Quentin standing in a black void.
Cover Image © Quentin Fountain

Black Perspectives #21: Quentin Fountain (Former Web Developer [Figuring it Out])

“Industry Rule Number Four-Thousand-and-Eighty”

SSD: What do you think are the positives of working as a web designer/developer?

QF: I love to solve problems. Both design and development allow me to do exactly that. I also feel that design/development can be a gateway to a lot of other areas within the tech space and beyond. You can also make pretty good money (if that’s your thing), with lots of opportunity for growth. With the right company/amount of business savvy.

SSD: What are the negatives of working as a web designer/developer?

QF: Crazy hours. Demanding clients who don’t know what they want, until they see what they don’t want, even after they insist that it’s what they NEED. Potential clients who want to create the next Amazon for $1500. Friends and family members wanting you to design and build a website for $500, so they can create the next brilliant thing that’s going to change the world and/or “get us all rich”. Or the ones that want you to give your time for free (be a “partner”) because it’s “going to get us all rich”.

I could go on, but I think that’s a good place to end. Otherwise, I’m in danger of sounding bitter, which I am, but only a little.


SSD: What makes a good website client from a business relationship-sense? What should they bring to the table, at a minimum, if they’re seeking your services?

QF: Clients that understand that the costs associated with having a website designed and/or developed can be pretty high are always pleasant to work with. When they understand this AND have a healthy budget, it’s beautiful. When they have these things AND understand that quality also takes time, they’re marriage material.

SSD: What are some bad traits of potential clients seeking web designer/developer services that you think are all too common and should stop?

QF: Lack of a budget, or even general plan beyond “I/we need a website up last week and it needs to be AMAZEBALLS… but we haven’t spent any time thinking about it beyond that.” Thinking they know how to do our job better than we do and/or how much we should/shouldn’t be charging for our services. There’s Wix and Squarespace for that. Use them.

…I require a focus on quality over quantity.

Quentin Fountain

SSD: As you restructure what you’re looking for professionally, what are your must-haves?

QF: No more client work that doesn’t feel like a good fit for me creatively (if I take on any more client work at all). I need to have time to actually create, rather than just “get it done” — Feeling like a glorified factory worker, churning out project after project, with the quantity over quality focus, never made me feel whole.

That’s not to say that great things don’t come out of working fast to meet aggressive deadlines, invoice, and move on to the next project (often accompanied by long hours)… Just that I no longer have any interest in participating in that style of creating. So, I require a focus on quality over quantity.

SSD: What do you hope to accomplish as you continue to pursue what you’re doing?

QF: What I hope to accomplish is to finally bring all of my passions into a creative space and build something that I can be proud of and others can enjoy and benefit from. Oh, and creating jobs for folks while doing it.

What that is at the moment, is still heavily in the process of being figured out, but it will likely involve music/audio, art/design, tech, and wellness in some form… likely existing in a digital space, being I was previously a web designer and developer for 24 (sheesh) years.

SSD: This might be something I just didn’t know about you! Have you employed others before? For some reason, I just thought you worked independently. What is it that drives you to want to create jobs for others?

QF: I have employed others before, but only on a very small scale. What drives me, is the desire to create opportunities for folks who may not have tons of experience, if any, or lack the “education” that a lot of places tend to prefer. Or even in some cases, like I experienced quite a bit myself, not seeming like “a good fit for the culture”. People who possibly have tons of talent, passion, and/or drive to be great, but won’t be considered for any of the reasons listed (and those not listed). They are the people that I want to create jobs for.

I was one of those people when I first got into design & development. I was a high school dropout, from a low-income, largely single-mother upbringing, whose life expectancy — as told by family and friends, and based on my lifestyle — was less than 20 years. I found something I loved and discovered that I had a natural talent for, but couldn’t get hired due to lack of experience, education, or melanin deficiency. I was turned away by every place that I interviewed [at] until someone finally… took a chance on me.

