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Virtual Interview: Joe Burns

Joe Burns is the founder of HTMLGoodies.com, a web design professor, and just an overall great guy. In this article Joe talks to Steve about HTMLGoodies, his first experiences as a designer, tips for those looking to break into the web design arena, his views into the crystal ball and more.

Author Info:
By: Steve Adcock
Rating: 5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars / 5
February 10, 2002
  1. · Virtual Interview: Joe Burns
  2. · The Interview
  3. · The Interview (contd.)
  4. · Conclusion

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Virtual Interview: Joe Burns - The Interview
(Page 2 of 4 )

1. As a teacher as well as a web designer, it is clear you offer many valuable services to your students from HTML to public speaking to copywriting. Which of these do you enjoy most, and which of these are you best at?

The joy is teaching itself - no matter what the topic. I know that sounds little trite, but it's the truth, to me at least. HTML and Web design is simply one of the topics I teach. I think the hardest aspect of teaching Web design is to teach the craft without making little imitations of yourself.

I dislike template work because it tends to make a lot of pages that all look the same. I do my best to teach the craft and the art of design and then get out of the way. I never state something is correct or not (unless it is just awful) because the students must learn to think critically in terms of their design. If I give hard rules, then I get pages that all look the same and no one thinks outside of what I tell them.

The best thing is to get a student to understand the parameters and operate within them rather than to force a set of rules that makes nothing but little Joe Burns' writing like I would write.

That's the best part - a student whom I taught but yet is his or her own person and can think using the parameters rather than living within my rules.

2. When you created htmlgoodies.com, did you expect it would fair so well? What do you think separates htmlgoodes.com from other how-to HTML sites?

I never once set out to make money with it. The tutorials were for me so I wouldn't look like an idiot by forgetting a command when I lecture. I would display them on the board when teaching HTML. The Web audience just kept coming and it was well into 18 months before I even considered making the site a domain. I had it as a domin for about six months and then, once it hit 2 million page views a month, Earthweb stepped up and bought it. The site is now getting over a million a week. I never once set out to do it. I simply rode the wave and fulfilled the audience's want for new material. It was as much a surprise to me as it was to anyone, that I was getting paid for this.

Goodies is written by someone who went through just what every other wanna-be web-head went through. I knew nothing - didn't really enjoy beating through the books and just wished someone would sit down and tell me, in simple terms, what the heck this Web stuff was all about. Goodies is that someone who sits down and talks at your language level.

I've always believed that if I could get my 65-year-old mother to understand it - I could get anyone to understand it.

I've said this a million times - Goodies did well not because I am such a great programmer. On the contrary, it did well because I was able to make the complicated seem easy. I am trained in communications - that's the main reason I think the site is so much more readable than other sites.

3. Was there a particular aspect of htmlgoodies.com that gave you difficulty? What would you say is most difficult about maintaining a popular web resource?

Time. No one would ever believe the vast amount of man-hours it takes to keep a site up and running. Past the actual upkeep, I had to constantly be learning new tips, tricks and languages. It becomes consuming.

Pure and simple: Keeping a Web site fresh and new is a full time gig. Anyone who attempts to start a Web business in "spare time" might as well not start.

4. Do you have a prospective web site in the mix?

No. I left Goodies as of the end of 2001. I got into Web creation right as the Web came out and went for broke for almost eight years. The year 2002, for me, is a down year. I have had offers to write and offers to create sites but I'm totally burned out by it. If I were only making sites, then maybe I wouldn't be this way, but for the past years I've been a full-time professor and Webmaster of HTML Goodies. There was no such thing as weekends - only days that I didn't have to teach.

That's not to say I didn't love the work. I did. However, I said to my wife that the site had become a chore and she said it was time to split. I may feel different in a month, but right now I'm doing nothing with my spare time but reading books that have nothing to do with Web design.

As for books - different story. I have numerous projects in the mix. You'll see me on the shelves again very soon as an author and editor.

5. For those aspiring web designers out there, what advice would you give them? When you first began, did you receive advice? From a mentor perhaps?

I started all by my lonesome. No one helped. You see, the Web was something that programmers wanted to own. If you wanted to get on the Web, great. You go, learn the stuff and then come back and we'll teach you the secret handshake. I was fully on my own. It was the greatest thing that ever could have happened.

The best advice I can give new designers is to not use any HTML assistant for the first year of their programming career. Learn HTML. Learn JavaScript. Learn PERL. Learn them so that you can hand code them. Relying on an editor strays close to template work. You do not want that.

To anyone who wishes to become a designer for profit, I say - do three sites for free. That way you'll get a taste of the business. If you like it, you have three references. If you hate it, no problem. You see, I could never write sites for profit any more. The clients drove me up a tree.
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