If you’re like most people, you’re probably a fan of the internet.
Perhaps you appreciate the instant information that it puts at your fingertips.
Or maybe the hours of mindless entertainment it can provide.
For most, it’s the simple tasks, like reserving a dinner table for two with a few taps of your finger, that they find most helpful.
Yes, if you’re like most, you love all the things you can accomplish with the internet without much thought about the nuts and bolts that hold it together.
But, if you’re the curious type, particularly with a bit of a creative streak, you’ve no doubt wondered about the development of certain websites. Or maybe even more to the point, you thought you could’ve done better.
If this sounds like familiar, you might be in the wrong career. But we do have a suggestion for one that might make a lot more sense and put you on a path for both personal and professional freedom.
As the internet continues to expand, so too does the number of people using it. In fact, the total number of unique internet users has already surpassed the 4 billion mark.
According to the website Internet Live Stats, there are over 1.8 billion websites currently online with close to 200 million of these noted as active.
That’s a lot of people using a lot of sites, and those numbers are only expected to grow.
This is where the web developer plays a vital role in the future growth of the internet.
So, what exactly does a web developer do? And how do you become one? We’re happy you asked.
What is a Web Developer?
Simply put, a web developer is someone who builds and maintains websites.
Sounds easy and exciting, doesn’t it?
While on paper that may not seem to be particularly interesting, web development is an expansive and multi-tiered industry. It can be highly lucrative and provide the developer unmatched professional freedom.
Why Are Web Developers Important?
Let’s consider for a moment what makes a web developer such a vital part of the internet’s current and continued success.
Imagine those 200 million active websites that we mentioned as small, little economic engines. While many of them may not generate direct income through sales or service transactions, all represent both real and potential economic opportunities in some form.
Take for example a simple blog.
The direct economic impact comes from what the blogger pays to providers in hosting and internet access fees. Indirectly though, if that same blogger posts a book or movie review that lead to an ebook download or purchased tickets for an evening show the snowball effect of that indirect commerce becomes clear.
Our appetite for online content continues to increase, and considering those appetites can fuel many dollars spent in many different ways, the importance of effective, well-built websites is obvious.
Why Become a Web Developer?
It’s easy enough to see the benefits of how websites play a vital role not just in our personal lives but for the economic health of our society as a whole.
But what about individual advantages? What are some of the key factors that make web development an attractive career?
First and foremost, the opportunities are endless. Aside from the medical industry, the greatest areas of job growth remain in the tech sector. As technology advances and more businesses and individuals look to create a presence on the web, someone will need to be there to build that space.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for web developers is expected to increase by 15% through 2026. That’s more than twice the growth for all other occupations.
Further, with the continued rise of mobile computing, the boom in cloud-based services, and the increased growth of ecommerce, the demand for multi-faceted web developers will remain high for a long time to come.
Second, you get to work wherever and whenever you want.
What to live close to the beach, and surf in the morning while getting your work done at night?
Or maybe you prefer mountains and enjoy working mornings to allow time for afternoon hikes.
Perhaps is more straightforward and you like to set your own schedule while living in a place that best suits your personal style instead of your professional life.
One of the most attractive aspects of this job is the flexibility to work remotely. While there are plenty of opportunities to find work with firms in an office based environment, it’s nice to have the option to choose which path is right for you.
Naturally, each project will place varying demands on your time, but ultimately the bare minimum you need to get that job done is a laptop, internet connection, and your skill set. It’s a nice feeling knowing you can complete the work in a place you want to be versus a place you have to be.
Next, web development is all about independence. Working a regular nine to five gig under a boss may be acceptable for some people, but if you’re reading this, it’s apparent that day job is decidedly not for you.
As a freelance web developer, you get to pick and choose the jobs you want at the times you want. You’re your own boss, setting your own hours, determining your own workload.
Now, don’t mistake working for yourself as a cakewalk where you can take however many breaks you want without being called into HR. Self-employment is incredibly hard work that is fraught with uncertainty. Your success or failure solely relies on you.
That may sound scary, but it’s also what makes owning your business deeply rewarding. Your success and the success of your web development business belongs to you and no one else.
The final reason to become a web developer is less apparent but entirely logical. Get paid for performing work in an environment you already participate in for free.
