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Have what it takes to be Freelance Website Designer? In this interview, a transgender web designer shares the importance of 'knowing your rights' when dealing with work-related discrimination as well as the challenges of working as a freelance professional.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: For the past three years, I have worked as a freelance website designer. I am creative, self-motivated, and careful— traits that have been with me all my life.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I am transgender and white. Specifically, my gender identity is genderqueer; I don't identify as a man or a woman.

Unfortunately, I have experienced some work-related discrimination based upon my gender. One instance occurred when I was working for a major retailer as a salesperson several years ago. I was surprised to be called to a meeting one day with upper management, and even more surprised by the topic of the meeting. I had been using my preferred name on my name tag, rather than my legal name— a common practice in the company. I was informed that this was unacceptable in my case, because my preferred name is typically a male name. I countered that this constituted discrimination on the basis of gender identity, which is illegal under Maine law since 2005. In response, management consulted the company's lawyers and I was granted permission to wear my preferred name. Knowing my rights was a major asset in this instance.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: As a web designer, I create beautiful, dynamic websites for artists and small businesses. I build flexible and functional CMS-based websites, which means that my clients can add and update their own media, such as photos, text, and products. The CMS, or content management system, allows me to write code that dictates how these media will be displayed, sorted, and formatted within the website.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate my job satisfaction at a 7. To unleash my full enthusiasm, I would need to make more money and have a fuller web development skill set.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: Recently, I took some time to think about the lifelong characteristics I have that bring me the most joy. My takeaway was creativity: I am creative, and my creativity has been an essential, guiding principle in my life. Creativity leads me to my “sweet spot,” allowing me to be truly present. While I may not do website design for my entire working life, I will always work in a creative field.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: My path to my current job is an unusual one. I never would have become a freelance web designer had I not suffered a chronic illness that pushed me out of traditional employment. My illness, called chronic fatigue and immune deficiency syndrome, is serious enough to render me disabled. When I first became ill, I was unable to leave the house, and my possibilities for income seemed bleak. At the same time, I learned that a friend of a friend needed a website for their small business. I didn't know how to build websites. But I recalled a story I had been told about my Aunt Sarah, who died when I was twelve. As a young woman, she had answered an advertisement for a bilingual secretary— someone who spoke both English and German. Sarah applied and was hired. The only problem? She wasn't bilingual!

So my Aunt Sarah learned German on the job. And she became an excellent bilingual secretary.

I also learned website design on the job. I built my first site in a month — one month of twelve hour days and seven-day workweeks! By the end of the job, I had a delighted client and a newfound sense of possibility.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: Most everything I learned in my job I have learned the hard way. I learned to code under pressure, with plenty of setbacks and notebooks crammed with questions and meticulous documentation of everything I did— because when the whole website stopped working suddenly during development, I needed a record that spelled out every place I might have gone wrong! I've also learned how to talk to clients, manage their expectations, and politely wrap up projects that have stretched on too long.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: Most people “know not what they do.” A professional needs to be able to understand their clients' needs even when their client doesn't know how to express them and must work through misunderstandings to create positive relationships.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: Every design freelancer has stories about funny and contradictory things clients ask us for. Of course, it is all part of the business. Our job is to help our clients get what they want even when they don't know exactly how to express it and don't share our design or tech vocabulary.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: My work involves creativity and problem-solving, and that keeps me engaged and excited. I am proud of my accomplishments every time I finish a website that has stretched my abilities. I'm especially pleased when I hear that a client has been raving to their friends about their new site!

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: My main challenge at work is to work enough hours despite my illness. And like all freelancers, I must continuously find new assignments and clients.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: I find that my job offers a kind of stress that is actually enjoyable— eustress, a term for positive, exciting stress coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye, describes the kind of stress that I experience.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: My income is low for my field, simply due to working fewer hours. When I am working, I earn between $20 and $50 per hour.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: I take vacation time but remain on-call for technical support. I also take one full day off per week, away from any type of activity associated with my business.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: Most clients are interested in the quality of one's work, not degrees. However, design classes and coding-intensive courses can be a wonderful asset. For those who aspire to work for company as a website designer or developer, a bachelor's degree is often preferred.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: Taking a leap into freelance web design could be a great option for artistic individuals who enjoy flexible work arrangements and are prepared to manage every aspect of their business, including talking to new clients, advertising, billing, and negotiating contracts. There are many ways to study programming for free or for an affordable price, and there has never been a better time to learn.