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What Is a Web Developer?

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Every time you click on a search result, go online shopping, or check out your favorite band’s homepage, chances are you’re looking at a website made by a web developer. So, what is a web developer, and what do they do? In short, web developers are responsible for building websites — and their work can be technical, creative, and highly rewarding.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

What Does a Web Developer Do?

Web developers make and maintain websites. They use technical skills to develop the website applications and code and creative thinking skills to help with the website’s look and feel. A web developer’s duties might include:

  • Creating a website layout using HTML/CSS
  • Working with web designers to meet their visual expectations 
  • Evaluating code to see if it’s on par with industry standards
  • Troubleshooting website bugs
  • Testing website quality to ensure it’s running efficiently
  • Writing and designing website content

Types of Web Developers

Web developer jobs differ the most depending on what part of the website they’re working on. The three main types of developers include front-end, back-end, and full-stack. 

Front-End Developer

Front-end developers work on the user-facing side of a website, which is what we see when we click on a website from our phone or computer. They’re concerned with how the site looks and feels, which involves its design and how users experience it. This is a more creative role than other areas of web development but still involves technical skills to build the website’s look.

Back-End Developer

Back-end developers work to make the front end of a website possible by writing and testing code. Their work isn’t visible to clients and users but makes the website functional and secure. For example, they might work on data storage, cybersecurity, site efficiency, and site maintenance. 

Full-Stack Developer

Full-stack developers have the best of both worlds — they work on front-end and back-end website development. Their knowledge base extends to both the user-facing and server sides, which means they can work on any task in the web development process.

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Web Developer vs. Software Developer

Web developers and software developers often have similar skill sets, but the projects they focus on vary their work. Web developers work specifically on websites and applications for those websites. Software developers work on applications for computers and mobile devices.

>>>MORE: Standard Bank’s Software Development Virtual Experience Program.

Web Developer Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual web developer wages were $77,030 in May 2021. On average, those who worked in the software publishing, finance, and insurance industries made more than the median salary. 

Web developers have a particularly good job outlook as the internet expands. Their employment is projected to grow 23% from 2021 to 2031, compared to 5% for all occupations.

How to Become a Web Developer

Above all, a web developer needs the right technical skills to thrive in their role. Here’s how to get those skills and become a web developer.

Do You Need a Degree to Be a Web Developer?

You don’t need a degree to be a web developer, but having a bachelor’s in computer science or programming can help you build the skills you need to be one. If you don’t get a degree, you’ll need to gain web development experience through other courses, bootcamps, and tutorials.

“It’s been my experience that developers need to be hands-on to really learn,” Anne Ahola Ward, CEO of digital growth agency CircleClick, says. “Try some small online tutorials and practice independently. Create something small then riff on it. Bootcamps can be great, but they only teach discrete use cases. Tinkering on your own will take you much further. Study other people’s code and try to recreate it, improve it, etc.”

What Skills Does a Web Developer Need?

Hard Skills

The hard skills you’ll need to be a web developer often depend on the type of web developer you’d like to be. For example, front-end languages like HTML and CSS are necessary if you want to be a front-end developer. You’ll need to know languages like C++, SQL, Ruby, and Python on the back end.

“Understand the basics of how programming works,” Lamar Laing, founder/lead full-stack developer at Laing Media, says. “Every programming language (1) uses variables, (2) uses constants, (3) contains mathematical operators, and (4) functions that bring all of these elements together to achieve a specific outcome. Understanding the basics of algebra and the order of operations will help you with any programming language, any project, or any job.”

Bonus hard skills, particularly for front-end developers, include visual design, graphic design, and user experience skills. These skills primarily help determine how a website looks and how users interact with it.

>>>MORE: Build your web developer skills with Accenture’s Developer Virtual Experience Program.

Soft Skills

Although web developers primarily work independently or within their team on their technical work, Laing says, “being able to relay updates and information to clients or employers with confidence can take you a long way. These soft skills can also help establish and develop long-term client relationships leading to recurring revenue.”

Outside of these crucial communication and interpersonal skills, web developers also need to think on their feet and react to problems quickly. 

“You are going to come into obstacles and last-minute issues that can lead you to work on a piece of code for hours,” Laing says. “It’s important to have your resources, tools, and go-to problem-solving strategies ready.”

What Else Makes a Successful Web Developer?

Know Your Goals

Because there are different types of web development and various job opportunities, it’s essential to know what you want from your role before applying. Laing recommends asking yourself these questions: 

  • Do you want to build something for yourself or work on projects for a company?
  • What types of projects are you looking to work on?
  • What is the best work environment for you?

“If you want to work for someone, focus on getting credentialed in a system/platform in high demand among the type of employers you want to work with,” Laing says. “This will be the easiest way to prove your abilities during the interview/hiring process.”

You can find what systems and platforms employers are looking for by looking at job descriptions for relevant roles. Under the requirements section, employers list what competencies they want from their candidates.

Try an Independent Project

Anthony Chavez, founder and CEO of codelab303, advises people interested in web development to get independent hands-on experience.

“Invent a product or a concept and then go out and try to build it,” Chavez says. “It can be really small, but the amount of things that you’re going to learn through that process are tremendous. Going through the motions is going to teach you so much more about being hands on and digging in than sitting down for some sort of academic regimen.”

Embrace the Joy

Above all, the best web developers are “makers at their core,” Chavez says. “They really like seeing something come together. I think that’s the overlap into the artistic realm of programming and engineering, too, because, a lot of times it’s the process, not necessarily the end product, that really drives you. I think it’s far less about what the tool set is or the technology they use. It’s far more about that intrinsic curiosity and passion for the work.”

Is web development a good career path? Learn more about the web development field.

Image credit: ThisIsEngineering / Pexels

Zoe Kaplan is a Senior Writer at Forage. Prior to joining Forage, she wrote and edited career and workplace content for Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women.