How to Become a Web Developer

by Blake Huggins
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Individuals can develop the necessary skills to become web developers by earning degrees, graduating coding bootcamps, or obtaining industry certificates.

Web developers carry out vital work that sustains our digital society. These professionals create websites and work behind the scenes to ensure that applications run smoothly. They provide stability, add visual flair, and integrate the platforms that house our data.

Learning how to become a web developer may seem daunting given the scope of the job, but the process itself is straightforward. Individuals wondering "What is a web developer?" can consult this guide for information on the education requirements to start careers in this field.

What Is a Web Developer?

Web developers design, maintain, and optimize websites and other web-based applications for consumer use. They rely on insights from computer programming, software development, and graphic design, often working alongside professionals in each field.

Most web developers specialize in several aspects of the development process. Duties, tools, and techniques vary depending on the position. The following information provides insight into some common web developer roles.

Types of Web Developers

These web developers focus on the user-facing sides of websites. They create intuitive user interfaces with a keen eye for compelling design. Back-end developers specialize in websites' nuts and bolts, optimizing the crucial hidden elements most users never see. They often design databases and use languages like PHP, CSS, or Python. Full-stack web developers combine front-end and back-end development. They consider the creation process from both angles and possess the skills to complete tasks on either end of the spectrum

What Do Web Developers Do?

Web developers typically work with web-based application servers, desktop or notebook computers, and other programming devices. They use those tools to develop the coding processes for functional and visually compelling websites. When writing code, web developers use languages like HTML, Python, JavaScript, SQL, PHP, and CSS.

Web development also includes site maintenance and upkeep. In addition to design, qualified professionals evaluate code for accuracy, redundancies, and structural integrity. They increase site performance by enhancing server-side components and optimizing site elements for scalability or outside integration.

Web developers often work alongside other professionals in web design and software development. These fields share some similarities, but the following information details some key differences to keep in mind.

These specialists focus on the codes that allow websites to run smoothly. They possess advanced programming skills, including competency in machine learning technology, systems analysis, and database management. They often work with web designers to ensure proper functionality. Web designers emphasize front-end aesthetics and feel. They craft, coordinate, and optimize the visual components that make websites compelling and attractive. These professionals also integrate site content and brand voice in accurate and consistent ways. Software developers possess many of the same programming and technical skills as web developers but with a broader scope. They write, test, and analyze the code for computer programs and other software applications. Some software developers focus on mobile or web-based applications, while others work on operating systems, telecommunications tools, or large network infrastructures

Where Do Web Developers Work?

According to O*Net Online, most web developers work regular schedules in office-based settings. Most enjoy some freedom in their tasks, including a balance between structured and unstructured work. They also value collaborative work, with over 70% of web developers rating work with others in a group or team as very or extremely important.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ranks computer systems design, software publishing and management, and scientific or technical consulting services among the top industries for web developers.

Web Developer Skills

Skilled web developers need proficiency in common coding and programming languages — such as Python, C++, and JavaScript — before entering the workforce. Coding bootcamps can help, but only if students select the best bootcamp suited to their career goals. Some bootcamps may focus on areas other than web development, for example.

Skills Web Developers Need to Build

Soft Skills

  • Operations evaluation
  • Project management
  • Complex problem-solving
  • Data analysis
  • Deductive reasoning

Hard Skills

  • Coding and programming
  • SEO strategy
  • Testing and debugging
  • User interface design
  • Database management

Steps to Become a Web Developer

Skilled web developers must complete formal education, gain practical experience, build a resume and portfolio, and, in some cases, earn additional certifications. Find out more about how each step can advance your career below.

1. Earn Degree(s)

An aspiring web developer must first complete an education to develop basic coding and programming skills. In most cases, this is a computer science degree program with core courses in systems design, data management, and the essential programming languages used by industry professionals.

An associate degree in computer science typically takes two years to complete, while a bachelor's degree in computer science could require four years. Senior-level roles may require more advanced education, like a master's or a doctorate, which include several more years beyond a bachelor's.

The level of education required for employment varies among companies and sectors. While it is possible to land an entry-level web development position with an associate degree or certificate, a bachelor's degree will open up a wider range of opportunities and better position you for future advancement.

