Webmasters design, implement, and maintain Internet Web sites for corporations, educational institutions, not-for-profit organizations, government agencies, or other institutions. Webmasters should have working knowledge of network configurations, interface, graphic design, software development, business, writing, marketing, and project management. Because the function of a webmaster encompasses so many different responsibilities, the position is often held by a team of individuals in a large organization.
Webmaster Career History
The Internet developed from ARPANET, an experimental computer network established in the 1960s by the U.S. Department of Defense. By the late 1980s, the Internet was being used by many government and educational institutions.
The World Wide Web was the brainchild of physicist Tim Berners-Lee. Although Berners-Lee formed his idea of the Web in 1989, it was another four years before the first Web browser (Mosaic) made it possible to navigate the Web simply. Businesses quickly realized the commercial potential of the Web and soon developed their own Web sites.
No one person or organization is in charge of the Internet and what’s on it. However, each Web site needs an individual, or team of workers, to gather, organize, and maintain online data. These specialists, called webmasters, manage sites for businesses of all sizes, nonprofit organizations, schools, government agencies, and private individuals.
Webmaster Job Description
Because the idea of designing and maintaining a Web site is relatively new, there is no complete, definitive job description for webmasters. Many of their job responsibilities depend on the goals and needs of the particular organization for which they work. There are, however, some basic duties that are common to almost all webmasters.
Webmasters, specifically site managers, first secure space on the Web for the site they are developing. This is done by contracting with an Internet service provider. The provider serves as a sort of storage facility for the organization’s online information, usually charging a set monthly fee for a specified amount of megabyte space. The webmaster may also be responsible for establishing a uniform resource locator, or URL, for the Web site he or she is developing. The URL serves as the site’s online “address” and must be registered with InterNIC, the Web URL registration service.
The webmaster is responsible for developing the actual Web site for his or her organization. In some cases, this may involve actually writing the text content of the pages. More commonly, however, the webmaster is given the text to be used and is merely responsible for programming it in such a way that it can be displayed on a Web page. In larger companies webmasters specialize in content, adaptation, and presentation of data.
In order for text to be displayed on a Web page, it must be formatted using hypertext markup language (HTML). HTML is a system of coding text so that the computer that is “reading” it knows how to display it. For example, text could be coded to be a certain size or color or to be italicized or boldface. Paragraphs, line breaks, alignment, and margins are other examples of text attributes that must be coded in HTML.
Although it is less and less common, some webmasters code text manually, by actually typing the various commands into the body of the text. This method is time consuming, however, and mistakes are easily made. More often, webmasters use a software program that automatically codes text. Some word processing programs, such as WordPerfect, even offer HTML options.
Along with coding the text, the webmaster must lay out the elements of the Web site in such a way that it is visually pleasing, well organized, and easy to navigate. He or she may use various colors, background patterns, images, tables, or charts. These graphic elements can come from image files already on the Web, software clip art files, or images scanned into the computer with an electronic scanner. In some cases, when an organization is using the Web site to promote its product or service, the webmaster may work with a marketing specialist or department to develop a page.
Some Web sites have several directories or “layers.” That is, an organization may have several Web pages, organized in a sort of “tree,” with its home page connected, via hypertext links, to other pages, which may in turn be linked to other pages. The webmaster is responsible for organizing the pages in such a way that a visitor can easily browse through them and find what he or she is looking for. Such webmasters are called programmers and developers; they are also responsible for creating Web tools and special Web functionality.
For webmasters who work for organizations that have several different Web sites, one responsibility may be making sure that the “style” or appearance of all the pages is the same. This is often referred to as “house style.” In large organizations, such as universities, where many different departments may be developing and maintaining their own pages, it is especially important that the webmaster monitor these pages to ensure consistency and conformity to the organization’s requirements. In almost every case, the webmaster has the final authority for the content and appearance of his or her organization’s Web site. He or she must carefully edit, proofread, and check the appearance of every page.
