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Career Guide

How to Become a Web Developer

BrainStation's Web Developer career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a lucrative career in web development. The guide provides an in-depth overview of the development skills you should learn, the best web development training options, career paths in web development, how to become a Web Developer, and more.

How to Become a Web Developer
Ready to start your career in Development? Find out more about BrainStation's Web Development Bootcamp

How Do You Become a Web Developer?

To become a Web Developer, you should have an understanding of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It’s also recommended to learn about CSS and CSS frameworks. Developing these fundamental web development skills will give you the foundation and logic for communicating with programming languages.

How to become a Web Developer in five steps:

  1. Learn web development fundamentals
  2. Choose a development specialization
  3. Learn key programming languages for web development
  4. Work on projects to develop your Web Developer skills
  5. Build a web development portfolio

1. Learn Web Development Fundamentals

The best first step to becoming a Web Developer is to start learning web development fundamentals, including an understanding of HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), and JavaScript.

Many aspiring Web Developers are now using coding bootcamps to fast-track the learning process. Coding bootcamps have thrived because they are short, immersive, and focused on outcomes and employment – their goal is to develop job-ready skills as efficiently as possible, making them an increasingly worthwhile investment for a would-be Web Developer. According to the job site Indeed, four out of five companies in the U.S. have hired a graduate from a coding bootcamp.

In fact, the practical advantages of coding bootcamps are only getting clearer over time. For one thing, the field of web development naturally attracts people from all other fields, many of them making mid-career transitions – people for whom a clear and efficient path to skills expansion is a top priority. Further, employers increasingly value skills and experience over education, placing anyone who can prove their abilities on more equal footing with Developers holding a college degree.

It’s important to note that Web Developers – more than most other fields – must be committed to ongoing learning to stay on top of changes in web development and programming languages, tools, and trends. This makes mid-career retraining a must whether or not it’s the line of work you started out in.

2. Choose a Development Specialization

As you continue to grow your skills, you’ll need to choose an area of specialization. But what are the types of web development? All Web Developers are categorized into three main types:

  • Front-End Developer. A Front-End Developer works on the “client-side” of web development, meaning any portion of the site or app that users interact with. This can include a site’s layout, design, and the way users interact with it.

  • Back-End Developer. A Back-End Developer works on the “server-side” of web development. This is focused on the way a site functions and can include databases, servers, networks and hosting, and more.

  • Full-Stack Developer. A Full-Stack Developer is familiar with both front-and back-end development and works with both sides of a website.

3. Learn Key Programming Languages for Web Development

Whatever your area of concentration, you’ll need to know how to use a handful of different programming languages for web development and web design. So, what are the most common programming languages?

Three families of programming languages form the basic tools involved in virtually all aspects of web development:

  • HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)
  • CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)
  • JavaScript

Of course, the list goes on – these are just the beginning. In fact, web development is such a diverse and varied field that the list of all the tasks it can include (and all the coding languages and markup languages you might use to accomplish them) is too long to fit in this space. Fortunately, as a specialist, you can find and concentrate on the ones that work best for you.

4. Build Projects to Develop Your Web Developer Skills

With a grasp of the basics in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and a foundation of programming skills, you’re ready to begin building. As you go, you’ll gain experience using an ever-growing set of Web Developer skills. Some of these are technical skills, or “hard” skills, like programming in SQL or Python, using the jQuery library of functions for more efficient programming, or using tools like Git for version control. The best way to improve these web development skills is simply to start messing around – the more you use them, the better you’ll be.

There are also a number web design skills that are useful for Web Developers to have, with an understanding that responsive design is perhaps the most crucial. While Web Developers are not typically tasked with the overall site design, it’s an advantage for Developers to also have a solid understanding of common design principles. Front-End Developers, in particular, program the screens that users interact with – and they can be far more successful with a good grasp of user-centered design.

5. Build a Web Development Portfolio

A riveting Web Developer portfolio that shows off your strongest skills is your best tool when applying for web development jobs. There are three things to keep in mind when building a portfolio that will stand out from the pack.

First, your Web Developer portfolio should include a diverse selection of web development work. You don’t want to use every project you’ve ever worked on – your professional portfolio should be a highlight reel that not only demonstrates your best work, but shows your versatility. You want to be selective and highlight your best work, but your selection should be diverse enough that it demonstrates a solid understanding of the various elements of the position. When applying for Web Developer jobs, do a bit of research into the company and the role you’re looking to fill – then refine your portfolio even further, editing out unrelated examples and spotlighting your most relevant work.

