Letters to the Editor: Career Pathing to a Web Strategy role

Why a career “path”? As there are several steps to take to move into a web management role, don’t worry, with dedication it’s not difficult.

I’m getting more and more emails every day, please note that I read them all but due to the sheer volume, I won’t respond to all. In particular, I’m getting more questions about “how does one become a web strategist, or a web director”. Mary noticed that I started my career in web as a UI designer, much like her current role. She has ambitions to climb into the director’s chair and make calls for the direction of the website.

She emailed me the following and gave me permission to blog it, I’m not going to reveal her last name, but she’s welcome to self identify.

“…I would encompass my questions along a career path. I saw in your career path you started as a designer, I worked as a designer also and then evolved into what was needed as opposed to having a web strategist focus.

I sincerely enjoy meeting with clients and analyzing there needs and assessing the best path to achieve those goals. Currently, however the company I am with I am in resource management and needless to say I am not being challenged. The current structure of the company would not yield itself to my specific career goals.

I still do freelance on the side, design, branding and consulting; I do it because I enjoy it so much.

What would you suggest. How do I move forward, how do I position myself. I sincerely appreciate your help and expertise.

Thanks so much


My Path

Here’s a few suggestions that I have, then I’m going to turn it over to the community to help answer. In 1999-2000 I started by doing what I was good at (well for the time, don’t ask me to return to these skills) and completed many web UI design projects at work. I read up by getting books on the topic and developed a thirst for more knowledge, I started attending events and reading whatever I could get my hands on. I did a few freelance projects with other companies to build out my resume. Eventually, I changed jobs and was able to move into more of a content organization role at World Savings. I was really fortunate to have a great manager Kevin who introduced me to Information Architecture and User Experience Design. Eventually I applied some of those skills and did some larger products…slowly evolving into larger projects to programs. As I moved on to the next role, the need for “Web Managers” in Silicon Valley grew, nearly every company had several websites to manage (external, internal, and customer) and the skills needed became more focused. I finally moved into a web management role, and was then running multiple projects, which now equate a program. A web strategist is really a program director, someone responsible for a series of projects around a business objective.

Supplement your career with Social Media
Blogging became a big part of my daily activity, and I started to write about what I was learning and doing, eventually it was a trigger enough to become a major reason why I was hired at last company, yeah, that’s right, I blogged myself into my next job, and I’m not the first, nor the last. You can ever read the first comment from my former CEO confirming it. Blogging is a way to demonstrate to the marketplace of your interests and passions are, and it’s easily findable by recruiters or others. To some extend this was a factor that made my future employer understand my area of interest, it continues on.

Network and get Educated
I’ll take a picture sometime of my web reading libary, I have nearly 100 books on a variety of web topics, I’ve also subscribed to magazines, and printed out white papers and other types of research docs. There’s a constant influx of content coming in. If I could look back, it would be interesting to see how the content changed as I moved into a management role, at first, it was a lot of photoshop hacks, and now, I’m looking at industry trends and market data. For the last few years, I attended as many web related events as I could, I would often live blog the sessions, which was part of the learning process. Over time, my personal network grew and things really started to happen. If you’re in an area where there’s not a lot of events, attend online webinars, or use social media to connect.

Considerations for Mary
So for Mary, to summarize a path, it’s to take on smaller projects, show and demonstrate success, and then take on larger projects as your role progresses. Continue to learn, and absorb everything you can, be open to feedback, and follow your passions, one thing leads to another. As a designer, you may want to expand out and start to do some user experience research projects. Then try doing some business requirements documents, then meld those together into a website architecture document and lay out a plan. Only then can you apply your mastery in design. Learn to measure the changes of your website, and use that to calculate the success or failure of the project and continue. Over time these series of projects will turn into a program and you can move into full time web management.

The title itself is not important
A Web Strategist can appear in many places, in Marketing, IT, a Product team, a PR firm, in a consultancy or at an analyst firm. Anyone who makes long term decisions for a website, and meets these three spheres of community, business, and technology is in that role. The title may also differ, depending on the organization, so don’t worry about that as much.

Share your experience

The conversation continues in the Web Strategy Group, where there are a few others that have explained their path. So if you have something to add, consider sharing it here, and maybe also in the group.

  • Stefan Martens

    Thank you very much for that insight!

    One more reason to ultimately start my own blog 😉

    I actually wanna try to take a similar path by doing internships in online-marketing, user experience/usability and hopefully some social software company.

    Then going back to university and writing my thesis on …hmm….usability in online-marketing using social software? 🙂

    Do you see any difference between a “web strategist” and an “information architect”?

  • Stefan Martens

    Ooops. I’m sorry, I just read http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2007/08/26/web-strategy-the-three-spheres-of-web-strategy-and-the-skills-required
    and got the difference.


