It may come as no surprise to you, but the internet is kind of a big deal. I mean, without it, you would not be reading this now.
However, the internet does not just spring out fully formed from some primordial goo. No, instead it is the hard work of thousands of dedicated and talented professionals.
Moreover, the internet has grown from a modest user base of under 500 million people in 2000 to well over 4 billion users by 2021 (4.66 billion to be more precise). In fact, the internet has grown by 316 million people in the past 12 months alone and projects to add another 640 million users by 2023.
Of course, all of those people will need somewhere to go, something to do. That is where you come in as the next wave of web developers. How do you become a web developer you may ask. Well, before we get there, there are a few things we need to cover.
For the eventual 5.3 billion internet users, the US only employs a little over 174,000 web developers an digital designers, at last count in 2019. Recent data projects this to be around 320,000 in 2021 – the increase possibly spurred on by the pandemic. Though the internet is not new, its exponential growth rate means that there are still plenty of jobs available and being created everyday, with the majority being fully online employment.
While you are a little late to get in on the “ground floor,” the internet is still far from a “mature” market with oodles of potential. So, let us take a look at what it takes to be a web developer and why you should choose to become one.
What is a Web Developer?
Depending on who you ask, a web developer is the lifeblood of the internet, slaving away in front of a monitor and keyboard, pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into the digital landscape to amuse, inform, and connect us to each other. Of course, a simpler, more mundane answer would be that they build and maintain websites–but that does not sound nearly as important.
However, regardless of the description, web developers are important. In fact, they are probably one of the most important groups of professionals we have in our world today.
In terms of sheer economic power, the internet is one of the fastest growing markets and is quickly integrating itself into every facet of our daily lives to the point that it is, or will soon, become inextricable from a healthy, modern society. In fact, the internet accounts for a massive $175 billion–with a “B”–economic value. This figure is growing every year.
Moreover, in terms of time spent, because time is money after all, the internet constitutes another $680 billion in economic value. Though, the quality of that value may sometimes be questionable, like, for say, when your aunt tries to search tuna casserole recipes in her Facebook status updates.
Still, the worldwide net profit that the internet is expected to contribute between 2013 and 2022-is a staggering $14.4 trillion–this time with a “T.” Actually, come to think of it, maybe my time would be better spent getting into web development instead of content creation…
In 2018 the internet accounted for around 10% of America’s GDP – the equivalent of around $2.1 trillion. And it grows. Every year.
Regardless, the job of a web developer is vital, not only to our personal lives but to the world economy as well. Should the internet go, we would quickly go with it.
That is why web developers have to learn a myriad set of skills in order to do their jobs. Many, traditionally start in studying bachelor’s degrees in computer science or software development – expertise that is not essential, but at the least very valuable in web development. Some take it on themselves to partake in less formal online tutorials through a range of platforms. Moreover, the jobs themselves involve a dizzying amount of tasks and responsibilities.
Some of them are:
- Writing the code that will ultimately become the interface of a web page with a variety and combination of different markup languages. This will be explained in more detail a bit further down.
- Understanding how to cater their web pages for the best User Experience, UX, by providing the ideal User Interface, UI, for that specific page and its unique visitors. (Keep in mind, the people who are looking to find like minded individuals to discuss the new Star Wars movie are likely looking for a different experience than the people who want to purchase designer clothing).
- Being able to take a website creation tool like WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, or another and construct a fully functional web site from scratch. Of course, while more advanced web developers may still use these tools often to build websites, they can also eschew them altogether and construct complete html pages without a website builder to guide–and occasionally limit–them.
- Be able to quickly and expertly create website/webpage mockups and prototypes to show potential clients what you can offer. Do not worry if you are a total novice. So long as your ideas are solid and your work ethic robust, you can learn the coding and use a wealth of free or premium tools to assist you in this process.