Second, think about what makes you and your work unique. Emphasize the web development skills that most make you stand out – not just in the work you include in your portfolio, but in how the portfolio itself is presented. If you’re applying for design-related roles, for instance, your portfolio website should have a solid front end – a great user experience with a beautiful interface. And if you’re applying for a Web Developer role, ensure that your portfolio is displayed on a flawless site. That means no messy code.

Third, show your process. Employers aren’t looking only at the quality of work you produce, but at how you approach problems. Don’t be afraid to frame each example as a case study, providing a narrative of your thought process and the problem you were trying to solve with the project. Showing background on how your projects were created will help Recruiters and Hiring Managers make sense of your work, and say more than just a standalone piece. This is also a great opportunity to demonstrate your communication skills – an important part of excelling in a position.

Is Web Development a Growing Field?

Yes, the web development field is booming. There are more than 1.3 million Developer jobs available in North America, and more than 47,000 new development jobs were created in the last two years, with the market expected to grow an additional 15% in the next 5 years. For these reasons, Mondo found “Web Developer” the most in-demand job title in tech and one of its top-paying jobs.

What Is the Salary of a Web Developer?

According to job site Indeed, the average salary for Web Developers in the United States is $71,531, with Senior Web Developers averaging $95,325. That makes web development one of the most lucrative positions that do not require a degree.

How Can I Become a Web Developer Fast?

Coding bootcamps have become an increasingly popular option for aspiring Web Developers as they provide a hands-on learning experience and the chance to develop job-ready skills – in as little as 12 weeks.

Traditionally, many Web Developers have started with higher education in software engineering, computer science, or related fields. However, it’s also possible to come from a completely different industry. In fact, a growing number of professionals are taking steps later in their careers to learn development from scratch either by becoming self-taught or pursuing a diploma with a coding bootcamp. In fact, BrainStation’s Digital Skills Survey found that 55 percent of development respondents began their career in a different field and 58 percent have only been programming for five years or less.

What Is Needed to Become a Web Developer?

Here are some of the things you’ll need to learn to become a Web Developer:

  • Foundations: To become a Web Developer, you should develop a comprehensive understanding of how the web works. This will deepen your HTML and CSS knowledge to build and style more advanced static web pages, using frameworks such as Flexbox. It will also help you establish problem-solving practices and logic to understand advanced programming concepts.

  • Programming fundamentals: Foundational knowledge of JavaScript and object-oriented programming should be a starting point for aspiring Web Developers, as it will improve your ability to write and build components.

  • Front-end frameworks: It’s important for aspiring Web Developers to learn how to use React, a JavaScript framework, to build complex and dynamic web pages and professional-level user interfaces.

  • Web servers: To become a Web Developer, you’ll need to know how to build servers using a modern back-end framework and how to develop custom APIs and serve static websites and files.

  • Server-side programming: It’s important for Web Developers to have an understanding of Server Side Rendering and Templating Engines, which are used to create empty page templates populated with dynamic data, such as a series of product pages for an eCommerce store.

  • Databases: Aspiring Web Developers will also have to understand core concepts around data and learn how to manage databases and data on a web server.

As in other tech fields, it’s important for Web Developers to network and to keep learning, as programming languages and techniques change frequently. Apart from coding bootcamps, web development courses, panel discussions, and workshops, you can also stay current by contributing to an open-source commons, such as GitHub or Bootstrap.

And of course, to become a Web Developer, you will need a portfolio of completed projects for your job search. Regardless of your specific interests, it’s important to showcase your versatility to ensure clients from various industries get a sense of your abilities.

How Many Programming Languages Should I Know?

A simple question with a complicated answer. It’s complicated because it depends, like so many things in life, on multiple variables. Are you a beginner Web Developer or a pro? What types of projects do you work on, or want to work on? And what does the future hold?

If you’re a new Web Developer, it makes sense to start with the basics—but on the other hand, a certain amount of specialization can set you apart from your competitors. Ultimately, the solution is to determine which languages are useful in your field, with the degree of specialization that’s right for you, and are growing in popularity rather than falling out of it.

To get a handle on these trends, BrainStation conducted a survey of the current digital landscape. Based on the answers from thousands of professional respondents, we’ve put together an overview to help guide you toward the programming language you should begin learning now.

The More Programming Languages You Know, The Better

If you’re a Web Developer, take comfort in the fact that you’re in a growth industry. The market for Web Developers is expected to grow by another 15 percent by 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Because of this rapid growth, the field has seen an influx of relatively new talent; 58 percent of our survey respondents said they’ve been working in development for five years or less.

Our survey also revealed that the more experience Web Developers have under their belt, the more likely they are to work in full-stack development, and the broader their range of specialties. The takeaway: for a Web Developer to move forward in their careers, it’s crucial to continue learning new and more specialized languages—which, ironically, make them less specialized, and better able to collaborate with or manage teams working at more stages of a broader range of projects.

