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Determining years of experience when applying for jobs

May 3, 2019Will Leffert

I recently started the hunt for a new job, and a common question that comes up is "How many years of experience do you have in X?"

The answer, for me, is relatively easy, but determining your years of experience when applying for jobs may not be as simple for some.

If you're like me, you've been doing web design a very long time. You've forgotten more than you learned (I recently filled out a job app where they had a hardcore test that required you to know HTML 4.x and CSS 2.x like it was your own name - seriously?). So, how do you determine years of experience?

The first key information needed is when you launched your first live website, product, whatever. Once something is up in production/live/whatever, and is actually being used, is when you can say "yes, I started at this date" confidently.

I actually get questioned when I mention my 19 years of experience; interviewers are shocked. "How can someone have that much experience?"

Well, when I started, I was in high school. Here's a little story about my history.

I got my start in programming when I was 8 years old; I had some old 321 Contacts laying around (I miss that magazine), and inside some were short Basic (the language, although it was pretty simple) programs you could plug in and modify. That began my love for coding (and helps me continue to appreciate GOTO jokes so much more).

In high school, I got into video game modding. I created my first website for a mod for the game Unreal (the very first one), called "Unreal Paintball". The team and I never got beyond a few demos and levels, but we did at least have a website.

I don't count that website, however, because it was pretty early on in my career, and I utilized a builder for it.

No, my first real claim to fame in website design was when I had a few under my belt, started producing website templates, hand-coded, and wasn't hosted on Geocities. I can't actually recall the web hosts, or even a domain name, but I had a website.

So, that's where I started, and why I'm nearly 20 years old as a web designer.

What about supplemental skills, or if you take a break from the field?

With supplemental skills, you count them based on when you've created something live, OR when you've created something valid that can be shown (GitHub is OK).

Breaks can be more of a challenge. If you did the work for less than a year before, or sparingly, and take a break long enough that you need to go through refresher courses on the basics, I'd say it is time to reset. You can count previous years experience in the total, however, if you did enough significant work over the year(s) to justify it, but keep in mind if you work in the tech industry that technology changes fast. Having 2 years of experience in HTML back when it first came out don't matter too much if you just came back to it this year, because while many of the tags are still used, there are countless new ones, as well as new techniques and standards that have significantly changed the game.

After all, when I started, tables for layouts were a thing, and CSS was nothing but a whisper.