So you’re interested in learning to code and perhaps start a career in web development? But you’re not quite sure where to start and what skills to learn to become a web developer? And more importantly: What does a web developer do exactly?
The fastest way to start learning web development is to understand what specializations you can choose between first. This will help you find the right tools and programming languages to learn.
Therefore, in this post I’ll walk you through the fundamentals of what web development is all about. We’ll look at the most common specializations you can choose between to help you find the best web dev programming languages and tools to learn from the beginning.
By the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll have a clear idea about the different parts of web-based projects, how web developers build websites, and what skills you need to start a career as a web developer.
Here are a few related articles you might want to read:
- How to Start Learning Coding? 6 Practical Steps for Beginners
- Why Learn Coding? 12 Essential Benefits From Learning Programming
Please note: This post contains affiliate links to products I use and recommend. If you choose to purchase using these links, I may receive a small commission for referring you. But please, only buy products you believe will help you achieve your goals faster. Thank you for your support!
Why learn web development?
If you’re just getting started with coding, you might not have a clear idea about what to learn and focus on. There’s web development, mobile development, data science, and much more to choose from.
What matters the most is that you know why you want to learn to code. This will help you stay focused in the long run and learn the skills you need much faster.
You can start by asking yourself:
- What’s your long term goal for learning programming?
- What do you want to build with coding in the future?
Then, depending on your goals, you’ll need to learn the relevant tools for that field. Of course, it’s up to you to decide what to specialize in – the choice is yours!
However, in case you’re interested in creating awesome web experiences in the future, here are five practical advantages and reasons for learning web development:
Reason #1: High demand in the job market
Web developers are among the most in-demand professionals these days. You can find job opportunities across a wide range of industries and around the globe.
In fact, the demand for skilled web developers is estimated to grow by 15% in the U.S. between 2016-2026 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s faster than the average for all occupations thanks to the growing popularity of e-commerce and mobile devices.
Reason #2: Quick progress
What’s great about web development is that you can start learning the skills right away and build your first, real-life websites in a matter of hours.
Then, step-by-step you can learn new, more advanced skills, build practical projects for practice, and start working on your first small jobs as a freelance web developer.
Later on, when you feel confident enough and have a solid portfolio to showcase your skills and work, you can start applying for your first full-time developer job.
Reason #3: Small upfront cost to learn
There’s nothing holding you back from teaching yourself the skills to become a web developer. It doesn’t matter where you are or what your background is like – anyone can learn web dev skills these days!
All you need is a computer and internet connection, and a text editor to write your code with.
And what’s even better is that you can start learning on a shoestring budget. It’s perfectly OK to use free resources to learn the basics and start building your first projects.
Recommended: 8 Great Websites to Learn Coding for Free
Later on, as you start learning more advanced topics, you can consider investing a few bucks in a quality online course with top ratings. Here’s a helpful post to find the best online coding courses out there.
Web developer job description:
Alright, let’s start with the very fundamentals here. If you’re new to coding, you’re probably hearing tons of new terminology that can feel a bit overwhelming.
So, what does a web developer do exactly?
Broadly speaking, web developers are responsible for the coding and design of websites and web applications.
However, a single website has heaps of different tasks and pieces that work together. The bigger the project, the more complex the puzzle becomes.
Of course, it’s impossible for one person to know everything and to build a big website like Facebook or Google. To make things easier, a single web developer is usually responsible for a smaller set of tasks. When everyone is an expert in their area, the team becomes stronger.
These tasks make up the specialization for each web developer. Some use more creativity, while others focus on technical skills and problem-solving. We’ll look at the most common specializations in a minute.
Where do web developers work?
The work environment for web developers and programmers varies a lot. You can find work at small and large businesses, schools, universities, research institutes, NGOs, or you can even start your own business.
Thus, depending on what you want to do in the future, you could choose to:
- Get a full-time web developer job: Work at a company in your area or relocate to a tech hub like Silicon Valley.
- Become a freelance web developer: Work from home or remotely for clients around the world as a digital nomad.
- Start your own web development business: Launch your own small business, build a solid client base and grow from there.