- Understand HTML and CMS, at the least. However, there are many different coding languages – Python and PHP to name a couple, and more are being developed all the time. Understanding web frameworks such as ruby on rails and Node JS is also beneficial. In this regard, it is a never ending evolution, but do not be discouraged. Most of these languages build on each other, so when you learn the simplest, it becomes easier and easier to learn the ones that have grown out from them.
- Develop websites and web-based applications that are both appealing and functional. In fairness, this is a set of duties whose difficulty will inverse as time goes by. Specifically, the “functional” part will seem more difficult in the beginning while the “appealing” requirement will seem easy. However, once you have learned the basics and seen all there is to see, the “functional” requirement for a website will seem relatively easy, but coming up with an original design that is appealing will seem far more daunting.
- Maintain and update the websites you have created. Thankfully, this is usually one of the easier responsibilities. Once you have developed enough skill to competently create a website, you should generally be able to maintain it with little difficulty–assuming your code was solid from the start.
Those are some of the standard responsibilities most web developers will be tasked with throughout the course of their web development careers. However, different positions may add or subtract to this list, so be prepared to exhibit professional agility.
Moreover, different jobs may not necessarily need a web developer with every skillset imaginable–or want to pay the kind of salary that person would command. In this case, you may find it easier to obtain employment by choosing a specialization in a given stage of website development.
Of course, you may also simply be drawn to one aspect of development or another more than the others. In this instance, you need to be aware of what the different specialities are:
Front End Developer
The front end is the part of a website that most people who do not make websites are intimately familiar with. Sometimes referred to as the client-side of a website, this is what you see cosmetically when you visit a website. Front end web developers must use their skills to catch the eye of visitors. Everything from images to videos, forms and drop down menus, all of the things you can see, hear, or click are part of the front end. If you are more creatively minded, then front end development is likely the speciality that will appeal most to you.
Back End Developer
This is the side of the internet you do not see–the dark, shadowy side…just kidding. This is where most of the maintenance occurs. It deals with the apps, servers, and databases. For you “left-brained” people out there, you might find the somewhat higher degree of logic required to best service the back end development attractive and well-suited for your natural skill sets.
Full Stack Developer
This is for the renaissance web developers out there, the people who can do it all. In fairness, if you put enough time and effort into it, anyone can be a full-stack web developer. However, it is not uncommon for a new developer to pick a speciality that they find easier and eventually grow into a full stack developer over time. Another great thing about full stack development is that it expands all of the benefits you accrue through either speciality.
Full-stack developers can demand a higher compensation for their services and can qualify for more positions. Moreover, potential employers and clients will appreciate the additional value of having a one-stop-shop web developer.
Benefits of Becoming a Web Developer:
Aside from the fact that web developers are in high demand, the market for web developers only looks to expand–probably at an accelerating rate–there are numerous other reasons to move into the field. Quite simply, being a web developer offers an almost ideal situation for a wide variety of people.
Some of the biggest advantages that come with being a web developer are:
Highly Paid. The median average salary for a web developer in 2016 was over $66,000 a year. Keep in mind, this includes people who have been doing the job for a long time and have acquired an impressive laundry list of skills and markup languages that they know. However, this number also includes people who are complete novices or only work as web developers part time. This means for a dedicated person, the sky is the limit. If you apply yourself and obtain a diverse set of skills associated with web development, you could easily earn 6 figures in a short amount of time.
Work Remotely. One of the best things about web development is that it can be done anywhere that you have a reliable internet connection. This means you can work from home without a second thought, rather than the traditional full time office position. Moreover, many companies are increasingly hiring remote positions, because it allows them to save on the overhead of maintaining an office. Of course, you will need to be dedicated and avoid the numerous distractions that working from home can bring.
Independence day. Another great thing about becoming a web developer is the option to work as an independent contractor, also known as a freelancer. Essentially, you become your own boss. You pick the jobs you want to do, and you get to set your own schedule. However, this also means you will need a broader set of skills as you will have to actively find and secure clients. Moreover, this can carry some of the same distraction issues that working from home does, though both of those advantages often go hand-in-hand.