Besides designing and setting up Web sites, most webmasters are charged with maintaining and updating existing sites. Most sites contain information that changes regularly. Some change daily or even hourly. Depending on his or her employer and the type of Web site, the webmaster may spend a good deal of time updating and remodeling the page. He or she is also responsible for ensuring that the hyperlinks contained within the Web site lead to the sites they should. Since it is common for links to change or become obsolete, the webmaster usually performs a link check every few weeks.
Other job duties vary, depending on the employer and the position. Most webmasters are responsible for receiving and answering email messages from visitors to the organization’s Web site. Some webmasters keep logs and create reports on when and how often their pages are visited and by whom. Depending on the company, Web sites count anywhere from 300 to 1.4 billion visits, or “hits,” a month. Some create and maintain order forms or online “shopping carts” that allow visitors to the Web site to purchase products or services. Some may train other employees on how to create or update Web pages. Finally, webmasters may be responsible for developing and adhering to a budget for their departments.
Webmaster Career Requirements
High school students who are interested in becoming webmasters should take as many computer science classes as they can. Mathematics classes are also helpful. Finally, because writing skills are important in this career, English classes are good choices.
A number of community colleges, colleges, and universities offer classes and certificate programs for webmasters, but there is no standard educational path or requirement for becoming a webmaster. While many have bachelor’s degrees in computer science, information systems, or computer programming, liberal arts degrees, such as English, are not uncommon. There are also webmasters who have degrees in engineering, mathematics, and marketing.
Certification or Licensing
There is strong debate within the industry regarding certification. Some, mostly corporate chief executive officers, favor certification. They view certification as a way to gauge an employee’s skill and expertise. Others argue, however, that it is nearly impossible to test knowledge of technology that is constantly changing and improving. Despite the split of opinion, webmaster certification programs are available at many colleges, universities, and technical schools throughout the United States. Programs vary in length, anywhere from three weeks to nine months or more. Topics covered include client/server technology, Web development, programs, and software and hardware. The International webmasters Association and World Organization of webmasters also offer voluntary certification programs.
Should webmasters be certified? Though it’s currently not a prerequisite for employment, certification can only enhance a candidate’s chance at landing a webmaster position.
What most webmasters have in common is a strong knowledge of computer technology. Most people who enter this field are already well versed in computer operating systems, programming languages, computer graphics, and Internet standards. When considering candidates for the position of webmaster, employers usually require at least two years of experience with World Wide Web technologies. In some cases, employers require that candidates already have experience in designing and maintaining Web sites. It is, in fact, most common for someone to move into the position of webmaster from another computer-related job in the same organization.
Webmasters should be creative. It is important for a Web page to be designed well in order to attract attention. Good writing skills and an aptitude for marketing are also excellent qualities for anyone considering a career in Web site design.
Webmaster Career Path
One of the easiest ways to learn about what a webmaster does is to spend time surfing the World Wide Web. By examining a variety of Web sites to see how they look and operate, you can begin to get a feel for what goes into a home page.
An even better way to explore this career is to design your own personal Web page. Many Internet servers offer their users the option of designing and maintaining a personal Web page for a very low fee. A personal page can contain virtually anything that you want to include, from snapshots of friends to audio files of favorite music to hypertext links to other favorite sites.
The majority of webmasters working today are fulltime employees, according to Interactive Week. They are employed by Web design companies, businesses, schools or universities, not-for-profit organizations, government agencies—in short, any organization that requires a presence on the World Wide Web. Webmasters may also work as freelancers or operate their own Web design businesses.
Most people become webmasters by moving into the position from another computer-related position within the same company. Since most large organizations already use computers for various functions, they may employ a person or several people to serve as computer “specialists.” If these organizations decide to develop their own Web sites, they frequently assign the task to one of these employees who is already experienced with the computer system. Often, the person who ultimately becomes an organization’s webmaster at first just takes on the job in addition to his or her other, already established duties.
Another way that individuals find jobs in this field is through online postings of job openings. Many companies post webmaster position openings online because the candidates they hope to attract are very likely to use the Internet for a job search. Therefore, the prospective webmaster should use the World Wide Web to check job-related newsgroups. He or she might also use a Web search engine to locate openings.