    To me, the web strategist is like a guy who manages a football team, coaches the team and plays in the team at the same time (by football I mean the sport that you guys call “soccer” of course. Soccer…pfff ;-))

  • Jeremy — Great letter to the editor. I’ve had this discussion with several folks just recently, and I thought I’d contribute a few of my personal experiences.

    For the record, I am currently the User Experience Lead for a successful consultancy in Boston. I started as a web developer, moved into UED and Information Architecture, and then into higher-level web-based business strategy.

    Like Mary I once found myself in a job position that did not completely align with my intended career path. I had several strategies to change my course that I would recommend, aside from the great ones already offered by Jeremy and company above. The first is to actively participate in web-based communities. Many of us are more than willing to share our experiences.

    The second is to find something in your current job, even if it isn’t your primary focus, that relates to your intended path, and write directed thoughts down about it. Perhaps your company has gone through a website redesign or recently implemented a resource management intranet application. Try writing some organized thoughts down about the process, even if you weren’t directly involved in it (perhaps in the form of a post mortem report). You might end up sharing some of your ideas within the company, and your role may shift as a result. In any case, it’s a good exercise to think about the web strategically.

  • [As an aside: Welcome to Boston, Jeremy.]

  • This article that Jeremiah wrote was also very informative: From the Drawing Board to the Board Room.

    Definitely read blogs & get involved by commenting & participating in Facebook groups. People are very willing to share their knowledge. Networking at Facebook & Twitter is invaluable.

  • Stefan thanks, I should have linked to the three spheres in the post, I just added it. I think your analogy is right, that’s a example for the role

  • Bryan, thanks for the insight. You’re right, it doesn’t really matter which one of the paths you took to get to the management position, as long as you’re meeting the requirements.

    Hope to see you at the Boston Dinner: (I see you’re signed up)
    Currently there are 55 signed up


  • Connie, you rock!

  • Very interesting to read your carreer path, i ve quite similar one. IA’s and User Experience is very important in web strategy and is often forgotten…

    I like your summary with taking in account Marketing, IT & User ins omething that works in long term.

    My advice : to deliver good stratgies, you need to know well all tactical weapons available. You can’t think using a tool you don’t know

  • Jia

    Thank you all! Since a lot of you guys had more technical background like web designers etc, What would be the most desired technical skills(specifically) for a newbie who currently majors in marketing communications and wish to become a social sth in the future? 🙂

  • Jermiah,

    Thank you so much for your insight. I feel so much better knowing that I am not alone. I appreciate everyones comments from returning to university to write a thesis to metaphors about a football teach coaching and playing. I can related and have had similar thoughts and aspirations.

    I am up for my one year review and I feel I have established myself to a point I can speak with our V.P. of operations and have a candid conversation of needs that I see in our company and the ideas I have to achieve those goals.

    Wish me luck! I appreciate everyones advice. I will be sure to keep coming back here to glean as much information as possible in hopes utilize and set into action.

    Thanks again,

  • Here’s another tip, and one that a lot of people avoid doing. Put your blog on your resume. Now, that means using a little discretion on what you blog about, or in my case, compartmentalizing numerous blogs so you know which ones to put forward to a prospective employer and which ones to not. I was recruited based on four factors:

    – I’d won awards for professional web work I’d done and had a track record of web traffic growth that I could cite easily.
    – I’d won awards for my writing, which demonstrated my ability to create good content.
    – I could articulate positioning strategies for the organization that was hiring me within the first three questions of an interview without ever having seen their website
    – I stuck my neck out and added the following lines to my resume:

    * Site traffic (page impressions) doubled under my tenure. Factors in this growth include improved content, better navigation and site organization, improved push communications, and integration of viral marketing tools.
    * Consultant for setting up weblogs on platforms including Moveable Type/Typepad, WordPress, Blogger, Livejournal, Drupal, MySpace, others.

    I left that resume parked on JournalismJobs.com–which now has a category for “online media.” Two weeks after adding these lines, I got three phone calls and two letters asking for more information about my skillset, and I name-dropped Second Life, del.icio.us, flickr and a fair number of 2.0 buzzwords during the initial hone interview of the two companies whose profile I liked. (I work in the nonprofit sector.)

    Both were successful–one was for building a new intranet with social media tools integrated for an internal community, the other spearheading a social media and internet strategy for an association and its publications. I went with the second job offer, where I got the fat retirement package, two-days-a-week telecommuting, a healthy dose of travel opportunities, and a team of coworkers who really appreciate what I’m doing for them.

  • I am a Mechanical Engineer, with a MS, stuck in the same position for the past 5 years. I would like to get out and grow but unable to decide which career path to choose. The work I currently do is similar to project management. I don’t want to blindly do MBA and expect to get offers, as I don’t have direct experience in management.
    My mind has also been wavering on changing my field to IT (like SAP for example) but is it wise?

  • Start by building up a repoitre of projects that become programs Tom

  • Letty

    Football is a sport very special … Promotes teamwork, solidarity, effort. Players must work towards a common goal: the goal.