Should I become a Web Developer?
So you want to know more about web development, or how to become a web developer. Web development (and design) can be a rewarding career for many who enjoy building applications that serve the entire world. Here's what you want to know about web development, whether it's a good career path, and when's the best time to break in.
Web development is a kind of software engineering where the product is an application that is made to be run in a web browser. In contrast to back-end engineering, web development is an umbrella of front-end and sometimes back-end engineering, where the application needs to run against a variety of clients (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc).
Those are the programming languages that are used in web development, however the facets of web development span multiple categories. Those categories include:
- User interface and User Experience
- Search Engine Optimization
- API, such a GraphQL
- Bundling and Delivery (Webpack, Serverless, etc)
- Performance and Testing
- and more!
You don't need to be an expert in all of these categories, however, having an understanding of how each category factors in the scope of building web apps can broaden your skillset and impact.
User interface and experience are the processes of designing and developing how a user makes meaning from your web application. The structures and flow of the interface come together to guide the user to where we want them to go.
Accessibility is how we make our interfaces easier to use by everyone. This is essential for creating applications that can be used by people with various impairments, including: visual, auditory, cognitive, and motor impairments.
Search Engine Optimization is the process of making web pages more accessible by a certain kind of user: robots! This area of expertise is centered around helping crawlers better understand how to index content in your web application.
API is the way in which your web application gathers data from external sources, and how it interfaces with the services that power the application.
Performance and Testing include some of the topics listed above, however, I've called it out as a separate category. To be effective in these categories requires some deeper understanding of the entire picture - from broad strokes to fine details. These areas of knowledge help keep our applications running smoothly and easier to maintain.
Folks worry too much about whether they should start out as a front-end engineer, back-end engineer, or try to make the leap to full-stack. Other folks worry whether Machine Learning or GPT-3 will put us all out of business. There is an understandable concern about whether front-end development is hard to break into.
However, it's always been difficult to break into this industry. Up until just recently, having a computer science degree was a requirement for many job postings (and it still is sometimes). Job postings will also say they accept equivocal years of experience in the industry. If you are a self-taught engineer or don't have some kind of educational background in the industry - then finding that first job is a struggle.
To break into the industry today, there are several paths:
- Have a computer science degree, or relevant education (bootcamp, internship, etc).
- Build a portfolio of freelance or contract projects
- Work in open source or community developer relations
All three of these paths take a lot of hard work. Newcomers are often afraid of these options because the hustle requires a large upfront investment. You don't need a degree, or to go to a bootcamp, to make that happen. Try taking a few online courses for free to gauge your interest. There's a lot of work that you can do on your own.
Once you get that first job, it becomes easier and easier over time. Similar to any other industry, web development is a mixed bag of really great jobs to not-so-great jobs. I spent a lot of time in the realms of freelance, contracting, startups, and now corporate development. Any of these realms can be rewarding, depending on what you're looking for and the effort you put in.
The trouble is that many of the not-so-great jobs are front-loaded, which discourages many bright minds from continuing into more rewarding roles. Once you move past that junior role, your compensation can increase by anywhere from 50% to 100%. Everyone starts as a junior.
What I love about web development are the challenges, the rewards, and the impacts. Building a web application is a thoughtful process as described in What is Web Development?. That process opens the door for a web application to reach millions to billions of people around the world. It's a very rewarding process when you build a web application that reaches people and has an impact on their lives.
The tech industry often attracts a younger crowd because as an industry, it often contributes to the evolving cultural moment. Tech fuels our lives: from shopping to entertainment, health and fitness, and the world around us. But there's no upper limit on breaking into the industry. People join the industry in their 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's. The world's oldest programmer, Masako Wakamiya, was 82 when she released her first app.
Maturity will be your compass, and will actually help you stand out from some of the younger developers who require more experience in communication and essential skills. While there are some jobs that bias towards younger crowds (because youth can be exploited), the paths described above still apply to anyone.
That first job will still take some hustling, and so choosing a path that aligns with your goals and expectations will help guide you. People of all ages expect that when they get a job in the industry, they will start somewhere in the mid to senior levels. They expect this because they are following the folks who have already broken that first ceiling. Patience and persistence will get you where you want to go.Every age is the right age to start a career in web development.
If you've made it this far into this post, then it's likely that you are on the fence and leaning towards becoming a web developer. That's the first step. If you're still deciding, here are some great reasons to become a web developer:
- You enjoy learning and solving problems.
- You want to create things that are used by people around the world.
- It's a good source of income and livelihood.
Or maybe you have your own reasons. Let me know what your reasons are, or if this post was helpful. Message me on Twitter (@coleturner).