Web Developers, This Is Your Dunkirk Moment


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You’ve always thought of yourself as “just” a web developer. You’ve always thought that you don't matter all that much in the big picture, that nothing you do could ever be heroic or make a significant difference. Well, I’m here to tell you that at this moment in history, you're wrong. Right now there is a business in your town that needs you, a small mom and pop shop that is going to go under due to the current Coronavirus pandemic. No one can walk into their store. No one can buy their goods or services. But you have the experience, talent and skills to move that business online. You can help them find their market on the web so that they can live to fight another day. This is your Dunkirk moment.

On May 26, 1940, a massive evacuation of more than 330,000 allied troops began on the shores of Dunkirk, France. Hundreds of merchant marine boats, yachts, fishing vessels, and other pleasure craft were brought to the aid of the imperiled troops by British seagoing civilians who heard the call of history and answered. Quiet, unassuming tradespeople brought their tools and expertise to bear to rescue an entire army. Simple people rose to the occasion and collectively had such an impact they rescued a nation. And at this moment history is calling again. We web developers, in the middle of this Covid-19 global pandemic, are in the same situation as those civilian sailors 80 years ago. We have the means to rescue the livelihoods of a vast number of people. We merely need to summon our resolve, skills, tools, and connections to do the job.

In my own town, I am about to start working on the website of a boutique gift shop. These folks are the embodiment of the classic small business. They do everything themselves, and can barely find the time to get inventory on the shelves, ads on Facebook, and people through the doors. Maybe they could have found the time to get their business online to bring in an additional revenue stream, but they didn't. Maybe they procrastinated. Maybe they had other priorities. But that’s not unusual. In fact, it’s more typical than not that we choose to put off something important to handle something urgent, or more fun, only to find later that we’ve created a difficult situation for ourselves. It’s human nature. It's the human condition.

As a web developer, you speak a language that only a small portion of the population speaks. It doesn’t feel particularly special to you because all of your colleagues are web developers, and they speak it too. It’s normal, no big deal. It's like you live by the shore and you own a little skiff that can fit 6 people. Your neighbors also have small boats. Yours is nothing unique. Over time you’ve learned how to navigate the waters of the channel that you fish in every day. Experience has taught you how to coax a little more power out of your engine. And you’ve developed an intuition for piloting your small boat, and know how to whisper to the waves in just the right way to get where you need to be. This is you, only the water you navigate is the web. You have all of the necessary skills and experience to help some of your local businesses avert disaster. You can do something now that very few people are able to do. You need only reach out and offer your help.

Your local restaurants, hair salons, clothing boutiques, furniture stores, massage studios, and book stores all depend on in-person customers for their livelihood. They can't have those right now. Coronavirus has us all confined to our homes, except for essential errands. Without the foot traffic on the streets and the walk-in customers, these local businesses, the ones who already survive only on the thinnest of margins, will just vanish. They'll drown. But you have the power to help prevent this. You can use your skills to take them from brick and mortar business to online business, or perhaps an interesting combination of both. Help them get online. Help them set up gift certificate systems. Help them make their inventory available for purchase on the web, or perhaps customers can place an order online and then drive by to pick it up at a later time.

These business owners can't pay you right now. You have to discount the work, or defer payment or just work for free.

If a few hundred little civilian boats piloted by regular people like you and me managed to summon the will and courage to take to the waters and rescue 330,000 troops, you and I can certainly get up off the couch and help one or two local businesses stay afloat during this urgent battle against a lethal virus. This is our moment. You have everything you need to be a hero right now. All you have to do is listen to the call of history and say yes.

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