, whatever. It goes up from there. Do you want to know why? Because your four day project isn’t actually a four day project. It takes four days for you to meet with me, tell me what you want, ask me what you need (since you almost never actually know), and also tell me you don’t have a domain or hosting, and $10/month sounds a bit pricey to you. Finally you’ll register the domain and purchase hosting, and then somehow completely fail to understand me when I ask you for your hosting login and password, as they are a small requirement to doing absolutely anything with your website.

Then you’ll vanish for a week because you don’t have the content ready for your site. You didn’t actually even figure out what content *needed* to be on your site. You thought I could magic you up an elegant, competitively-featured website with my voodoo. Then it’s two weeks of you trying to get as much free work out of me as possible, requesting ludicrous changes and total reworking of major parts of the project.

And when it comes time to write that pathetic check for $500 or whatever infantile sum you’ve decided my time is worth — three or four weeks of my time, at this point — you’re always still putting your funds together, and it takes another week or two to get the check from you, which is inevitably drawn on the Bank of Addis Ababa or the Chimney Sweep’s Credit Union or whatever obscure tiny bank you’ve invariably chosen to do business with, so it takes another week to clear. At this point, I’ve done a project for you for roughly $5/hr.

I understand that small businesses often don’t have big money. Really, I do. But if $500-1000 is the most you can offer someone to build your web-based business for you, you might want to think about doing it yourself. If it’s not worth your time to save $500 to learn HTML, it’s not worth the time of the guy/girl who already *knows* how to do HTML, you follow?

5) Most of you don’t actually need a full-time web person. You just think you do. You need a contractor to do the initial setup work and then take a small monthly contract retainer or an occasional small fee to make modifications to your site’s structure or layout. The people you hired who didn’t show you how to update your own website content or give you your passwords? Yeah, those are scumbags. They’re the kind of people who, admittedly, give my industry a bad name. You can often tell them by their shifty eyes and absolute unwillingness to provide you with logins, source code, or their original project files for graphic design. They usually wear polo shirts to meetings. Don’t hire them. Hire somebody who will treat you and your project with professionalism and concern, assuming you treat them the same way.

6) Nobody serious is going to work for an employer whose post reads like the scribblings of a five year old. Your computer has a spelling and grammar check. Use it. Also, if you say “Don’t email me, just hit me up on my cell between 6pm and 9pm and ask for Ray-Jay”, you sound like a creepy freak. Nobody wants to work for a creepy freak, except Facebook employees, and Zuckerberg pays them about a hundred times what you’re offering to pay me. (If you don’t know who “Zuckerberg” is, you probably don’t need to be getting into the Internet business.)

Now, having said all of this….

It’s OK to not know how to get this stuff done. Websites are, despite what your sister’s kid tells you, are complex things. It takes years to understand how to make one, much less a really good one. That’s what people like me are here for. It’s even okay if you don’t have a lot of money. I’ll occasionally break my own low-limit cap and work for less than I feel I’m worth, if I like the person and feel like helping them. But when I see an ad saying something like “My last designer was a worthless scumbag and I want somebody who’ll just do what I tell them. NO TELECOMMUTING. Compensation: $300-500 depending on experience”, there’s no way I’m going to click that link. The guy who does — the guy who’s so desperate for work he’ll take on what is clearly going to be a hellish gig — is going to suck as bad as your last designer or worse.

Just keep this stuff in mind, please, when you’re posting here to find somebody to help make your Web project a reality. (I don’t even know why I’m wasting my time; this will surely get deleted immediately. But screw it, I had to say *something*.)

An open letter to my mobile phone provider

Dear SimpleMobile Customer Service person,

Hi there!

As one of your customers, I have to ask: why can’t I pay my bill online with my Mac or my iPad? (Even though your site says Firefox ought to work, it doesn’t, at least on a Mac.)

Assuming your bill pay system isn’t made of magic, but a standard HTML form submitted over SSH, there cannot possibly be any good reason to lock out anybody who’s not using these two browsers on Windows. If your system is using something like ActiveX that won’t work on a non-Windows system, then your web development team are either a pack of raving idiots or actual time travelers from 1999 and you should fire them and hire me to build you something that actually works, and also explain to them as you hand them their final checks that there is no Web technology that works solely on IE *and* Firefox. If it works in Firefox, it works in Chrome, Safari, Mobile Safari, etc. Lots of crappy tech only works on IE, but most web developers avoid these technologies once they’ve progressed past, say, middle school.

In fact, the only technology that won’t work on Mobile Safari is Flash…and if your bill pay system uses Flash, you need to call security and have your web team escorted off the premises after being checked for weapons, because anyone who would do such a thing is clearly dangerously insane.