- Work part-time to earn a side income: Use some of your free time to work as a part-time web developer from home.
The best part of learning web development is that you can start working on small freelance jobs already while you’re learning. Hence, you don’t have to wait until you feel ready to apply for a full-time job to start making money.
I mean, if you can earn a nice side income while you’re learning, why not do it?
And what’s even better: As you build projects as a freelancer, you gain valuable experience in working with clients while adding projects to your portfolio at the same time. Not bad!
How web developers build websites:
Depending on the project, you can build a website either by yourself, with a small team, or together with hundreds of other developers.
Needless to say, bigger projects require more diversified and specialized skills from each developer. But regardless of the differences in scope, every web-based project has a somewhat similar outline. Here’s a rough example of the different stages of a website project:
- Project planning: Start by defining a long-term goal and find a target group for the project.
- Research: Choose the tools to use and figuring out how to reach and approach the target audience.
- Content planning: Determine what information and features the website will require.
- Design fundamentals: Use corporate identity, colors, typography, etc.
- Prototype design and wireframing: Map out the features and rough structure for the website.
- First test phase: Carry out rough usability testing to figure out if users find the wireframe OK.
- Development phase: Create the actual code for the website, build necessary features and combine the design with the technical features.
- Testing and launch: Second round of thorough testing, preferably with users from the target audience.
Of course, each project is unique and the individual steps vary a lot. But the rough outline always aims at the same outcome: to offer users a smooth, engaging experience using the website.
But what does a web developer do before they can start working on real-life projects? What skills do you need to learn to become a web developer? Let’s take a look.
Required skills to become a web developer:
There’s no formal educational requirements or a blueprint for a universal web developer skillset. Each web developer you meet will tell a different story about their background and learning experience. And as you start learning, your path will be unique, too.
Broadly speaking, web developers use a huge selection of different skills and tools to build websites. A single web developer can never master all of them. Instead, if you’re planning to become a web developer, you need to choose a certain area to specialize in.
That’s because it’s better to be an expert on just one area than being a jack of all trades and knowing just a little bit of everything. Choosing the right tools to focus on will also make you a more valuable candidate for web dev jobs in the future. Just something to keep in mind.
The most common division you’ll see is into these two areas:
- Front-end web development
- Back-end web development
Now, you’ve probably come across these two already, but let’s take a closer look at both of them next:
#1: Front-end web development
Front-end web developers work on the parts of a web project that the user can interact with in their web browser.
That’s everything you see on your screen:
- Design and layouts
- Colors, etc.
Thus, front-end developers take the initial design with sketches and wireframes for a certain project and bring it to life on the screen.
The most important part of front-end development is to make sure the website works smoothly and is easy to use. You want to make sure the users understand what the website is about, how they should be using it, and where to find the essential features and tools right away.
In short: the fewer questions users have, the better the front-end is working.
The less confused the users feel, the more likely they are to stay on the website longer. Of course, that translates into more visitors, more time spent on the website, and potentially more revenue for the business.
(Here’s an eye-opening book for learning the secrets of great user experience.)
Front-end tools and languages
The basic toolkit of any front-end developer consists of three fundamental languages:
As a front-end web developer, you’ll use HTML to create the structure and content for a web page, such as text, images, links, lists, etc.
Basic Front-end developer toolkit
To sum things up, the basic front-end web development skills you should master are:
- Building static websites: Combine HTML and CSS to create beautiful web pages.
- Creating UI designs and layouts: Taking a design and creating the HTML/CSS markup to bring the design to life.
- Deploying and maintaining websites: Learn how to register a domain name, sign up for web hosting, and manage your website files via FTP
- Implementing responsive design: Make sure the website looks great and works perfectly on any device and screen size.
Ok, so front-end developers create the web pages a user sees in their browser. For example, when you’re reading this article, you’re seeing the content I wrote a while ago. (Drop me a line in the comments section and share your thoughts – I’d love to hear what you think!)
But how are all these pages delivered to the browser? And when I write an article or when you create a profile on Facebook, where does the data go?
