These are some notes to myself on how I would like to approach my work, at least, an ideal for who I would like to be as a Christian web developer. I write this mostly to organise my own thoughts, but I am publishing it just in case there are others who might find it helpful.
I should say first of all that I am in a very unusual situation. I have a job that I actually like, and I am paid reasonably well to do it. I understand that this puts me in a very small minority, so I apologise to those who don’t fit this category—what I say here won’t address the issue of what to do when you hate your job. That said, I hope there will be some parts of this that will be useful to people regardless of whether they enjoy their job or not.
One way to look at living as a Christian is that we are called to be imitators, or followers, of Jesus.1 This entails a lot of things, but two key areas I see this working out practically (at least in my work situation) are in humility and love. We Christians believe that Jesus is God himself, and whatever else that implies, it certainly means that he is much more important, and a much higher being than we are. We also believe that He became fully human, grew up in rural Palestine and felt what it is like to be one of us. If these things are true, then the story of Jesus is quite amazing in its demonstration of humility (if you really think about it). We also believe that he became human because he loved us. He lived the life we should have lived, and died the death we deserved—because he loved us.2
So, if we Christians are to imitate Christ, some demonstration of both humility and love is in order. The bible is also pretty clear in its instructions on these things. There are plenty of passages talking about being humble,3 and plenty about loving each other.4 What follows are some fumbling attempts to apply these things to my work.
I am fortunate—undeservedly blessed—to have a set of skills that are in demand at this particular point of history, in the particular part of the world that I live in. I’ve worked as a web developer long enough to have built up expertise, so I regularly come across problems I know how to solve easily, and have learned how to complete certain kinds of tasks efficiently. Because of this, it is all too easy to become proud. All too easy to think that I’ve earned the respect of my colleagues; that I deserve the salary that I earn; that I’m better than those less skilled than I am. All too easy to become both arrogant and deluded.
The fact that I am able to do the kind of work I do is sheer grace and divine providence—I have no basis on which to think I earned it by my own effort. I just happened to be born in a western country with a half-decent education system. I just happened to have a father who was interested in computers and would bring them home from work. I just happened to be studying information technology at the time that the Internet was starting to grow rapidly. I just happened to find a job after university in a role where I was building a web application. None of this was by my design or as a result of my efforts. It was all God.5
So I must be careful to remember that being good at something I enjoy is no great feat. If my colleagues at work are kind enough to show me respect, then I should be grateful and humbled, not smug or self-satisfied. I am not owed any special treatment by my employer, and if they happen to be pleased with something I produce and treat me well, then I should again be grateful, not boastful. In short, I should make my own attitude that of Christ Jesus:
who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when he had come as a man in his external form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8)
In addition, I have to constantly remind myself that my identity is in Christ, not my performance as a web developer, so I do not need to go chasing praise and recognition for my work (be it on the web or elsewhere). Don’t get me wrong, if I receive praise or recognition, that’s really nice. But, I’m not to make other people’s treatment of me the barometer of my worth. In spite of my deep, deep imperfections, the mighty creator of the universe loves me and has adopted me into his family. That is worth infinitely more than the praise of other people. If that doesn’t feel true right now, then it is most likely because my understanding of who God is, is out of sync with reality—I’m not really understanding how important and significant He is, nor what it means that he loves me.
This also means that I should not be bitter or resentful if I am asked to perform tasks that I don’t particularly enjoy or I might feel are ‘beneath’ me. I am not some king of web development whom others should approach with fear and trembling. I’m an employee who should humbly comply with reasonable direction from my employer. Sure, if they’re only ever asking me to do things I don’t enjoy, allof the time, then maybe I’m not the best fit for the job, but I should not regard myself as too good for the tasks I’m asked to perform.
I serve a God who is not only humble (shockingly so), but also loving. As John says, God is love6. The obvious application of this is to love my work colleagues who I’m interacting with each day. There are so many ways I could be doing this better:
Taking the trouble to be friendly, smile, and ask my colleagues how their weekend was, or how their day is going when I arrive each morning, and actually care and listen carefully to their responses. Unfortunately, I often arrive to work in a cloud of concerns and plans for my tasks that day, so I’m inclined to walk in completely distracted and give people little more than a mumbled “G’morning”. This should change.