Another paradox: when it comes to languages, a small number crop up almost everywhere—and yet the long tail of highly specialized and esoteric languages is just as important.

Asked which programming languages they use currently, respondents overwhelmingly pointed to JavaScript (80 percent), with SQL (47 percent), Python (35 percent), and Java (27 percent) rounding out the leaderboard. Consider these the basics: if you're a Web Developer, one or more of these is a virtual necessity, no matter what your area of expertise.

Respondents also identified JavaScript and Python as the most enjoyable languages to work in, which not only explains their popularity but also suggests that their popularity in the future is reasonably assured.

Most remarkable, even with a list of no less than 17 programming languages to choose from, 33 percent of respondents checked “Other”—making it the third most common response, and proving that while the industry may have its favorites, there’s still plenty of demand for more obscure languages.

Fastest-Growing Languages

As new applications emerge, we should expect the list of most frequently used languages to change. Asked what will have the biggest effect on their industry over the next five to 10 years, a large majority of respondents (78 percent) chose artificial intelligence and its subset of machine learning as the biggest opportunities for growth.

Other trends they’re anticipating: the Internet of things (54 percent), augmented reality (53 percent), and blockchain (41 percent). But while they’re anticipating these technologies will gain prominence, only a minority of Developers have worked with them directly—83 percent of respondents have yet to work on AI platforms or blockchain tech, and 80 percent have no experience with IoT devices.

In fact, blockchain tech is still so new that intermediate-level respondents were more likely to have experience working with it than senior-level Developers—but this was still only one in four. These figures suggest that blockchain tech is an area beginners should brush up on to improve their chances of advancement—and Senior Developers should learn to ensure they stay relevant.

What Languages Should a New Web Developer Learn?

Given the “Big five” areas where growth is expected to happen—AI and machine learning, IoT, AR, and blockchain—what languages should you learn? While the answer depends, to some extent, on which of these five areas you choose to focus on, the same three names came up again and again: C++, Java, and Python.

Within each of the aforementioned concentrations, more languages crop up in addition to these three. In Blockchain: Ruby and Solidity. In IoT: C, JavaScript, and PHP. In AI and machine learning: R, Lisp, and Prolog. And in AR: C#, JavaScript, and Swift. But in every case, C++, Java, and Python are among the leaders.

These are the languages people are using today to work in what they’ve identified as development’s most burgeoning fields. What about tomorrow? There’s no surefire way to predict the future, but we can look at which languages are growing in use the fastest. One way to do this is to compare search queries—a proxy for measuring which languages people are currently learning. Over at Github, a compilation of search queries suggests that the fastest-growing languages are relatively new—as you’d expect.

In 2018, Java-compatible Kotlin grew the fastest year-over-year, more than doubling. HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL) for cloud infrastructure, the JavaScript superset language TypeScript, Microsoft’s automation framework PowerShell, and systems programming language Rust round out the top five.

But not far behind, in the eighth position, is Python. Despite its popularity, Python still managed to chalk up 50 percent year-over-year growth—the sign of a true juggernaut on the rise.

What Makes a Good Web Developer?

According to BrainStation's Digital Skills Survey, 50 percent of executives say they will be doing the most hiring in development. Interestingly, though, our respondents also found development the most difficult field to hire for, and as the demand for these skills increases, it will only become more challenging.

What should companies be looking for? And how can aspiring Developers stand out when entering the market?

To start, consider the following definition, which provides a well-rounded picture of a good Developer:

“Writes working code, that has been tested for correctness, in the time allocated, following accepted best practices, in a way that can be easily maintained and enhanced, in collaboration with their team, and continuously improves their knowledge and skills throughout their career.”

Let’s take a closer look at these ideas to see what makes a good Developer.

A good Web Developer must:

Write Working Code

Computers are extremely precise, digital machines. The slightest deviation from what a computer expects means that code won’t compile, won’t run or will crash. The whole point of programming and building software is to write code that the computer successfully processes, producing the desired result. In other words, a good Web Developer has to write code that works.

He or she has a sharp eye for details and is constantly scanning code for anything that looks “off.” They write clean code that is well structured and uses tools to identify potential errors before the code runs.

Write Code That Works Correctly

Just because the code works, doesn’t mean it works correctly. Getting the code to work is only the first hurdle.

Code that doesn’t work correctly is as useless as code that doesn’t work at all, and potentially more dangerous. Wrong results can have consequences, from mundane (and occasionally humorous) UI annoyances that frustrate end-users and inhibit their productivity — to the disastrous with loss of life or business revenue.