I want to create a different possibility for people who can relate to the struggle of trying to “get their foot in the door” or catch their “big break”. It took me starting my own company and going on to do some pretty dope work and winning a couple of awards before someone looked at my work and “took a chance” on me. And even still, I got lucky. And underpaid.

Quentin Fountain looking deep.

SSD: As someone who is self-taught, do you think there are some aspects that are easier learned in a structured course setting or are you team “teach yourself” all the way? (And why?)

QF: I see the benefits of both, actually.

Learning in a structured manner never really worked for me. That’s one of many reasons why I dropped out of high school. I learned the most on my own time, outside of school when I was younger. When it came to learning how to design, code… hell, use a computer, etc., the same was true.

With that being said, not everyone learns the same way. Some folks require that structured learning format. Some people thrive with both. I don’t feel there’s a wrong way or a right way, as long as you’re moving in the direction that you want to be moving.

So, I’m team “whatever works best for the individual”.

…[I]t was pretty gratifying to come in and – in weeks – figure out what the internal team couldn’t in months (actually close to a year), collect my check, and bounce.

Quentin Fountain

SSD: Do you think being Black adds or subtracts from how others perceive you as a professional? If so, care to share an example of a time when you felt that was true?

QF: Both. It depends on the company/people and how you view things, I guess.

I’ve had an experience where I was brought in as a contractor and someone said to me “Welcome aboard. You must REALLY know what you’re doing if they hired you.” I wasn’t sure if it was because I was surrounded by absolute brilliance or there was a bit more to it (if you know what I mean). It became pretty clear quite quickly. Some of the discussions were… interesting and clearly not meant for someone who looked like me. Good times.

On the flip side, I was paid handsomely.

I was also the only Black person in the building that wasn’t carrying a mop (not that there’s anything wrong with working in that field at all). That’s also an example of what I meant when I said it can depend on how you view things. Being “outside help” AND a Black dude that everyone was clearly skeptical of (or worse, based on some of the “water cooler conversations” I overheard… about me), it was pretty gratifying to come in and – in weeks – figure out what the internal team couldn’t in months (actually close to a year), collect my check, and bounce.

I’ve also had experiences where folks were excited to have someone of my talent that could provide a little bit of “diversity of thought” that they were simply lacking in the creative department. So yeah, it depends.

SSD: If you have any, who are your heroes, and why?

QF: That’s a good question. I’d say I don’t really subscribe to the “hero” thing, but if I had to say anyone, it would be [James] Baldwin and [Fred] Hampton. Not sure if that really needs explaining. If you don’t know who those cats were and/or why I (or anyone) would name them, you have a bit of homework to do.

Baldwin was simply brilliant on many fronts, as an activist, literary genius, and speaker. As for Hampton, I’d say watch some documentaries about or footage of him. Watching him says more than anything I can express clearly myself. He was definitely on to something, which is why he was assassinated.

SSD: Last one. And I’m curious where your head is on this one since you’re sitting out right now…

Do you think this is a unique time for Black People in Tech? Why or why not?

QF: Indeed it is. When I first started in the late 90s, it was kinda rare to see other Black faces. Most of the designers, developers, engineers, etc., at the conferences I went to, the companies I worked with/for were White or Asian. Seeing someone who looked like me was often a “holy shit, what up yo!” moment. But only with a slight nod of approval and grin. Didn’t want to rock the boat, or draw too much attention to ourselves. They already thought we all knew each other or shared a single mind (depending on the job), or worse, thought we were “diversity hires”. To be clear, this is from my own experience (ohhh the things people used to feel comfortable saying out loud).

Now, over 24 years in, it’s pretty common to see other Black folks in the industry doing all kinds of brilliant things. Leading companies, helping to push things forward. Helping to shape technology in a larger, more impactful way (think AI, for example) – Even if somewhat slowly. We have a (louder) voice in the tech space now. We’re no longer just the “exceptional negro’s”. We’re here and making ourselves heard and known. It’s beautiful.

Quentin keeping his eye on the bigger picture.

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