The prelude to where I am now and why I went freelance.
Let me introduce myself… my name is Dan Hawkins. I am a young, enthusiastic and (some might say) talented designer and web developer. I founded Prophet & Falcon in the summer of 2014 to bring all the work I was doing for people and their businesses under one name. It was June 2014 and I had just finished my masters degree in Architecture. I was craving a new challenge. “But you studied Architecture, why are you a web developer?…” I hear you ask. Well, maybe I should start from where it all began.
In early 2008 as a young and naive teenager, I found myself signed up to go on expedition to Borneo that summer. Assuming I found the thousands of pounds I had promised to raise of course. I didn't have a job, I was too young to get anything more than a paper round and I was starting to panic.
I spoked to my deputy headteacher at the time, Will Smith . He smiled and said I was going to Borneo and he knew exactly what I could do to get there. He introduced me to a new organisation he had become a member of, the PiXL Club. “If I remember rightly, you’re pretty good at making websites” he said. I’d spent an infinite number of evenings at home on my pentium powered Packard-Bell tower smashing together HTML to make things like band fan pages and of course the obligatory myspace profile redesign nearly every week! I did get some formal training through some digital applications qualifications at school; this was how Will knew about my ‘skills’ at the time. And so, I had my first ever paying web development client! I went on to design and develop the first three versions of pixl.org.uk and was even invited to speak at their annual celebration event.
Still to this day, I think that project was the steepest learning curve in my web development career. I weened myself off Dreamweaver, dived head first in to PHP and learnt how to use SQL databases. If only someone had told me about WordPress back then! If you wanted to know, yes Borneo was amazing! I haven’t been anywhere as beautiful in my life since. Hopefully I can jet off again soon, South America is calling!
So since that first project when I was 15, I haven’t really looked back. My love of the internet and my ability to create things on it has gone from strength to strength over the past 7 years. Whilst juggling my studies and plenty of part-time work (I’ve been a sales assistant and a youth worker also), I took on other web projects on a freelance basis. I even had 2 friends on board and we were known as ASD Productions, but as you do at the age of 18, we all went to university at different ends of the UK!
I eventually had to let the PiXL club go, as they grew and I moved to study in Nottingham I just couldn't justify or manage the workload. Will broke the news to me that they had been offered a sponsorship deal meaning they got a free website from an agency who had niched themselves in school and education websites. I had no chance, and to be honest I saw it coming. It hurt, but of course clients are going to move on, and its not always going to be my fault; I just need to accept it sometimes. The experience they had given me by allowing me free reign and plenty of responsibility has proved invaluable and I’m extremely grateful to Will and Sir John Rowling for believing in me.
Word of mouth through PiXL and friends and family landed me several more freelance projects. By this point I really started to flex my hand-coding skills and experiment with the new possibilities that CSS3 was bringing. I wasn’t quite aware of user experience at this point but I was starting to develop ideas about how companies should be portraying themselves online and learning to create design languages in my work, even if i do look back and hate them now. Some of them have held strong, others I have reworked over the years and some can be seen in my portfolio still.
After 2 years of university I applied for a summer job at Outwoods Automation in 2012; the position was described as Software Developer so I was definitely taking a punt. Outwoods are a small electronic engineering firm predominantly commissioned to automate factory processes, basically things that were way above my software understanding! However, Qamar (the lovely chap who owns Outwoods) had taken on a software project to rid the factory engineers at Boots in Nottingham of the need to fill out lots of daily paper work. The brief was for a bespoke data logging application to record all the maintenance work the engineers performed on the factory machinery. At the interview with Qamar I explained how I could produce it as a web application - removing the need for network deployment and giving remote access - I also introduced him to PHP.
Qamar hired me on the spot and with his guidance on how the engineers expected the application ‘to work like software’ (the whole app has a push button kind of style going on) I was able to dig deeper in to my understanding of CSS and jQuery especially. This really set me on the path I am on now, as I felt like I’d collected the full suite of tools to be a ‘proper’ front-end developer. Two years on and Qamar and I are still working together adding features to the web app, which now has 12,000 rows of data!
The summer after, of 2013, I took a position as a front-end developer at boots.com in the content marketing team. This was great fun, I’d never been a part of such a large company with a whole team of developers, designers, UX guys, marketers and so on. I got to work on massive projects that would land my work on the boots.com homepage and showcased at flashy press events in the Tate Modern.
However, I began to get frustrated. Time after time I saw user experience being ignored and therefore projects not profiting after hefty budgets were thrown at them. One time I couldn't even convince the higher-ups that sales were going to drop if a product had to be clicked three times (with three new pages loads) just to add it to the basket, rather than the expected one click.
I realised that I wasn’t being seen as an expert or even at least someone who knows their field. I don’t blame the people at Boots, they were incredibly talented and I enjoyed working with them tremendously. Although there was too much of “thats how X department said we have to do it” and “but we’ve always done it this way”. I felt like I was forever rocking the boat at Boots but no one wanted to change course.
When I finally graduated with my MEng Hons in Architecture and Environmental Design , I decided I wanted to go and find businesses that were willing to let me help and advise them. When I am talking to prospective clients now I look for people that need help with their online strategy and know it, because I know I can help shape it and build the stuff for them!
So why am I not looking for a job as an architect? I think its the pace at which I work. I love the feeling of editing a bit of code, publishing it and watching my creation come to life in front of me. There isn't enough of that in architecture, the time frames are different; I need to be able to chop and change and test what I am doing at a faster pace than a two year building contract. I loved my degree, I met some amazing people, learnt so much about design and so much about how I design. And I apply that experience to my web projects every day.
I formed Prophet & Falcon because I was continually finding it harder to produce content for the web that I knew would make everyone happy. I needed to be seen as someone that could give advice as a professional not as someone who simply gets a job done. With my experience of working with small and large companies alike plus tirelessly reading about user experience and content marketing, I felt it was time to go it alone; to put myself out there and say hey, do you want to take your online strategy seriously and be successful in the digital realm? I can help!
I don’t want to work with companies and see them miss opportunities or lose money when I know how they can do things better. So now I pledge to only work with people when I can see we will work brilliantly together to make everyone happy, especially their customers.