How to Become a Web Developer
Understanding the numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.
With nearly every industry relying on the internet to manage business operations, web development is an in-demand skill that can offer a wide variety of job opportunities. Understanding how to become a web developer can be the first step toward a successful career.
It may seem simple to learn web design and development with the growth of do-it-yourself web design programs and cloud-based software. But if you dream of building a career in technology, you’ll need a strong background in web design and development experience.
“If you’re pursuing a career in technology, you have to be committed to perpetual learning,” said Linda Gaston, a web development manager and adjunct instructor in STEM programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). “You’ll always have to be in a learning state. Technology pops up so quickly, much of your learning will have to be self-directed and through self-discovery.”
Are you ready to learn valuable skills and prepare for an exciting technology career? Before you begin to explore how to become a developer, it’s important to understand what web development is and what a web developer does.
What is Web Development?
Web development is a broad field that plays a role in almost every industry. As a web developer, you could work to design websites or program the latest mobile app. You could create cloud-based software that helps businesses run more efficiently or be responsible for the user experience of an e-commerce website.
As the world becomes more reliant on the internet for nearly all aspects of daily life and more businesses embrace a remote workforce, quality web development is a key part of running a successful business.
In fact, websites that load slowly lead to a $2.6 billion loss in revenue worldwide every year, thanks to customers who won’t wait to make a purchase, according to an article from WebFX. The same article also reported that 89% of users take their business to a competitor after having a poor user experience on a company’s website.
And as more businesses work to manage remote employees, web developers are also in demand to improve the software and other tools needed to bring teams together virtually, said SNHU adjunct instructor and web developer Dr. Francis Manning.
“The need to be able to build applications that handle employees working from home and still maintain back-end systems with the business’s data — that’s where you get a lot of people who are going to be needed for web development,” Manning said.
With web developers in demand across many industries, it’s important to understand the types of web development available and what these developers do.
What Does a Web Developer Do?
Web developers design and create websites, applications, cloud-based software and more. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as a web developer, you may be responsible for the look of a website, the technical aspects of a site’s function — or both.
With a career as a web developer, you could find yourself creating reports for sales teams, tracking and adding new items for an e-commerce website or designing new websites for a variety of clients. Developers can also work as consultants to guide businesses through a web design project or as systems analysts to help businesses identify their website needs, Alnaji said.
The most common types of web development jobs typically fall into these categories:
- API developers: An API, or Application Programming Interface, allows applications to access data and interact with other external software or operating systems. APIs are critical to many of the online processes businesses use to manage customer-facing operations and back-end operations, said Manning, and is a growing area of web development.
- Back-end web developers: These developers are responsible for the technical construction of a website. They create the basic framework of a website and ensure that it works as expected. They also establish procedures for adding new pages or other updates to a website.
- Front-end web developers: These developers are responsible for how a website looks. They create a website’s layout and incorporate graphics, applications for features like e-commerce checkout and other website content.
- Full stack web developers: These developers manage both the front- and back-end of a website or application. Full stack developers are in high demand, particularly among smaller businesses that may not be able to hire a large web development team, said Manning.
- UI/UX developers: Developers working in UI, or user interface, and UX, or user experience, focus on creating an online customer experience that is both visually appealing and functional. With more business being conducted online, these areas of development are in demand, said Manning.
Before getting started in one of these web development careers, it’s important to understand how to become a web developer and the steps you need to take to break into this growing field.
How Do I Become a Web Developer with No Experience?
No matter what area of web development you hope to work in, your career will need to start with education, both in the classroom and in the real world.
1. Explore Web Development
Even if you’re not enrolled in a computer science degree program, you can start learning web development right now.
“There are infinite tutorials online,” said Alnaji. “Start by building a web page. It’s that easy. With the resources we have, you don’t need to memorize anything. You just need to know it can be done, and you can learn how to do it.”
Still, while you can learn a lot through online tutorials, videos and blog posts, it’s important to note that if you want a career in web development, a college degree may be required.
2. Earn Academic Credits in Web Development
Educational requirements for web development jobs will vary depending on the setting you work in and the type of work you do.
You could choose to start with a web developer certificate, which introduces you to front- and back-end development and prepares you for full-stack web development positions. Should you later decide to advance your education further, you may be able to transfer the credits you earned during your certificate program to a degree program.
The major you choose for your four-year web development degree — and the web development courses you take — can also vary.
Web development degree options include:
- Bachelor of Art in Graphic Design: If you want to work on front-end web design and user experience, having a creative eye and solid design skills is important. A graphic design degree — especially one with a concentration in web design — can offer web development courses, including user interface and experience and advanced digital graphic design for web.
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Science: In a 4-year computer science degree, you’ll work to solve real-world problems in courses that focus on the design and development of computer software. You’ll take courses on topics including programming languages, software security and full stack development.
- Bachelor of Science in Information Technologies: A 4-year information technology degree will help you understand the principles of computing and how they relate to business operations. An IT degree with a concentration in software development includes courses on programming languages and also explores the software development lifecycle.
While most web development jobs require a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in information technology, computer science or software development may be required if you’re seeking a highly specialized web development job or want to manage a team of developers.
A master’s degree can help provide the bigger-picture view of web development and its function as part of a business that you’ll need to work in a leadership role, said Gaston.