Not being too lazy, or to proud to do small things like clean the kitchen bench in the tea room; re-fill the coffee maker with water; offer to make others a coffee if I’m going to make one for myself; unload the dishwasher; and so on. The real trouble here is (again) getting my head out of whatever work issue I’m trying to solve long enough to notice these things and then not being too tired, lazy or proud to get in and do them.
Giving credit where it’s due if I’m working with someone else on a project. In fact, I should be actively looking for areas where I could be giving other people recognition for their hard work—it’s not that hard to send an email, write a note, or even just mention the matter in passing at a meeting. Noticing and caring are the key—and we believe in a God who does both far more than we even understand.
Showing up on time, both to work in the morning, and whatever meetings or appointments I might have that day. If I make a commitment to my employer or anyone else to be somewhere at a certain time, I should be considerate enough to keep it. If this means I need to put reminders in my calendar or re-schedule less important things to make that happen, then I should think about that well before the appointment, not 60 seconds before it’s due to start. This is an act of humility because I am not implicitly assuming my time is more important than that of whomever I’m meeting.
But, besides loving my colleagues, there is another aspect of my work, specific to web development, where I should be showing love. Web developers have a duty to the people who use whatever product they happen to be building. Fortunately, this aligns with what also happens to be considered ‘best practice’ in our industry (particularly in front-end web development).
Being a good web developer these days means having at least a rudimentary understanding of user experience (UX) and accessibility. But when it boils down to it, UX is essentially just being considerate and loving towards the people who are using your product, and being humble enough to do some testing and research instead of deciding that you know what is best for them. Similarly web accessibility is really about being considerate and loving towards people with who might be using your web application or visiting your website via something other than the latest, greatest web browser. If this is the case, then Christian web developers should be among the very best of web developers in this regard.
All of this is not necessarily as simple as it sounds. Some professions (like software deveopment, graphic design and engineering) have a strange property where the clients paying for your services are often different from the users (or ‘customers’ or ‘consumers,’ or whatever you want to call them). Experienced web develpers know that while in theory the needs/desires of the client should be completely aligned with those of the users, this is in practice often not the case. So, web developers often find themselves in a tension between doing what the paying client wants versus doing what will be best for users in the long run.
I do not have any easy answers for this tension. Where possible, I try to advocate on behalf of users and make cogent arguments as to why a better outcome for users usually benefits everybody. But sometimes people do not want to listen for whatever reason. In those cases, I will usually respectfully follow the client’s wishes (they are paying for it, after all).
Even when what I am working on has no ‘user interface’, I still have an obligation to love those who might have to read or fix my code later; or anyone who is using whatever API I create. Being loving and considerate of these people means structuring my code well, and providing clear documentation. Again, this is considered ‘best practice’ in software development so, in theory, Christian web developers should be among the very best of developers in this regard.
Someone might be thinking ‘Isn’t this all a bit uptight? Why not just chill out, try not to be a jerk, and get on with your job and your life? Why all the theologising and introspection?’ This is a fair point—that is, if you completely misunderstand just about everything about Jesus and Christianity. But then again, it is very easy to misunderstand. I’ve used a lot of ‘I should’ phrases in what I’ve written, and this is possibly misleading. A Christian doesn’t have to do anything—Jesus has done all of it already. What I have written above is not a scheme to collect spiritual scout badges so God will think I’m alright and let me into heaven. Christianity is not about being good—it’s about facing the reality that I’m not, and left to my own devices never will be. What I’ve written above is about who I want to be given who He is and what He’s done. If you haven’t met him and don’t know what he’s done, then it perhaps won’t make any sense at all. But if you do meet him, and understand what he’s done, then you want to live differently. Instead of giving you more guilt and obligation he takes it all away. Whatever you think about my ideas on work and web development, I sincerely hope you do meet him.
See 1 Peter 2:21; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Matthew 10:38; John 12:26.
There are other perspectives from which to look at living as a Christian, such as being freed from slavery, or belonging to a family. Unfortunately I don't have time to go into that right now. ↩
1 John 4:10. ↩
Romans 12:3 and Philippians 2:5–8 are just a couple. ↩
1 John 4:7–11. ↩
Yes, I did make decisions about what I wanted to study, and I did work quite hard at my studies. But that's not the point, I would never had been there but for God (or chance, if you don't believe in God) placing me there in the first place. ↩
1 John 4:8 ↩