2. Pursue Internship(s)

Landing a solid internship as a new web developer provides vital work experience. Internship opportunities give learners the chance to apply their knowledge and develop new skills as they engage with clients and collaborate with other developers.

Some web developer degree programs provide internship placements. If your program does not provide placements, ask around your professional network. Employers and corporate partners often sponsor internship opportunities for new web developers.

3. Build Your Portfolio

Keeping an updated portfolio that highlights the quality and breadth of your accomplishments will appeal to potential employers. Some companies may require a portfolio when applying.

Capstone course materials, completed work from past internships, and aspects of current side projects all make great portfolio items. Web developer programs often feature resources and opportunities to help build relevant portfolios.

4. Earn Certification(s)

Certificates in web development offer several distinct advantages. These programs attest to any additional skills or coding competencies learners possess and keep professionals up to date with the latest developments in this evolving field. A certificate can also give applicants an extra boost on the job hunt.

Some schools offer standalone certificates in front-end or full-stack web development. Conversely, businesses like Microsoft, Adobe, and Amazon offer exam-based certifications in areas like JavaScript and cloud development. Zend has similar opportunities in PHP training. Certification renewal requirements vary by provider.

5. Create Your Resume

Every aspiring web developer needs a concise and informative resume. This document is an extension of your professional self, so it's important to know how to build a resume that accurately conveys your value and worth.

Successful resumes highlight the skills and qualifications that make individuals stand among other job candidates. Applicants should list their programming competencies and coding languages, education and professional experience, and any other technical skills or industry certifications.

What to Look for in a Web Development Degree Program

Finding a school with accreditation should always rank among students' top priorities. Aspiring web developers should also consider programs that support their goals.

If you're considering college for the first time, a bachelor's program may offer more opportunities for advancement. If you already have a bachelor's degree in a related field, a certificate program could help you learn new coding and programming skills.

Accreditation

Prospective students should always research potential programs to verify their accreditation status. Quality schools will hold some form of institutional accreditation to ensure their standing.

Sometimes individual departments will possess programmatic accreditation. For example, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) delivers credentials in this field.

Web Developer Salary Information

Salary potential and job outlook figures for web development professionals seem promising. According to the BLS, the projected job growth for qualified web developers is twice the average for all occupations nationwide. Web developers bring home a median annual wage of $30,000 more than the average worker in other industries.

Web Developer Career Outlook

$77,200
Median Salary

8%
Job Growth (2019-2029)

WA, CA, GA
Highest Paying States (May 2020)

Source: BLS

Similar Careers

Related fields, like software engineering and computer science, rely on a similar set of skills and often overlap with web design and development.

Computer Engineer

Computer engineers develop the hardware tools used by web developers. While distinct from computer science and web development itself, computer engineering requires similar training within the same discipline.

Web Engineer

Web engineering focuses on the design tools and modeling techniques that support internet-based application development. Professionals in this field need the same coding and programming skills as web developers.

Web Development Professional Organizations

This organization supports the advancement of Black women in tech by publicizing job openings and hosting development events. It first launched in 2011 and has since reached over 3,000 coders, web developers, and designers. This San Francisco-based initiative supports aspiring Black and Latino/a web developers by promoting equitable access to leadership positions in web development and other tech industries. This organization supports its members through an annual fellowship program. WIT helps new and rising web development professionals through corporate sponsorships and educational programming. This organization confers annual leadership awards and hosts job fairs for new graduates

Interview with an Expert

James Hoff has been creating web applications since 1999. Reluctantly foregoing his childhood dream of playing baseball for the New York Mets, he decided to pursue his favorite childhood hobby as a full-time career: computer programming. His core interests include database-driven web applications, web standards compliance, and SEO-friendly code. Hoff graduated in 2002 from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor of science in computer science. He began working with Boomtown Internet Group in 2006. Outside of programming, his interests include baseball, weightlifting, and reformed theology.

Why become a web developer? What are some challenges and high points in this role? What type of person does well in this role?

The most compelling reason to get into the field of web development is the high demand for this expertise. Nearly all homes and technologies in the developed world are connected to the internet and have some type of interaction with a website. The job opportunities are seemingly limitless.

