Blog Entry

Interview with Sean Tierney

In the interviews that I post in the next few days and weeks you’ll notice that I use the term web designer a lot. Many of the people I interview are web developers, project managers, etc and not web designers but they all work on the web and build websites.

The interviews are really just a series of questions that I asked everyone. This first interview is an interview with Sean Tierney of Grid7 and JumpBox. He’s a local web developer that I met at Refresh Phoenix and you can check out his blog at

How did you get started as a web designer?
By summer of my Junior year in college the web was starting to get interesting. I had taken a psychology course where the professor made us publish our experiment via the web and in so doing, I had learned to use a primitive tool called Adobe Pagemill to create my first web site. That summer I talked my way into a internship doing data entry for a local ISP in Tempe, AZ. I was surrounded by code everyday and just began to soak up the syntax for how things worked and started doing some design. I moved from intern to salaried employee a few weeks into it once they realized I was doing more than just data entry. That’s how I picked up HTML. From there I learned Photoshop, ColdFusion, databases and some Flash. You never stop learning in this industry, that’s one of the qualities that makes it so great.

How long have you been working as a web designer?
Well I’m not actually doing web design at this point. I’d say I was a true web designer for only about two years. The past six years were spent more as an application developer writing code to interact with databases and external systems. As of the past six months I’ve taken more of a business development role with JumpBox and Grid7.

What part of your job do you like the most?
The community and the opportunity. So many other industries are cut-throat and limited in how much you can actually advance. Technology and the web is evolving so fast that there are constantly these pockets of opportunity developing. It really is still a new frontier in terms of what is possible and anyone can make it big by discovering and developing one of the many new opportunities. I love the fact that your reward is so directly yoked to your efforts. Also all the relationships you build along the way with other entrepreneurs striking out on their own and pursuing their dream – there’s no other field that is so conducive to this type of exploration.

What was the first website you ever built?
The first professional web site I built (or will admit to building) was the site for Greyhawk Golfcourse. Of course the actual first site I built was the one that published our psych experiment Junior year.

What’s the biggest mistake or hardest lesson you’ve learned as a web designer?
Know when to turn down a client and know your own value. It’s too easy to get beat up on pricing or with push-back when the client feels he/she knows what’s right. You have to remember that they are hiring you for YOUR expertise. It’s a tightrope walk sometimes to deliver what clients think they want vs. what you know they need.

What’s the most helpful thing you’ve learned?
That the game has really changed in that the power of search is so compelling that you don’t need to remember details and syntax so much as form a mental index of the capabilities of the various technologies. You can always look up the details in a reference guide but it’s more important that you are constantly scouting to understand the landscape of the technology space. For instance I need to know that Flex, Open Laszlo and Java applets are all ways of delivering rich interfaces – each with their advantages/disadvantages. But I don’t need to remember the syntax for binding a checkbox to a datasource in Flex- that type of thing can be looked up at development time. Instead I need to know enough about the technologies listed above to be able to make an intelligent recommendation to a client when I’m asked which technology is appropriate for their project.

What is a typical work day like for you?
– Wake up about 8:30am
– Drive to the office
– Make some breakfast and check email & read blogs
– Put out any fires and address the urgent things
– Meet with the employees and confirm the plan for the day/week
– Working: business stuff, making various contacts, quickbooks stuff, writing articles
– Foos game
– Coordinating with our PR person, handling the fundraising activities
– Go home
– Intermittently on email/IM, writing a blog entry, reading a business or leisure book or periodical

What are some sites that you visit daily or regularly?
funny you should ask, I just posted a list of my “time wasters” I call them. You can read that here: I’ve been really into lately. This is a project similar to our Grid7 labs effort in that it’s a community of developers/designers that come together to execute side projects. Our focus has been completely dominated by JumpBox so we shelved all the
ideas we had brainstormed under Grid7. I submitted all these to CambrianHouse and got some great feedback on a couple of them. I’m still very optimistic for the virtual co-op idea so I’ve been engaged in a lot of the discussion in the CambrianHouse forums on the best way to achieve this.

Any other words of advice for new web designers?
Don’t underestimate your value. Sometimes it’s tempting to reduce your rates or give into a pushy client but ultimately doing so devalues your work and it’s a slippery slope once that starts. Conversely, if you can execute well for only a handful of clients and then raise your rates and position yourself as an expert in xyz niche, you can be choosy about who you will work with and gain the respect of your clients. In the end that’s the path for the most pain-free work because they defer to your judgement. The hardest thing is in asking for that big number on a project but once you do it, you’ll find that there’s a weird chicken/egg phenomenon where people assign more value to the things for which they pay more money.

Other than that, have fun with it. It’s a job that puts you in contact with so many different people and businesses. You can really go many directions afterwards because you’ll be learning about all kinds of industries. And there’s nothing more satisfying than knowing you helped someone else grow their business and pursue their passion.

Thanks for the interview Sean!

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