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How to Become a Web Developer

UPDATE: Check out a more recent post how to become a programmer in 2017 or the best way to learn to programming for beginners.

So you want to become a web developer? Smart move. The web is a growth industry and I don't know of any university curriculum that adequately prepares people for this career. A good web developer can pull in well more than the median annual wage and job benefits and promotion opportunity are great.

So what do you need to know?

  1. Programming 101
  2. HTML & CSS
  3. Read the Manual
  4. Pick a Content Management Systems (CMS)
  5. How Long Will It Take?

Programming 101

First things first, web developer is really code for web programmer. As a programmer you've got to know programming fundamentals. Concepts like an if statement and for loops allow you to create programs that do things. In my own personal experience learning programming fundamentals requires consistent exposure and rote learning followed by an epiphany, where you actually discover why you've been writing the things you've been writing down.

While you can certainly start with online tutorials, I think the best place to cut your teeth on these concepts is in a classroom, surrounded by people who are likely just as puzzled as you are. It's likely that these classes will be conducted in C, C++ or Java. Remember: you're getting core concepts, so the language doesn't matter much.

HTML & CSS

HyperText Markup Language & Cascading Style Sheets (aka HTML & CSS) are the most important elements in the display of every webpage you visit. While a basic well-formed webpage can be created in as few as 6 lines...

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<body>
Hello World
</body>
</html>

...the art of HTML & CSS is a long and storied tradition. Hand-coded HTML/CSS (using a text editor) and getting websites to display consistently across web browsers (FireFox, Safari, etc.) is something akin to alchemy. No matter what you do in this regard, no matter how painful it is, stay away from WYSIWYG editors, like Dreamweaver (sorry Adobe!).

NOTE: in your browser, look for the command that reads "View Source" and start examining the HTML on the websites you visit the most.

Read the Manual

Now that you've got the basics covered, it's time to go back to the beginning and read the PHP Manual. Yes, read the manual. Not only will you get a thorough review of a true web-based language, but you'll also likely pick up some brand new concepts that will broaden your horizons.

Pick a Content Management Systems (CMS)

These days knowing web-fundamentals is not enough. If you want to be marketable, you need to pick a Content Management System. I am a huge advocate of Drupal, with WordPress coming in at a close second. Both of these CMSs are built on PHP, are on fast growth curves and boast strong communities. These communities mean there is plenty of contributed code and consensus around best practices, while the fast growth curves mean jobs.

How Long Will It Take?

If you are transitioning to web development from another career, plan for a 3 year ramp up. Roughly speaking, Year 1, should be devoted to taking classes, stumbling around and being confused. Year 2, should be devoted to building websites for anyone and everyone who asks you for one (and there will be a lot of people) and contributing to opensource projects (like Drupal and WordPress). And Year 3, is when you should be able to expect to either start charging for your work as a freelancer or when you might be able to pickup an intro position (or internship) with a company.

No matter how far you make it in your journey to becoming a web developer, the above steps will open new doors and opportunities. You may find along the way, you prefer the discipline of Project Management or you might become an iPhone App developer or a blogger or an instructor. Pursuit of technology will enrich your life and broaden your horizons and just may put you on a career path in an industry that is destined for even more growth in the coming decades.

Why I Wrote This Article

Those people who are regular readers of the Metal Toad Blog, may be wondering why I wrote this article. Our content, in general, tends to be very technical and targeted at people already in the industry. It's a tale of two worlds. As the rest of the economy has been faltering, the internet economy has been seeing a huge boom, from ecommerce to consultancies. Many of the services and tools traditionally practiced offline have increasingly become web-enabled, while the educational system has been falling short of providing people with a good inroad into what is becoming increasingly a closed loop system. People and companies are rewarded work, based on a track record of successful projects.

As an employer and as someone who cares about other people I would like to see a broader field of employees and companies competing with Metal Toad. I'd like more people riding the wave of web technology. If you are a web developer, encourage people to consider it as a career and give them pointers.

