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Becoming a Web Developer

What does a web developer do?

Web developers – also known as web programmers – make websites ‘do things’. In other words, they develop a site’s ‘functionality’ and ‘interactivity’. So if you use the web to do things like book a flight, comment on forums, view a bank balance, report a fault… and countless other tasks, then a web developer will have been involved in making sure it all works smoothly.

Is it a career with prospects? Well when you consider the rapid rate at which the internet has grown, and is continuing to grow, and the fact that more and more sites want sophisticated functionality so users can carry out tasks quickly and efficiently, you probably have your answer.

Qualities needed

So how do you know if web developing is for you? What skills and qualities are needed to build a successful career as a web developer? A good starting point is having a strong interest in computers, the internet and the web – and even if you haven’t yet learned to program, in the technologies that make the web tick. You’ll also need a strong measure of patience, to be methodical, and have an inquisitive mind. Although not essential, if you have an eye for what looks good on the web, that’s sure to stand you in good stead too.

Start at the start

When it comes to skills, a great place to start is with learning HTML and CSS – the basic building blocks of pages on the web. Although WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) programmes like Adobe Dreamweaver make it possible for some designers to bypass the need to learn these core skills, most web developers would be expected to be able to code using only a simple text editor.

Then there are other languages that can add functionality to websites: an understanding of PHP, and databases like MySQL, is particularly useful when working with ‘dynamic websites’, such as the increasing numbers powered by a content management system (CMS) to store and call up content from a database into page templates when required.

JavaScript is another language well worth mastering. Not only is it useful for adding functionality to web pages, but it can also be used in applications beyond the web. Ajax can also complement your HTML and CSS skills, and there are various other programming languages, from Perl to ASP, that can be useful additions to your web developer’s toolkit.

Developing your understanding of web standards, as outlined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and how different browsers may render pages differently, is another element that will help you troubleshoot websites more effectively.

Capitalise on mobile

As a web developer, it will also be useful to keep an eye on other technologies that are rising in popularity. Multimedia content is being increasingly used on all kinds of websites, so understanding something of the technology behind this could be useful. And of course use of mobile web and tablet computing is exploding. More and more organisations want to ensure their content works on these new platforms, and furthermore have a need to develop specialist applications, or ‘apps’ for new devices.

Knowledge too of how to host websites, how to install and upgrade software like a CMS on a web server, and of associated areas such as the domain name system (DNS), mail servers, firewalls and security, is all likely to prove invaluable.

Develop your soft skills

As well as the technical know-how, having appropriate ‘soft’ skills could make the difference that transforms you from being ‘just a geek’ to offering a really valuable service. Being able to explain technical issues to a non-technical audience has got to be near the top of the list, as have listening skills to understand your client’s needs, and the ability to work with others – like other developers, designers and account managers.

Specialists vs generalists

It’s worth thinking about what kind of role you’d like in the future: as a web developer, you may end up being part of a large team in a company or specialist consultancy; equally you might work in a smaller company, or go freelance. The former may mean you’ll be focusing on just one piece of an overall jigsaw, so you might be more successful developing your specialist skills. But in small companies or as a freelancer, you’re likely to need a broader range of skills – and in the case of working for yourself it’s essential to understand the legal requirements, and have other abilities in areas including marketing and finance, as well as the technical skills you can offer your clients.

The only way is up

The great news for wannabe web developers is that it certainly doesn’t look as if the web is going to get smaller. In fact it seems set to remain a world wide web of opportunity.

Next: Training & Certification

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