Build Your Own Websites. If you have had an idea for a website kicking around that you are confident will take the internet by storm, it is much easier–and far cheaper–to simply build the website yourself rather than having to track down and pick out someone who you feel can manifest your vision. As web developer, you can even have freelance gigs that bring home the bacon while working on your own website on the side.
Express yourself. How many times have you been surfing the web and been stunned by a truly amazing website. The design is flawless, the aesthetic sublime, the interface effortless. Finding a truly well-made website is like discovering a piece of art–only one that you get to interact with. As a web developer, you will have a whole suite of skills and tools at your disposal to go out and create the next great work of hypertext art.
Variety is the spice of life. Maybe building websites does not really get your motor going. Never fear, because the internet has a solution for you too. For the first time in its short history, more people connected to the internet through their mobile devices than they did through PCs. Moreover, certain areas of the world, like East Asia, saw anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of their internet traffic occur through mobile devices. This means that not only will mobile web development continue to increase, so will the other primary uses of smartphones and tablets–namely apps.
Granted, if you want to follow this career path, you will have to apply your self a bit more and learn more languages than is absolutely necessary for just website creation. But you will then be able to create killer apps which could rake in huge royalties if they take off.
How to Become a Web Developer:
Becoming a web developer first begins with learning the requisite skills necessary to create and maintain websites, ensuring they work well across web browsers, including mobile versions of your site. Thankfully, the coding languages required for website development are not nearly as complicated and do not take nearly as long to learn as traditional programming languages like C++ or Haskell. There are even some web development courses and coding bootcamps available online and offline such as Code Academy that can help you along the way.
HTML: Also known as hypertext markup language, this is the grandaddy of website coding languages. In fact, all websites are still technically html files that are read by your browser from a sever. This language is fairly straight-forward and easy to learn. Even just applying yourself part-time, you can learn html in a matter of months. Granted, you can learn it much quicker with more effort and time. However, mastering html will often take longer, but you can gain functional knowledge to begin experimenting with website development rather quickly.
CSS: CSS, or cascading style sheets, does just what its name implies: adds a sense of style to the html files. Without CSS, web pages are bit bland and are not nearly as easy to make attractive or interesting. These days, along with html, CSS is one of the primary coding languages required to produce a contemporary website with all of the features and aesthetics we have come to expect.
There is a whole different field for web design. Still, since you will often work with web designers and may even need to perform web design on your own for contract work, it is still a great skill to have, at least at a rudimentary level. Adobe Creative Suite and Sketch are 2 programs that can be great starters and inspiration for web design fundamentals–though mastery of these programs can yield masterful results with web design.
SQL: This scripting language, pronounced “ess-que-el,” is strictly a backend coding language. This language handles the databases for the server side of websites. Even if you plan on specializing in frontend web development, it is a good ideal to learn SQL. This language allows you to organize a website’s content in a way that the user’s hardware can access. However, SQL is a bit more difficult than either html or CSS.
Still, knowing this language will set you apart from and give you an employment advantage over many of the other beginning web developers who may be doing it part time or are not truly dedicated to the full-stack approach. SQL is a great language to learn for software developers, programmers, coders and web developers alike.
PHP: This language goes hand in hand with SQL. As such, this is another backend coding language that focuses its effects on the website at the server’s end of function. This coding language is often used to allow website creation to be dynamic, accurate, and easier to do. Thankfully, this counterpart to the backend is much easier to learn than SQL, though both are generally seen as necessary for backend projects. Keep in mind, PHP can technically be embedded into many different coding languages, so do not simply focus on learning how it functions with SQL to exclusivity.
SEO: Pretty much 99 percent of all websites are discovered by their visitors through Google or some other search engine. As such, if you are going to develop websites for a living, it is imperative that you understand how search engines function, so you can ensure potential visitors see your website on the search results first. This is where SEO, or search engine optimization comes into play.