Furthermore, the general heading "web development" encompasses a wide range of interests and activities. There is no single job description for "web development" in general. Some developers put on a suit and write code for banks. Other developers wear pajamas and write code in their home office for the mom and pop shop down the street.

Because it does take some math and programming education to break into the field, the profession is usually a best fit for detail-oriented people with a fundamental love of technology and the web. It is a highly rewarding experience to create a website from the ground up and to see it live in the wild.

What skills do employers look for when hiring web developers? What advice would you give to students about how to land a web development internship?

When hiring a web developer for my business, Boomtown Internet Group, I'm looking for: programming proficiency, attention to detail, and temperament.

A candidate's programming proficiency is make-or-break in their ability to get the job done day to day. A candidate can make themselves stand out to an employer by having proficiency in a range of related programming languages.

Some languages and technologies don't relate to one another, so it may not matter that you know them. Your employer will care about the languages that work in tandem every day to get a website living and breathing on the internet.

Likewise, attention to detail is a quality that will make-or-break a candidate's ability to perform. Web development is a profession where a single misplaced character can bring an entire website down! So there is sometimes a lot of power in a programmer's hands.

As an employer, I'm looking for a candidate who can wield that power with great discipline and control. It may seem odd that a candidate's temperament plays into the equation here, but web developers are almost always working on a team. Your ability to concede to another developer's strategy or to use a language that is not your first choice is a very important quality.

In fact, temperament and attitude can be a great "in" when you don't have all of the technical qualifications for a given position. This is especially true when seeking an internship because you're using the position to learn the technical. You will need the good temperament and attitude to play well on the team and to learn from other, more experienced developers.

What's a typical day for a web developer? Who do you communicate with? What kind of hours do you keep?

Web development is essentially a constant journey in problem solving. One moment you're solving a conceptual problem (a problem in your head — "how do we solve this at all?") and the next you're solving the same problem in code (a problem on the screen — "how does this solution translate to the website?").

You'll be working on tasks related to both website design and function. The website visitor plainly sees the design, while they will not see the code that makes it function.

You'll be working all alone on some tasks or with a larger team on others. When working with a team, you'll discover the variety in your team's personalities very quickly. Some developers are quick thinkers who adopt new technologies with open arms. Other developers are more methodical, skeptical of the latest coding frameworks, and may adopt new technologies more slowly. A web development team benefits from ALL of these personality types!

Another difference between developers is in their ability to communicate directly with the client. Some employers will expect you to communicate with the client directly, while others will allow you to write code all day and leave the communication to management. Depending on the employer, you may also put in a straight 8-hour day or you may work 4 hours here and 4 hours there.

From my experience, some problems are so challenging that there is benefit in taking a break and coming back later with a "fresh set of eyes." Other problems can only be solved by tackling them from start to finish. As such, the typical day in web development is anything but typical and makes for a highly rewarding profession!

Blake Huggins is a Boston-based writer and researcher with roots in north Texas and southern Oklahoma. He holds degrees in religion and philosophy and writes widely on higher education, healthcare, and the humanities broadly conceived. He earned a PhD from Boston University and has taught college courses in philosophy, writing, and composition.

Frequently Asked Questions

true How Do You Become a Certified Web Developer?

Candidates must first complete comprehensive coding and programming training to pass certification exams. Independent organizations provide certifications for web developers in popular coding languages.

true Can I Be a Web Developer With a Certificate?

If you already have a STEM background, earning a certificate in coding or programming may qualify you for some entry-level positions.

true What Education Do You Need to Become a Web Developer?

According to O*Net Online, 46% of responding web developers reported possessing a bachelor's degree, though educational requirements vary widely by employer.

true How Long Does It Take to Become a Web Developer?

Your career timeline depends on how you plan to complete your training. Coding bootcamps only last a few months, while full degrees take much longer.

true Do Web Developers Work From Home?

Some web developers commute to offices for large firms, while others work independently from their homes. These professionals work in many different settings and typically enjoy some flexibility in their day-to-day work.

Header Image Credit: AnnaStills | Getty Images

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