Whatever the convoluted and inevitably wrong explanation for this situation might be, the fact is that it’s pointless and irritating. I am not going to buy a PC and inflict the horrors of Windows on myself simply to pay my mobile phone bill. Instead, I have to actually go to the store and pay my bill…which sucks when the bill is due on a weekend and the store is closed. (You may ask: if you know your bill is due on a weekend, why not just pay on the preceding Friday? The answer is: I’m an American. Paying a bill even a day before it’s due is an act of wretched cowardice, fit only for Communists and probably French people.)

I suppose there might be some value to irritating one’s customers in this way, but I can’t imagine what it might be. I’m not an MBA or anything, but I’m fairly sure that needlessly antagonizing customers is usually considered a bad strategy. (Then again, you are a mobile phone company, and mobile phone companies give out big shiny awards for Maximum Customer Annoyance to each other at industry conferences.)

I also can’t imagine I’m the only customer with this problem. I suspect that I’m not the only customer who has contacted you about this. Let me assure you that when your customer service person goes down to the nerd dungeon and asks Bob the Web geek about it, and Bob hems and haws and says “Yeah, I can’t really change it, it’s based on the architecture of the server, it’s all J2EE” and then continues babbling geekspeak at you for ten minutes, well…Bob is lying. Trust me. I’ve been building websites since Bob was still trying to make his MySpace page look like The Matrix. I know this to be true, because if Bob knew as much as I did, he wouldn’t have thrown up this unnecessary and entirely annoying barrier to commerce.

So: please fix this problem. Let me pay my bill with cool computers. Also consider firing the fool who caused it and paying my extremely reasonable rates to have me fix it.

(I’m also posting this to my blog, in hopes that the prospect of being embarrassed in front of the seven people and also my mom who read it might drive you towards resolution.)

Cheers,
Joshua Ellis

An Open Letter to Rep. Shelley Berkley

Dear Representative Berkley,

My name is Joshua Ellis. I’m a writer and web developer from Las Vegas. You may or may not know who I am — I was a opinion columnist for many years for the Las Vegas CityLife and I’m also somewhat well-known for co-authoring a series of articles about the homeless people living in the storm drains under Las Vegas.

I’m writing you because I understand that the current budget proposal submitted by the Republican factions in Congress which completely removes the $430 million budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) network of television channels.

Representative Berkley, I sincerely hope you agree with me that this is a deeply disturbing and ludicrous proposal. The value of NPR and PBS in both childhood and adult education is immeasurable; I imagine that like me and my wife and my five-year-old sister, your children grew up learning about the world via the irreplaceable magic of TV series like Sesame Street and The Electric Company; and perhaps your family, like mine, enjoy and benefit from programs like Nova and the late Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, as well as radio programs like This American Life and All Things Considered.

NPR and PBS serve an important role in American media: by being funded by the people — unlike commercial media outlets — they are not subject to the whims of advertisers or subscribers. (While it is true that corporations and other commercial outlets often sponsor NPR and PBS programming, it is my understanding that they have no editorial say over that programming.) By removing public funding, CPB will become simply another television network like ABC or CBS, controlled by the people who hold the purse strings…or, even worse, it will simply be commercially unviable and cease programming altogether. That, I believe, would be a terribly tragedy for the American people.

Fiscal conservatives often quote President Coolidge’s statement that the business of government is business. I disagree. The government of the United States is not a widget factory or a retail outlet, despite every attempt by PACs and SIGs to the contrary. The business of the government is to serve the needs of the citizens — all of the citizens, not merely the ones who write the biggest checks.

I’m sure you’ll agree with me, Representative Berkley, that it is not your job to turn a profit. You are not some shabby little accountant. Your job is to do what’s best for the people of your district and, in a broader sense, the American people in general. Part of that, I believe, is recognizing that there are certain things that the federal government puts money into with no expectation of a monetary return on investment. When it comes to public media, the return on investment can be measured by looking at the face of every man, woman and child whose world is expanded by the programming therein.

When children watch commercial programming, they learn that the most important thing in the world is to buy whatever toy the network is hawking during this particular half-hour, that it’s important to pay lip-service to individuality, but that it’s more important to conform. They are taught to be nothing more than good consumers.

When children watch Sesame Street and other public media programming, they learn to count, to use their language, to think critically, to share with others, to value peace and comfort, that people who look and speak differently than they do are friends, not enemies. They learn that the world is a huge and amazing place, and they learn that they are capable of doing whatever they dream of in that world.

In that sense, our investment in public media is really an investment in our future; in building a future America that is not full of bright, capable, curious, pro-active citizens.

It is, in other words, priceless.

And so I hope, Representative Berkeley that you will vote against the cutting of public media funding from this new budget. (Not to mention the cutting of library and educational funding, of course, but I don’t feel that’s even worth discussing; any representative of the people who believes in reducing library funding is a dangerous scoundrel.)

By doing so, you will display that you possess much farther vision than many of your peers; you will be making an investment that will pay off millions of times over in the long term of America’s future. And you will be, as the theme to The Electric Company used to say when I was a kid, helping to bring the power to the people who desperately need it.

Thank you for your time.

All my best,Joshua Ellis