A lot of us browse mindlessly through the internet, without giving much thought to how or why it works. We’re just happy that it does. Imagine flipping that script and being one of the success stories behind the scenes making everything go.
From entertaining to educating to ecommerce, you can build and operate websites that appeal to many different audiences and fulfill many different needs.
Technology is not just ones and zeros, and there is a real need for creative types to help take the internet we know to the next level of its evolution.
You could be one of those creatives. Someone who instead of just settling to be a pair of eyes passively surfing the internet, chooses to be the brains behind building it.
What Is Involved in Web Development?
Web development has a lot of different avenues that someone can take to find career success, but as we noted, the basic tenet is the building of a website.
There are three main aspects of development with each having their own specialization and appeal depending on your area of interest.
1. Front End Web Development
This is the area of a website that everyone is most familiar with, the content that you see and interact when visiting a site. For creatives, this area will hold the highest level of interest as it involves how elements look and a feel.
2. Back End Web Development
For the more cerebral, back end development means everything that’s under the hood of a website, including general upkeep and maintenance, server-based work, and working with apps and databases.
3. Full Stack Web Development
Full stack is where everything comes together, the front and back end of a website developed as one. While you will often see people specialize in one of the two above mentioned areas, becoming a full stack developer can be a lucrative endeavor.
The demand for your services is much more significant as many clients prefer an all in one solution and thus your compensation can also be a lot higher.
What Do Web Developers Need to Know?
Regardless of the area you pursue, building a website requires a lot from its builder. Understanding all of the individual facets of what goes into a site will make you a better developer, even if you stick with one specialization.
Below is a sample of the varied levels of knowledge that make a reliable web developer. While every job is different, there’s a good chance you’ll deal with a lot of the things on this list quite often.
Code is the backbone of a website and learning the different languages that make a website function can lead to a profitable web development career.
- HTML: Hypertext Markup Language or HTML is perhaps the most widely known coding language and considered to be part of the front end development of a website. HTML controls the basic structure of a site.
- CSS: Cascading Style Sheets or CSS control the look of a website. Think of a website as a house, with HTML being the foundation and studs and CSS providing the carpeting and walls.
- PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor or PHP is a back end language that typically works together with SQL, but you can also insert it into other codes. PHP deals with server communication and tends to simplify the website building process.
- SQL: Structured Query Language or SQL is another back end code that works in tandem with PHP handling database management and allowing you to improve the organization of a website’s contents. Neither is easy to learn, but knowing both PHP and SQL can make you a highly sought after developer particularly when it comes to creating WordPress websites.
As a web developer, you don’t necessarily need to be adept at the design side of things. Understanding how design works though will allow you to fully appreciate the overall functionality of a website.
Knowing Search Engine Optimization or SEO is perhaps one of the most critical skills to learn for anyone associated with websites. How a site performs within Google’s website rankings can make or break its level of success.
Granted, as a web developer you are not in the business of content creation or management, but the code you build into a site has just as big of an impact on SEO. Headings and meta and title tags will be your primary concerns, and the more effective these are, the better the overall the SEO will perform.
Content Management Systems (CMS) and Website Builders
Finally, having a firm grasp of the different platforms on which you can build a website will solidify you as a dynamic web developer.
As one of the most popular platforms to create a website, you will need to know WordPress inside and out. Its popularity derives from the ability to install it on any web host, its free, open source software, and the ease of content management after completion of the initial build.
We recommended creating your business website with WordPress to reflect your confidence in the program to prospective clients.
While much of your development may ultimately be through WordPress, it’s vital to understand other CMSs and web builder platforms. We suggest Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify on the web builder side and learning Joomla as a secondary CMS.
How Does a Web Developer Find Jobs?
As you grow confident in your skills, you’ll be eager to start landing jobs and generating real income for yourself. Connecting with and then securing clients can at times seem like a full-time job itself.
Don’t fret though. Through both online and in-person networking and knowing where specifically to look for work, you’ll be able to land gigs with relative ease.
Job boards tend to be a natural first step in getting your name and services out in the open, and the good news is there are a ton of them. Find ones that cater to your specific skill set or align with your area of focus.
Chances are you already do this on a personal level, so using your social networks on Facebook or Twitter to market your professional skills is a logical next step. Even if you don’t land jobs directly from your principal friend or follower groups, opening up your 2nd and 3rd level contact lists can yield some impressive results.