Let’s take a look:
#2: Back-end web development
When a website user clicks a link or submits a form with their data in it, their browser connects to a web server. That server is a computer that uses software to manage and process data for a given website.
For example, the individual web page files such as text or images and other data are stored on a server. That includes your Facebook user data or my blog articles.
And this is where back-end development steps into the picture.
Back-end developers make sure that the web server knows what data to send back to the user’s browser.
Thus, whereas front-end development is all about what the users can see and interact with, back-end development focuses on the “invisible” parts or “logic” of web projects.
Related: How Do Websites Work Exactly?
For example, let’s say you want to create a user profile in an online shop. To make sure you can log in with your credentials next week, your user data needs to be saved on the server.
Back-end developers write the necessary code that takes care of this. A web application makes sure your data is stored securely and retrieved properly when you log in the next time.
Back-end programming languages and tools
Whereas front-end developers have a more or less similar set of tools to learn, back-end web developers can choose between a wider range of languages.
Therefore, before you decide which programming language you want to learn, make sure it’s a relevant tool for the jobs you’ll apply to in the future. If you want to work for a specific company in your area, find out what programming languages they use, for example.
Here are a few common and popular back-end programming languages you might have heard of already:
Also, bear in mind that back-end developers are responsible for storing and managing data as we discussed above. Thus, they need to learn a database management tool such as MySQL or PostgreSQL, too.
Here’s a helpful post about the best programming languages for web development. Check it out!
Is back-end development more difficult than front-end development?
All in all, back-end development might feel more complex and abstract than front-end work. And in a way that’s true, of course.
When you’re a front-end developer, you see the results of your work directly in your browser. You can test different layouts and customize any visual part of the website and see how it looks (and if it works) right away.
Now, back-end developers spend more of their time developing the underlying logic and features for a website project. Thus, if you become a back-end developer, you spend your days planning your code and mapping out the different functions of your web app.
Also, you need to think about performance: how can you write efficient code so that your programs run fast? This is why back-end developers can benefit a lot from learning Computer Science basics, too.
At the end of the day, these two specializations are totally different, but they need to work together seamlessly.
If front-end developers do a poor job, users will have a hard time understanding how the website works. If that’s the case, it doesn’t really matter how awesome the web app running the background is.
And the other way around: if back-end developers create a web app that’s slow and sluggish, a beautiful and easy-to-use web page doesn’t help much. Users will grow impatient and stop using the website altogether.
Combining both areas: Full-stack web development
In case you can’t quite decide which area to focus on, don’t worry. You can learn both of them and become a full-stack web developer instead.
Mastering both front-end and back-end development skills will make you a super versatile, in-demand specialist for web-based projects.
To become a full-stack developer, you need to understand how the different parts of a website work together and depend on one another. In other words, you’d need to know how to manage projects as a whole and fit the different parts and roles together for the optimal outcome.
That being said, full-stack developers often make excellent team leaders and project managers, since they know how to communicate with each team member and understand their “language”. They know what’s possible and what it takes for each team member to do their job.
Final thoughts: What does a web developer do
When you’re thinking about learning to code, the first thing you should figure out is what you want to do in the future. But since you can choose from so many specializations, finding your focus area might feel overwhelming, to say the least.
Learning web development is just one field you can learn and start a career in. The job market is growing fast, there’s demand for skilled web developers around the world, and you can start learning the necessary skills right away.
But before you start learning your first programming language, you should take a few moments to understand what web developers do exactly. To help you find the right tools to learn, I hope this article sheds some light on the difference between front-end and back-end development.
If you’re not sure which area would be a better option for you, here’s a short summary:
- Front-end developers work on the visual aspect of a website project. If you love using creativity and visual skills for work, front-end development might be your thing.
- Back-end developers create the logic and functionalities for websites. Their work is more technical and it requires tons of logical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Here are a few related posts you might want to read, too:
- 10 Common Coding Myths You Should Ignore
- 8 Critical Things You Should Know Before Learning Programming
If you enjoyed this post about what does a web developer do, just drop me a line in the comments below!
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