Can Volunteering In A Shop be Good For Web Developers?

Woman laying on the floor with face covered by a red hat

By McDonald, T. | Date 1st of December 2017

You may have wondered what goes into building a webpage or thought about becoming a web developer yourself. If so, you may have noticed that web developers and technology businesses encourage workers to volunteering in the community because it can be a valuable experience. Can volunteering in a charity shop improve web development understanding if a shop is thought of like a webpage even though volunteering in one will not make anyone a web developer?

Is thinking of a webpage like a shop useful?

Shops have services going on in the background such as sorting products much as a website will sort data. The back room is unseen by the shopper, yet remains a crucial part of the service much as a server is critical to a webpage.

In addition, shops have a window, which displays the services much as a landing page does for a website. Service users must be able to see what the shop has for sale just as a landing page needs to clearly display the services it has to offer or the service user will leave without entering.  Not only that, many websites have a checkout and a layout, so do shops. The checkout has to be easy to use and the layout of the site easy to navigate: a shopper will navigate around the shop floor eagerly looking for the desired product and then look to check out.

Volunteering at a shop gives developers a chance to meet people with varying abilities, which will help a developer think about a visitors needs on accessing a website. It is worth remembering, people are individuals with different abilities, life experiences and disabilities. Some people use a wheelchair, so would not be able to access upstairs. Neither would a wheelchair user be able to access the shop without a ramp to get in the shop door. Just like a shop, a web developer needs to consider the needs of service users using assistive technologies such as screen readers. Moreover, just like a shop a web developer needs to follow the law in providing accessibility.

To reiterate, shops have services going on in the background, window dressing to indicate the goods provided at the front, checkouts and a layout to make it easier to navigate the aisles and see the goods on offer on the floor and follow the law pertaining to accessibility. A shop is a bit like a webpage; therefore, thinking of a website like a shop can be useful, but only to a certain degree.

Rack of suits in shop

Volunteering in a shop will not turn someone into a web developer because a shop is so different from a website underneath the surface.

Although it is true that a shop has services going on in the background, a website server is still very different in respects that it is in a different geological area. In addition, volunteering at a charity shop will not teach someone about data transfer protocols.

For starters, a shop window has limited space and while it may give an indication for the services to be expected, window dressing will not teach someone even the basics of HTML or CSS. Only through lessons and rigorous study can a developer learn how to code for a landing page are any page, not by volunteering in a charity shop.

Secondly, checkouts and webpage layouts maybe similar in some ways to those of a shop, but vastly different in others. When considering a webpage layout, it is more like planning the construction of the building rather than considering the layout of a shop floor. In addition, volunteering will not teach a developer how to code for a web checkout; neither, will it teach about the data transfer protocols necessary for such a transfer.

Finally, meeting people with varying abilities is a good thing; however, volunteering in a shop will not give a full appreciation of the various assistive technologies or how to implement the code to achieve the minimum standards set out by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1)

Therefore, a shop is not exactly the same as a webpage and if someone wants to become a web developer, they will need to do a lot of studying in html, css and again other coding experience.

Is it worth volunteering in a charity shop to gain some understanding of web development?

Because of the need for sending and receiving information, a web developer will need to have some knowledge of how the web works, which would include data exchange protocols (DEP). Hyper text transfer protocol (http) and Internet protocols (IP) are needed when a server exchanges data across the net to a client such as a browser or mail application. Furthermore, data transferred over the net will go through different stages and be broken up into packets with headers and sent to a destination. While the server end of a website and the backend of a shop will handle the sorting, the only comparison between a shop and a webpage in respects of frontend backend is that data like products in a shop is stored somewhere for retrieval. Shops have a back and a front as a webpage is the frontend and the server is the backend but that is all they have in common in this instance. It is, nevertheless, important to remember that some sorting and searching maybe going on behind the scenes and the importance of teamwork.

Although window dressing will not teach someone about HTML or CSS or the standards needed to develop a webpage, it does give a good example of how to best present a good landing page, but only in respects of services on offer. Window dressing, however, cannot give a good example of the navigation panels to a well-developed landing page. All of the links need to be obvious as to what they do and if visited. It is not just a case of making the best of the space, but also considering the mobile user and text based browsers.

Furthermore, not all websites have need for a checkout and some will need a user to sign up before they can sign in. Some websites provide information while others provide a meeting place. While in a shop, someone queues up and then pays for the goods and leaves, but at a website a user has to enter their details before they can confirm the order. The checkout process is a linear process on a website moving from one stage to the next. The checkout analogy best describes a queue were first in first out applies, but this is more to do with computer science than web development. If anything is to be taken from working on a checkout, it would be the skills developed in terms of customer relations.

Meeting people with varying abilities, nonetheless, is a good thing for a developer to do. Although a shop usually needs to provide access for wheelchair users, it still gets the developer thinking about the importance of accessing a website. If volunteering in a shop, the volunteer quickly notices the problems that people face if using a wheelchair or guide dog. More to the point, it becomes obvious that some shops were never built with wheelchairs in mind. With this knowledge, a developer can learn to think about access to the development of a website from the beginning to avoid headaches later on and even breaking the law.

In conclusion, a webpage may not be much like a shop neither it will not turn anyone into a web developer. Nevertheless, it does teach teamwork, how to consider accessibility and how to interact with customers. To be a web developer a person must embark on years of study. With this in mind, is it worthwhile for a student developer to volunteer at a charity shop? I am sure you will draw your own conclusions to this question. Volunteering in a shop may not teach anyone much about the technical side of web design, but it will challenge people to think about the needs of assistive technologies. I would recommend volunteering, however, to anyone regardless of his or her future aspirations because through personal experience i have found volunteering to show me the true value of all types of people. Subsequently, I will never look at designing a webpage in the same way again.

Bibliography:

Nielsen. J, 2016, ‘Usability 101: Introduction to Usability’, Nielsen and Norman Group [Online] available at https://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-101-introduction-to-usability/ (Accessed on 11/11/17)

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog.  Please feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you think. 

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