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Date posted: January 23, 2012

Comments

Hi Joaquinn,
I am currently at a management position in my company. The only thing near to programming I know is Oracle SQL as I was doing my own reports for last couple of years. I am planning to start learning web development to facilitate increasing demand at my work as well as for self growth to do some free lance work. However, my issues are lack of time and lack of understanding of various programming languages out there. My ideal way to start learning would be something I can do at my own time, low cost (free is always good ;) ) and helps me learn the basics of whats current in programming in a matter of months. My aspiration is to build a web portal on my own! Please advise if what I am thinking is even possible or I am way out of my mind! If possible, how and where can I start? I am located in FL.

Hi Darren,

It really depends on how disciplined you are. I feel that I know myself fairly well, and I am like most people when I say I'm not very disciplined. In the past I have tried to teach myself how to play an instrument (piano specifically) and I found even with the resources (internet, books, etc.) not having a regular structure meant I never progressed very far. Currently I can stumble my way through the most basic pieces, but I am sure my form is horrible and I have developed some bad habits that I may never break. And I certainly won't be playing professionally anywhere.

I would put learning to program and/or do web development in the same camp as piano in terms of complexity (though perhaps there are more professional opportunities with web development). With that in mind, how do you think you would fair in trying to teach yourself something like that?

After thinking about this a lot, I've posted an article on the best way to learn programming for beginners, where I am of the opinion that in-person vocational schools are really the best way (cheapest + fastest) to find your way into this industry.

I hope this helps!

Joaquin

Hi everyone,

I've been doing a lot of observation within our company and in the industry and I've put together some of those thoughts in a post I've titled the best way to learn programming for beginners. I'd love to hear from you on what you think about the topic, findings and my conclusion.

Joaquin

Thank you Joaquin,

My question to you is, if an online degree and certificate has the same value as attending regular classes in a college or university setting? For the past 3 years I have been attending an online university in a field that is not for me. There for I'm researching schools either campus or online that offer web development courses. And considering there's a long list that offers them, which one would you recommend for a novice?

Thanks in Advance!

Hi Ana,

That's a great question! These days I'm pretty abstracted from the hiring process, so I'm going to ask Randi King, our Talent Acquisition Manager to weight in here. I'm actually not sure what kind of weight is given to each of these types of degrees/certificates.

Randi?

Joaquin

Such a great question! Education of any kind is always a good idea. Within the technology industry there tend to be a large number of very talented self taught developers. That being said, if development is your passion, then pursue it in all ways available to you. Online forums, meet-ups, community college, University, Code School. At the end of the day, its not so much about the certificate you hold in your hand, but the knowledge you have in your head. Having a deep commitment to continuing to improve and learn along with a general knack for development will take you far!

Hi Nigel,

First - super exciting to hear your enthusiasm for this career path.

At this point, the best place to start should be heavily dictated by the resources that are available and how that maps with the way you like to learn.

If you have fulltime available, I'd look for a 12 week course, that provides a 40 hour week and a peer group to learn with. That's the model that they are pursuing at Epicodus and Portland Code School here in town. Between those two place you can find curriculums in Ruby, Javascript and soon Java and iOS.

If you are a good self-learner you could get your start in iOS, by following the iTunes University "Developing Apps for iOS" video content. The curriculum there is top notch and the job opportunities in mobile are significant - though you have to be able to learn from watching videos and tinkering on your own.

If you are looking for something you can do part-time, you can look to Thinkful or Treehouse, which offer online learning courses. Of the two, I know a little bit more about Thinkful which really pushes mentoring as a key factor.

At Metal Toad our very own Jason Rodriguez is a graduate of Epicodus, and Cesar Jimenez came to us from the Thinkful program (he was mentored there by Toad Alumnus Emeritus Ken Stowell). Maybe the three of them can weigh in here to tell you more about their experiences...

Thank you Joaquin! Hey Nigel, that is a great question, and one that I struggled with when I first started. In my experience all of the different venues for learning that you mentioned are amazing. I started by learning through the free resources you mentioned like Code Academy and Code School. To this day those are the most useful avenues of learning that I have come across. Mostly because they force you to put into practice what you are learning. After I felt comfortable and my thirst for knowledge deepened, I looked into Team Treehouse and the other paid services, and I got to say, those are one of the first places I go to learn. The well crafted tutorials and the way they structured the content is priceless and it's geared to help you learn in a more structured way.

