Lorelei Yang
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Wonky consultant with a passion for words

If you enjoy both technical and creative work, a career as a web developer may be the perfect fit for you. As a web developer, you'll get use both technical know-how and creativity to help your employers or clients produce beautiful websites that meet their business needs. Compared to many other technical careers, being a web developer requires a relatively low educational investment; this makes it an excellent career choice for those who aren't convinced of the value of a four-year college degree.

Should you decide to become a web developer, you'll benefit from a strong job market: demand for web developers is growing at a double-digit rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports expected growth of 13 percent for web developer jobs from 2018–2028. This far exceeds the growth rate for jobs overall, speaking to how valuable and in-demand web developers are.

Additionally, a career as a web developer has the added benefit of being particularly flexible. In comparison to many other careers, web development careers tend to be more amenable to work-from-home or remote work arrangements. Consequently, those who are interested in the digital nomad lifestyle or who need the flexibility to work from home for personal reasons may find that a career as a web developer is especially suited to their needs.

What does a web developer do?

As the term implies, web developers develop websites. This means they design, code and test websites that are both aesthetically-pleasing and functional. Oftentimes, web developers will work with both technical and consumer-facing people in an organization to ensure that the end product — the website they're developing — both meets the technical requirements of an organization's infrastructure and fulfills the consumer-facing organization's marketing and messaging goals.

Web developers may work for a single company as a full-time employee, in which case they're responsible for their employer's website. In such cases, it's likely that the web developer's employer will be a large company with a large website (as a general rule, small companies with relatively simple websites don't need full-time web developers on staff). Other web developers may work for agencies that specialize in web development, in which case they work on agency clients' websites; still other web developers may be independent freelancers who are responsible for finding and managing their own clients.

There are three types of web development specialities, each of which has slightly different skills and responsibilities:

• Frontend development: This deals with the visible elements of a website, such as the pages themselves and their elements (e.g. menus, buttons, forms and more).

• Backend development: This involves the behind-the-scenes elements of a website (e.g. servers, applications, databases and more).

• Full-stack development: This combines both front and backend development work. The term "full-stack" refers to the idea of having a full range of skills for all aspects of web development.

The 5 steps to becoming a web developer.

1. Gain the necessary education.

First and foremost, you need to be educated in the basic tools of web development. The good news is that a four-year college degree isn't necessarily required to land a web-developer job. In many cases, a two-year associate's degree is sufficient. For those who aren't at all interested in a traditional classroom experience, there are also bootcamps through organizations such as General Assembly offering crash courses in web development and other technical skills.

Regardless of the route you take, you'll learn how to code websites and use WordPress (which powers 58% of all websites). Most likely, you'll also learn some basic principles of user experience (UX) design to ensure that you understand best practices in website design. You may also learn database-management technology and search engine optimization (SEO), which are excellent tools to have in a web developer's toolkit.

2. Compile a portfolio to show prospective employers and/or clients.

A strong portfolio that shows off your web development chops is an invaluable asset when interviewing for web developer jobs. Regardless of whether you're seeking an in-house position or trying to acquire freelance clients on your own, those considering you as a web developer hire will want to see examples of your work.

A strong portfolio could include:

  • Screengrabs of and potentially links to websites that you've developed
  • Examples of your design work
  • Positive testimonials from past and current clients

3. Stay current on your skills.

Given the speed with which technology evolves, it's important for web developers to stay up-to-date on the new skills and technologies needed for their jobs. To keep yourself competitive as a web developer, you'll want to ensure that you're aware of trends. When necessary, you should learn new programming languages or conceptual frameworks to ensure that your skillset remains current.

4. Join relevant groups to learn from others.

On a related note, joining a web developers' community — whether virtually or in-person — can greatly benefit your continued education as a web developer. By connecting with others, you'll have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, judge (and learn from) others' work, be inspired by what people are doing and stay abreast of developments in your field.

5. Keep an eye out for well-designed websites.

Staying on the lookout for well-designed websites that are attractive and function smoothly is another great way to augment your skills as a web developer. Taking the time to understand how the best websites are designed and potentially learning how to code their key features and functionality can help you add to your skillset.

What skills do you need to be a web developer?

First and foremost, you need coding skills to be a web developer. You don't have to be a wunderkind at it — just know the basic ins and outs of HTML/CSS, JavaScript and other common programming languages. You'll also want to have a solid working knowledge of WordPress and Photoshop, both of which you're likely to use fairly extensively. More generally, a good web developer also needs analytical abilities and interpersonal skills. Because a web developer's work requires both technical chops and the ability to bring a vision to life in collaboration with others, it's important to have the ability to break complex ideas down into easily digestible nuggets and work well with others in the pursuit of a common goal.

How much money can you make as a web developer?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median annual wage of $69,430 for web developers in May 2019. With that said, there was a broad range of salaries overall: the lowest 10% of earners made less than $37,930, while the highest 10 percent of earners made over $124,480.

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Lorelei Yang is a New York-based consultant and freelance writer/researcher. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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