Experienced webmasters employed by a large organization may be able to advance to the position of chief Web officer. Chief Web officers supervise a team of webmasters and are responsible for every aspect of a company’s presence on the Web. Others might advance by starting their own business, designing Web sites on a contractual basis for several clients rather than working exclusively for one organization.
Opportunities for webmasters of the future are endless due to the continuing development of online technology. As understanding and use of the World Wide Web increase, there may be new or expanded job duties in the future for individuals with expertise in this field.
Interactive Week’s 2001 salary survey reports that the median salary for webmasters was between $30,000 and $40,000 a year, but pay ranged from less than $20,000 to $100,000 or more. In some cases, the demand for webmasters is so great that some companies are offering stock options, sign-on bonuses, and other perks, in addition to high salaries. However, many webmasters move into the position from another position within their company or have taken on the task in addition to other duties. These employees are often paid approximately the same salary they were already making.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the starting salary for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in computer sciences was approximately $52,464 in 2005; those with master’s degree’s averaged salaries of $60,354. Career information Web site Salary. com reports that webmasters earn a median salary of $66,782.
Depending on the organization for which they work, webmasters may receive a benefits package in addition to salary. A typical benefits package would include paid vacations and holidays, medical insurance, and perhaps a pension plan.
Although much of the webmaster’s day may be spent alone, it is nonetheless important that he or she be able to communicate and work well with others. Depending on the organization for which he or she works, the webmaster may have periodic meetings with graphic designers, marketing specialists, writers, or other professionals who have input into Web site development. In many larger organizations, there is a team of webmasters rather than just one. Although each team member works alone on his or her own specific duties, the members may meet frequently to discuss and coordinate their activities.
Because technology changes so rapidly, this job is constantly evolving. Webmasters must spend time reading and learning about new developments in online communication. They may be continually working with new computer software or hardware. Their actual job responsibilities may even change, as the capabilities of both the organization and the World Wide Web itself expand. It is important that these employees be flexible and willing to learn and grow with the technology that drives their work.
Because they don’t deal with the general public, most webmasters are allowed to wear fairly casual attire and to work in a relaxed atmosphere. In most cases, the job calls for standard working hours, although there may be times when overtime is required.
Webmaster Career Outlook
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the field of computer and data processing services is projected to be among the fastest growing industries for the next decade. As a result, the employment rate of webmasters and other computer specialists is expected to grow much faster than the average rate for all occupations through 2014.
There can be no doubt that computer, and specifically online, technology will continue its rapid growth for the next several years. Likewise, then, the number of computer-related jobs, including that of webmaster, should also increase. The study by Interactive Week finds the field to be currently male-dominated, with men making up 74.9 percent of workers. However, there are great opportunities for women in computer science. Many large companies, such as Wal-Mart, are looking for talented individuals who, according to a female Wal-Mart webmaster, “can combine a lot of technical knowledge with the ability to cooperate with people who don’t know a lot of technology. Women can often be very good at that.”
As more and more businesses, not-for-profit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies choose to “go online,” the total number of Web sites will grow, as will the need for experts to design them. Companies are starting to view Web sites not as temporary experiments, but rather as important and necessary business and marketing tools. Growth will be largest for Internet content developers (webmasters responsible for the information displayed on a Web site) and chief Web officers.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that when technology advances extremely rapidly, it tends to make old methods of doing things obsolete. If current trends continue, the responsibilities of the webmaster will be carried out by a group or department instead of a single employee, in order to keep up with the demands of the position. It is possible that in the next few years, changes in technology will make the Web sites as we know it today a thing of the past. Another possibility is that, like desktop publishing, user-friendly software programs will make Web site design so easy and efficient that it no longer requires an “expert” to do it well. Webmasters who are concerned with job security should be willing to continue learning and using the very latest developments in technology, so that they are prepared to move into the future of online communication, whatever it may be.