If you’re not already, you should also create a presence on LinkedIn. What amounts to a Facebook-like service for professionals, LinkedIn is an excellent tool for finding jobs, connecting with people in positions of authority, and seeking out local networking and job fair events.
In Person Networking
The thought of this may be terrifying to some and seem a bit out of fashion to others, but even in our digital society, finding work is still about connecting people (you) with other people (clients).
Business events, job fairs, and just general social get-togethers are all ways to get your name (and face) amongst people who may need your development skills at some point whether its now or in the future.
How Does a Web Developer Build Their Business?
It’s not uncommon to discover that finding work can be overwhelming, and the early stages of building your web development business can be a struggle. As you post to job boards and take part in networking events, there are a few other steps you can take to separate yourself from a crowded marketplace.
Create Your Business Website
Once you nail down the initial set of web development skills, the first website you should create is your own. This will not only serve as a testing ground to hone your talents but also as a marketing piece to show potential clients what you can do.
This will also be the place where you develop your “brag” file, listing those you’ve done projects for and posting testimonials praising the quality of your work.
As you develop your early list of clients, don’t be afraid to initially offer your services for free to your first few customers or friends or acquaintances in your social network.
It may seem counterintuitive, but this is an excellent way to build word of mouth and score referrals that may lead to well-paying jobs down the line. People remember free, and if you accomplish the task they need completing at a high-level of quality the more apt they are to recommend you to their peers.
Volunteer Your Skills
An offshoot of the free services, look for non-profits or charity organizations that may require web development and offer your time and skill set. You may not receive payment for the tasks performed, but being able to add worthwhile causes to your resume can really make you shine with clients who do pay.
You’ve no doubt heard of flipping houses, where someone buys a dilapidated home for cheap, renovates it, and then sells it for profit. There is a form of that within web development as well, where you build a website without a specific client in mind, or on spec, and then sell it to a willing buyer.
Granted, most of these websites will need to be generic in nature, but there is a definite market out there for businesses and individuals who want pre-built or shell websites that they can make their own.
What’s A Good Timeline for Success?
You’ve probably seen plenty of sites advertise the ability to help you become a web developer in six months guaranteed. Then another one comes along with the assurance that they can get you there in three shorts months.
While both lofty aspirations, we tend to believe a 12-month schedule is more realistic, and have put together a year-long plan to help get you started. The truth is though that no real timeline exists.
As we outlined earlier, once you learn the necessary coding languages, which depending on your level of motivation can take from two to six months to longer, your timeline for success is really up to you.
Learn At Your Pace
The more driven you are the quicker your timeline will move. If you’re more laid back and prefer to set a slower pace, then obviously yours will undoubtedly be a long-term path to success.
No matter which individual you are, the takeaway is to put a timeline in place. Give yourself regular goals and milestones to meet, avoid distractions, and hit your target dates as closely as you can.
And while it’s great to aspire to be a fully fledged web developer within 12 months and think you’ll be all set, the reality is much different.
For one, even after you learn the fundamental skills and understand enough code to make you marketable, your learning shouldn’t stop there. There will always be a new element to discover in the systems you already know, and with the ever-evolving internet, there will always be new languages to master.
Know Your Limits and Adjust Accordingly
Understanding that there may be other demands on your time will also need to factor in your schedule. Whether you’re a full-time student or parent or working a job you hope to one day replace, give yourself a workable plan so you don’t become overwhelmed.
Set aside dedicated time for learning code. When you previously would have wasted a few minutes randomly surfing the web, start reading help sites or how-to that will further your knowledge base.
Learning a new career requires time and sacrifice, and a strict regimen to hit your goals amongst an already busy life. We provide a 12-month timeframe to help get you started, but don’t hesitate to stretch that to 18 or 24 months if that works better for your hectic life.
Sitting in a cubicle droning over TPS reports may be fulfilling to some, but you cherish far more than just a red stapler. Breaking free of the doldrums, however, rarely comes easy.
Becoming a web developer takes hard work, some perseverance, and yes even some setbacks. Prepare yourself early on that things may come as easy or as quickly as you’d like. Knowing this up front will help keep motivated and moving forward when you inevitably encounter those rough patches.