Thankfully, web developers generally only need to know the basics of SEO–unlike content writers… Things like meta tags, title tags, and the order of the heading tags, descending, are the important factors to understand.
Learn Different Frameworks and CMS: There are dozens of different frameworks, website builders and content management systems. One of the easiest CMS you can pick up to begin with is WordPress. It’s used by over 25% of websites on the internet so you’ll have knowledge that is highly in demand.
How to Get Work as a Web Developer:
Once you have learned the requisite skills necessary to create a killer website, the next step might seem easier by comparison. However, do not underestimate the importance–or the amount of work–that will go into finding your first web development job.
Learning the skills of website creation may take a lot of effort, but it is a relatively straight-forward task: learn how the code functions and its different rules, or “syntax”. This does not change not matter when or where you start learning–though, different languages will have different rules. Still, the rules for each language will always remain the same.
However, for aspiring web developers the job market is not nearly as stable. Granted, there is plenty of job growth and opportunity available, but it can be difficult to figure out the general ins and outs of the process. Moreover, there is no official “standard,” though there are some general rules of thumb.
Your initial best bet for obtaining freelance employment as a web developer will be to join different job board sites, particularly in the tech industry. Fair warning, there are a lot of them, like, an overwhelming amount. Do not feel like you have to sign up for every job board. Moreover, different boards will cater to different things. Some of them pay more while others are better at getting newbies–that is you–work quickly to help build their experience.
You should definitely take some time to explore the possibilities and figure out exactly what it is you need before just joining every job board imaginable and applying for every opening out there. Of course, if you are that gun-ho, feel free to do so. Just do not feel obligated to do so.
Basically, this means create a portfolio website to show off your mad skills. Keep in mind, the site itself should be a bit neutral, professional, yet sophisticated. Even if you intend to specialize on front end web development for visually striking websites focused on photography, fashion, and art, not every client is going to be looking for the same thing.
As such, a better tactic is to have a simple, yet elegant, website that provides numerous examples of what you can create. In this regard, it will behoove you to get outside of your comfort zone and create web page examples that are not necessarily the kind you prefer–to demonstrate versatility. Of course, make sure that you also include plenty of information including details about you and your skill set and how you can put that to use for potential clients in a way that offers something no one else can.
It is a good idea to visually show off your various skills where possible. If you can create a responsive design, do it. If you can use frameworks such as bootstrap show your understanding. You can always have a short blog on your site to show off more technical skills and problem solving skills. If you want to secure the best web developer jobs, be prepared to show that you are good investment.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
This may come as a surprise, though it makes perfect sense, but people generally tend to trust what they are already familiar with. While this can apply to types of food when at a new restaurant, it generally runs the gamut of situations–including the job market. In fact, a recent survey found that between 60 to 80 percent of all jobs are gotten either by already knowing someone or through networking. However, unlike the job boards, this is an area where more is generally better.
Do not feel pushed into joining every professional social networking site out there, but definitely join the largest ones. Also, it may seem old fashioned, but going to in-person networking events or job fairs can also be a great way to network. In this regard, multiple events per month is better, but do not feel the need to go to one every other day.
Even though it might feel like you have some catching up to do, do not fret. With the continued growth of the internet and the need for more professional web developers to help create content, there is plenty of time and opportunity available to still start a new career is this continually evolving market.
Moreover, once you do acquire the skills to become a web developer, the benefits more than outweigh the paltry investment of time and energy required to do so. Whether it is working from home, being your own boss, or earning a hefty paycheck, web development is an amazing industry to enter with limitless possibilities.
Just remember to apply yourself and gain a firm grasp on the different types of languages that web development demands. Of course, if you plan to specialize and remain in that specialty, you might be able to skip some of those languages.
Then, once you have successfully learned the different web development skills and languages necessary to actually develop websites, it is just as important to turn all that energy towards actually landing work. With job boards, a portfolio, and networking it can be a labor intensive process but one that pays off through dedication in the end.