Nothing that you mentioned was nonsense, you are a man with a goal and I say go for it! We are all with you!

As a side note, I just want to say that one of the major concepts here is the ability to learn on your own. In development there is a lot of documentation, and you will never know everything, and part of the charm is being able to read and understand that documentation to the point of making it work like you want it to. This is a skill you'll have to hone, and in the beginning it may seem a little more tricky than how it really is. But with passion, drive and patience you'll pick it up. It's nothing to be scared of, and with time you'll look forward to learning new things through it.

Also, for those of you considering a degree, I want to add my two cents based on my experience. I looked at that route, and enrolled in college again but as I was taking the classes it seemed like the pace of the curriculum was far too slow for the amount of relevant information I needed to acquire. In development is not so much about your fancy degree as it is about the actual technical knowledge you posses. This is one of the reasons why I truly love this career path. It's more of a meritocracy and actual skill than anything else. For this reason I enrolled in Thinkful, where they pair you with a mentor and their goal is to show you exactly what it is you need to learn and how to do it. This has the added benefit of not only exposing you to the brave new world of development through the eyes of a season developer but also grooming you to eventually join the profession.

With time, effort and of course after having different experiences with the different languages and concepts you'll naturally gravitate towards the languages that you like and makes sense to you. Hope that helps, if there is any other question I can help you with please feel free to ask. :) cesar.jimenez@metaltoad.com

I'm 37years old ( hope age dose not matter?)& was in different fields previously. Currently working retail but I hate this job. I used to learn CS back in 2002 ( inc vb, java, html, oracle etc, etc) but I had to gave up due to personal matters ( did not have money to continue learning). Last couple of months I started reading about web development & completed few courses at codecademy. But I do not have a clear path to achieve my goal to be a web developer ( one day, dose not matter how long ) Can any body help me with a path or plan how to accumulate the knowledge & what are most essential skill need to learn before becoming a trainee/junior web developer please. Thank you.

Hey Ian,

I think in fairness to Bob his course is described as 'fundamental'. So rudimentary. This was compiled for Microsoft Virtual Academy. I have also used it in conjunction with Rob’s excellent web.dev.course. Plus adding a book from Treehouse seems fill all the voids. Bob’s, Learn Visual Studios.NET has certainly moved up a gear. If one is looking at the ASP.NET route, then you should find his ‘Managed Learning Version’ (C#) very useful. It’s in ‘beta’ at this stage, but looking impressive already.

Checked your website out. Clean and tidy. Nice. That’s my next port-of-call too.

I look forward to following your endeavours.

Great Article! Its really Helpful for new developer who want to become a professional web developer

This is a wonderful articleBill. Very well articulated. I can’t thank you enough !

This is a fantastic article! The structure and detail are easy to follow and user friendly. Thanks for sharing.

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About the Author

Joaquin Lippincott, CEO

Joaquin is a 20+ year technology veteran helping to lead businesses in the move to the Cloud. He frequently speaks on panels about the future of tech ranging from IoT and Machine Learning to the latest innovation in the entertainment industry.  He has helped to modernize software for industry leaders like Sony, Daimler, Intel, the Golden Globes, Siemens Wind Power, ABC, NBC, DC Comics, Warner Brothers & the Linux Foundation.

As the CEO and Founder of Metal Toad, an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner, his primary job is to "get the right people in the room".  This one responsibility is cross-functional and includes both external business development functions as well as internal delegation and leadership development.

A UCLA alumni, he also serves in the community as a Board Member for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, and Stand for Children Oregon - a public education political advocacy group. As an outspoken advocate for entry-level job creation in tech he helped found the non-profit, P4TH, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of entry-level jobs in the tech industry, and is in the process of organizing an Advisory Board for the Bixel Exchange, a Los Angeles non-profit that provides almost 200 tech internships every year.

 

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