Accept it may take you longer to learn one code over another. Or when you get into the web building process, you realize you haven’t mastered all the necessary fundamentals and may need to learn more.
Once you start landing clients, they may not always be permanent. So you may end up working with three different companies by month 15, but then that number dwindles down to one by month 18. Clients come and go, and steady work will not find you unless you are always looking for it.
Ultimately, changing careers means you are reinventing yourself. That parallels perfectly with the continually evolving world of web development. Ensure you have a chance to succeed by setting workable timetables and challenging but achievable goals.
12 Month Timeline
Below we suggest a loose timeline to help get you started. Be sure to set realistic goals and don’t be afraid to make adjustments if you feel you need more time or conversely want to increase your pace.
Remember, this is your time frame for success, not someone else’s.
First 90 to 120 Days
The first three to four months will be a crucial period as this is where you will learn the majority of the baseline knowledge that will carry your web development career forward.
We suggest absorbing as much coding and web building knowledge as possible, and if you need more time don’t be afraid to take it. The more dynamic you are, the more successful your web development will be.
In the first four months, we recommend:
- Create a WordPress Account: Depending on your budget, you can push this a few months down the line, but considering how inexpensive it is you should find this a must do tasks as early as possible.
Having a WordPress site will allow you to start testing your skills and learning the ins and outs of the most popular website builder available. We also suggest reading WordPress tutorials which are readily available online.
From 120 to 180 Days
As you near the six-month mark you should start feeling comfortable with the initial set of coding languages. Months five and six are about putting what you’ve learned to the test with real site-building.
- Build Your Website: Aside from being a testing ground for your new skill set, you should also approach this as a marketing tool to showcase and sell your skills to potential clients.
- Become Familiar with other CMS and Website Builders Platforms: All-in-one website solutions, like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and Shopify, and a CMS like Joomla, will be vital elements in your developer toolbox, so become acquainted with them.
A few services offer a free option to try their basic services, but all have extensive help areas accessible to the public with tons of tutorial videos, detailed how-to guides, and lengthy FAQs. Don’t overlook these as part of your education.
From 180 to 270 Days
By now, you should be hitting your stride and ready to take on clients with simple build requirements. Here you flesh out your portfolio, learn a few new languages, and start seeking out work.
- Learn SEO: Search engine optimization is a vitally important factor in ensuring optimized websites for Google’s search engine. Learn this inside out to add another dimension to your services.
- Build at Least One to Two More Sites: One of these should be a bare-bones website builder site as developing these for clients can be a lucrative side trade in between more substantial projects.
- Learn PHP and SQL: Languages that focus primarily on servers and databases, knowing these provide you back end skills that will make you a more complete, well-rounded developer.
- Start Networking: Reach out to people you know through your social networks to discover any small or immediate jobs. Don’t be afraid to offer your services for free on your first few projects either. Right now you want to get noticed, land work, and score early wins.
From 270 to 360 Days
You are in the final stretch of becoming a fully functioning web developer and these last three months should focus on sharpening your skills and finding clients.
- One More Website Build: By now you should have at least five sample websites to serve as your portfolio plus your own site to further market yourself and your skills.
- Job Boards: You don’t need to saturate every board you can find so focus on ones that cater to your strengths and expand from there. Again, you’re still in getting wins mode, but these are the next level steps that will solidify you as a legitimate web developer.
- Expand Your Networking: While you may grab a few clients through your online networking, pressing the flesh is still a necessary part of building your name and client base. Go to business events or job fairs that cater to connecting developers with potential clients.
Also, remember to move beyond Facebook and join the more business-centric LinkedIn. They’re an excellent online networking tool that can help connect freelancers with the firms that need them.
From 360 to 365 Days
Take a break and a moment to relax and reflect on all that you’ve achieved over the past year. You’ve built and refined your skills, have created a handful of websites, and landed a couple of paying jobs.
So enjoy your early success, because when day 366 rolls around it’ll be time to dive back in and take your new web development business to the next level.
Not much to it, right?
It may seem daunting at first, but becoming a web developer can be a gratifying career change that offers freedom not often found when working for others in a stale office environment.
Though your success may not come overnight, with a solid work ethic, achievable goals, and a realistic timeline you will soon enough find yourself earning a healthy income building websites instead of surfing them.