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How to Become a Website Developer in Three Basic Steps

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Whether you’re on the path to career change from another industry or want to rejoin the workforce after time away, there’s a good chance a tech career offers the flexibility and salary you’re looking for. One of the most versatile ways into tech is through web development (using coding languages to build websites). While it can sound like a hard-to-reach goal, the path to becoming a web developer isn’t as hard as you might think—for instance, try months versus years when picturing the time it takes to learn the skills you’ll need. Meanwhile, there’s a whole world of resources to teach you those skills, many of which are free. Read on to learn some of the basic steps it takes to become a website developer.

Step 1: Identify the Skills for Learning Web Development

Web developer jobs are typically skill-based (as opposed to requiring credentials like a tech-specific bachelor’s degree or even an associate’s degree), which means if you have the skills you can do the job. Step one then on the road to web development is to identify exactly what those skills are. In doing so, it’s important to note there are two categories of web developer jobs: front-end development and back-end development.

Front-end developers work with the visual parts of a website that users see and interact with through their web browser. According to Ana Martínez, Front-End Developer at digital production studio Commite Inc., there’s a trifecta of coding languages that serve as a backbone for any front-end developer career: “When I started working as a front-end web developer the first skills employers asked for were JavaScript, CSS, and HTML,” Martínez says. “For me, those are the three main web developer languages—from those come all the others.” HTML and CSS are markup languages used to define the parts of a web page and their style (font, colors, layout) respectively. Meanwhile, JavaScript is a scripting language used to control dynamic content on a webpage like scrolling video, animated graphics, and interactive maps. A working grasp of these three languages is enough to start doing paid work in the web development field.

Back-end programming deals with the “under the hood” aspects of websites—things like writing code to request and fetch data from databases and then to display data that contains HTML, CSS, and JavaScript content. Common skills used for back end development include web frameworks (collections of pre-written code that developers can use for repetitive tasks) like Ruby on Rails and NodeJS (as well as the languages those frameworks are built on—Ruby and JavaScript).

While these skills are the the necessary basics for starting out in either front-end or back-end web development, Martínez stresses that your personal approach and motivation is just as important as your skills. As in any career, Martínez says, it’s imperative for successful web developers to show initiative when it comes to learning and taking on new challenges, but also to genuinely enjoy their work. “I don’t think it’s enough just to study one coding language or another,” Martínez says, “If you don’t have an affinity for the tech world and web development, your path will be a lot more difficult.

Step 2: Start Learning Web Development and Put Your Skills in Practice

Once you’re clear on what web developer skills to learn, it’s time to start actually learning those skills. Does this mean going back to school for a new four-year degree in computer science? The answer is a resounding, “No!” While you can definitely pick up skills like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript in a classroom setting, you can also learn them from your own home and at your own pace. Free HTML, CSS, and JavaScript tutorials abound through resources like Codeacademy and w3schools. Meanwhile, paid online coding classes are available if you’re in the market for more structure and support—all of which bypass the time and expense of college or even an in-person coding bootcamp.

In addition to learning skill basics through tutorials and online classes, you’ll also need to participate in online coding communities like GitHub and Stack Overflow. GitHub is a forum where web developers can post projects they’re working on, share code with other developers, and receive peer-to-peer comments on their work. Stack Overflow is a coding-related discussion board where developers interact through a question and answer format. Both of these platforms are ideal spaces to try out what you’ve learned and gain real-world experience and feedback.

In addition to learning programming languages and other technical skills, another solid, long-term strategy is to use this time to take on test projects—whether these are small paid jobs for friends in need of a personal website or projects based on a hobby or passion of yours, building real sites while the stakes are relatively low will put you in position to feel comfortable as your projects and job opportunities become more complex.

Finally, take time as you’re learning to familiarize yourself with the many free tools available to web developers and find the ones that give you the most value. Whether it’s text editors, web browser extensions, or content management systems, you’ll be surprised how many essential resources are available for no cost.

Step 3: Consider Whether Freelancing or Working for a Company Fits You Best and Start Looking at Jobs

Once you’ve built up a solid web developer skill set, it’s time to think about what kind of work you want to do—do you want a regular job as a developer for an established company, or are you better suited to starting a freelancing business and being your own boss? There are pros and cons to freelancing and going full-time, and the path you choose needs to be informed by what you want out of a web development career. The main point to keep in mind, though, is that either style of employment is totally possible for web developers.

If you’re transitioning from a more traditional 9-5 office job, freelancing might sound like a stretch, but Odelya Holiday, Developer at photo and video editing app company Lightricks, says that—while it’s not only possible to make money as a freelance web developer—in her experience web developers are more likely to be employed as freelancers than employed by a single company. However, Holiday adds that in her opinion starting off at an established company is a good way to learn best practices early on. At Holiday’s company, for instance, all code goes through peer review and tests, making it an ideal environment for developers to grow alongside their colleagues. Of course, for some web developer hopefuls the flexibility afforded by being your own boss will outweigh the benefits of working side-by-side with colleagues, but that’s the beauty of web development—all of these options are on the table.

In either case, once you start seeking paid work as a web developer you’ll need to glue your eyes to online job boards. General boards like Glassdoor and Indeed host a range of job opportunities and can be modified to search for web developer positions, while other boards focus more specifically on remote, flexible, and freelance positions. Additionally, sites like Meetup.com and Women Who Code are invaluable assets when it comes to finding network opportunities and making face-to-face job connections at conferences, job fairs, and workshops.

Remember—the path to tech might seem epic, but it really doesn’t have to be. Following these three simple steps will put you in position to start reaping all of tech’s benefits as a website developer.

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