All errors missed by Developers will cause program crashes, system failure, data corruption, security breaches, or turn away users who expect reliability. These errors become increasingly expensive to fix as they find their way into production and are discovered by end-users. Just as physical structures require thorough testing to ensure they are “up to code,” software requires the same stringent standards.

A good Developer, therefore, adopts a test-driven mindset, actively imagining all scenarios where errors can occur, how they should be handled, and writing tests that prove the code is correct.

Respect Timelines and Deadlines

Computers represent the promise of efficiency and productivity. They allow users to accomplish and understand more. Developers work within this fast-paced world using computers to bring this productivity and efficiency to reality.

A side-effect of this world is the expectation of having everything done now. That pressure comes from managers, clients, users, and the business climate of getting to market first. That can create a lot of pressure, and Developers are only human.

Estimating time on projects is a difficult task, as there are many unknown and unexpected problems that come up when building complex software. There is always a temptation to underestimate and overlook the true details required to complete tasks. Yet underestimating time to delivery is dangerous, creating stress and burnout, the pressure to cut corners, and negative feelings from all stakeholders in the project.

It is important to identify all details possible for a project, have a realistic perspective of the amount of work that can be accomplished, and reasonably overestimate timelines to account for the unknown and unexpected. Communication is key when timelines start slipping and making sure that everyone is aware of difficulties ahead of time helps to handle and avoid missing deadlines.

A good Developer sets reasonable expectations, communicates openly about unexpected roadblocks, and maintains the trust of their team and other stakeholders.

Follow Web Development Best Practices

Once the code works (and works correctly), then it needs to be written in the best way possible. Whatever approach the Developer has taken in writing the code, it should be weighed against the solutions of the larger Developer community. A unique, novel approach may be an innovative solution–or it may lack considerations that other Developers have discovered over the years.

Writing software is a complex process with a rich history of many minds thinking about the best way to solve common problems. The result is numerous best practices.

Following these best practices saves time because problems don’t need to be re-solved (instead, existing solutions just need to be applied appropriately). This allows Developers to build “on the shoulders of giants.” Further, as different Developers contribute over time, there is a common understanding that any new Developer on a project can readily understand.

There are two levels of best practices: industry-wide and company-wide. Company-wide practices will generally be a subset of industry-wide practices but adapted for the specifics of a company’s software domain, and the preferences of the Developers.

A good Developer learns the best practices of their company and applies industry-wide best practices to save time and improve the overall quality of the code.

Write Code That Is Easily Maintained and Enhanced

The code compiles, runs, and has been tested for correctness. Things look good, but…how easy is it to change the code in the future? What happens if a new feature needs to be added?

Engineer and Author Martin Fowler says: “Any fool can write code that a computer can understand. Good Programmers write code that humans can understand.”

While a computer can run any valid code, ultimately the code is maintained by humans. At some point, a Developer is going to have to read, understand, and modify code that may have been written by another Developer (who may no longer be part of their team or company).

Software development is a social endeavor, with many people working and relying on the codebase. Questions such as “How much is obvious from the code? How much needs to be explained? How quickly can the code be scanned and understood?” all help a Developer remember that they are not writing code for themselves.

A good Developer writes high-quality code that other Web Developers can easily understand and modify.

Collaborate With Their Team

While a Web Developer spends much of their time interacting with a computer, the reality of their work environment is social. It’s important to respect the team, know the roles, and responsibilities, and what’s expected. Big picture questions ensure the Developer is properly aligned to the company and their role: “What is the vision/mission/values of the company? What is the product suite offered by the company? Who are the customers? Who do problems get reported to?”

Knowing these details allows a Developer to grow within the context of their specific company or situation. A good Developer will, therefore, spend the time needed to understand the company’s best practices and standards. They will also improve the development process in ways that save time and increase productivity. Most importantly, they will have to have a positive attitude that makes the workplace more productive and supportive.

A good Developer recognizes that their career and reputation is their responsibility. They strive to be a pleasure to work with, and always find ways to make the workload of their team lighter and more efficient.

A Good Web Developer Is Continuously Learning

Technology is always evolving, which is part of what makes it so exciting. While some principles and approaches of computer science have remained for decades, areas of software development are constantly changing. Some software domains are more stable, others are more volatile. Legacy software is entrenched with older technology that requires more maintenance with little innovation, while emerging domains may require frequent rewrites every few years as things change.

That’s not necessarily a problem if it is embraced. Knowledge in domains like data science, UX design, product management, digital marketing, and SEO, can strengthen a Developer’s overall understanding of technology, helping them relate and work with colleagues and clients across departments and industries.

A good Web Developer, in short, is a lifelong learner that is always looking to expand their knowledge and skills, year over year.

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