“If you have interest in management, then the master’s degree will give more of an abstract view on technology and how to use it as a tool,” said Gaston. “But people can have a great career with a bachelor’s degree alone.”
3. Learn Key Programming Languages
While your degree's web development courses will offer many of the technical skills you’ll need to work in the field, you may need to master additional programming languages or specific software for certain jobs — particularly as these technologies grow and evolve.
Some of the most common programming languages used in web development include:
- CSS: CSS is a front-end development language used with HTML to style a website.
- HTML: HTML is a front-end web development language used to build and design static web pages.
- Java: Java is one of the most common front-end development languages used to design website content, games, software and apps.
- .Net: .Net is a programming language used to develop a wide variety of applications, including web, mobile and Windows-based applications.
- PHP: PHP is an open-source language often used on data-heavy websites or for app development.
- Python: Python is one of the simplest programming languages used to create a framework for virtually any website need.
- SQL: SQL is a database query language used when your website computes large amounts of data.
4. Enhance Your Learning with a Web Development Certification
One of the best ways to highlight your knowledge and experience with programming languages and other professional skills is by seeking industry certifications.
“Certifications are important because they show that you have the theoretical and functional knowledge about how things work to the point that you could pass the test,” said Gaston. “A certification demonstrates that initiative to want to go deeper in their career and to certify their skills. Certifications show a lot of things — not just technical competency — but initiative and commitment to their fields.”
There are a wide variety of computer science, information technology and web development certifications available. And the certifications you seek will vary depending on your interests and the jobs you hope to get.
Some popular certifications available for web development professionals include:
- AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner: If you’re interested in API development and want to work to develop cloud-based software and other applications, this certification can help you stand out.
- CompTIA Security+: In today’s world, website security is top of mind for all businesses. And a web developer with proven knowledge of cybersecurity is a valuable asset to any company. The CompTIA Security+ certification is one of the top cybersecurity certifications available.
- Google Developers Certifications: To become a Google Certified Developer, you can take a series of certification exams that test your knowledge in a variety of areas, including Android development, mobile web development, data engineering and cloud engineering.
- Zend Certified PHP Engineer: This certification requires passing an exam that covers PHP language, syntax and data types, along with support for web-based input and output, web features, security topics and more. Training lessons and a certification study guide are available.
5. Focus on Real-World Experience
Education is key to a web development career, but even the most highly educated professionals will have a hard time finding a job without proven development experience, said Manning.
“We have gone long past the time when you could get interviews by having a tuned-up resume,” Manning said. “You need to show prospective employers what you’ve done and what you can do. That is the biggest key to being able to break into a career in web development.”
Even if you've never worked in web development professionally before, there are many ways to show your experience and expertise. One of the best ways to do this is by building an online portfolio of your work.
This portfolio can include work you’ve completed for your web development courses, but it should also include projects done outside of the classroom. Finding internships, volunteering to work on web development projects for local nonprofits or even completing self-directed projects can all give you lots of experience you can include in a portfolio of your development work.
There are also many opportunities to find freelance paid work as a web development student, giving you relevant professional experience working with clients and meeting project requirements.
6. Develop Key Soft Skills
Getting real-world work experience doesn’t only enhance the technical skills you need to succeed in web development. It can also help you develop soft skills that are in high demand in the web development industry.
“A lot of people, when they think of web development, they think of someone sitting at their computer all alone,” said Gaston. “But usually, this work is done in teams. You have to be able to communicate ideas, collaborate and work well with others.”
Some of the most important soft skills for web developers, said Gaston, are:
- Critical thinking
- Data analysis
Whether you’re collaborating internally with a web development team, thinking critically to find a creative solution to a development problem or communicating a web design project to a client, these soft skills are critical to your success in a web development career.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Web Developer?
The time it takes to become a web developer varies. If you choose to earn a bachelor's degree, a required or preferred qualification you may encounter in job descriptions, you could complete your degree in four years.
You can get your bachelor's degree faster than that if you have transfer credits or certifications that can be applied to your program. Taking advantage of exams and organizations such as Sophia Learning that fulfill some of your course requirements can also help you reach graduation day sooner.
Consider taking advantage of internships and other types of experiential learning during your degree program, too. They often lead to connections and opportunities that can help you launch your web development career.
A web developer certificate can also be enough to get your foot in the door. In only nine months, you can build foundations in web development through certificate courses that introduce you to programming languages, concepts and design.
Through the projects involved in a coding bootcamp-style program, you can show employers you have technical experiences and demonstrated problem solving, collaboration and troubleshooting skills in less than a year.
Web Development Career Opportunities
With a technology or design degree and web development courses under your belt, you’ll be able to stop wondering how to become a web developer and start figuring out where you want to work.
Web development is a growing field, and there are a wide variety of work opportunities to put your degree to work, including:
- Consulting firms
- Development agencies
- Large corporations
- Self-employment or freelance
- Small businesses
- Software companies
Web developers are especially in high demand at small to medium businesses as companies continue to rely on more technology and web-based software to manage their businesses, said Manning.
“You have an opportunity in a small business to build relationships that will help you progress throughout your career,” Manning said.
No matter where you choose to work as a web developer, web developer jobs and other similar careers are in high demand across many industries — and offer competitive salaries.
Employment of web developers is projected to grow 30% from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations, and in 2021, web developers earned a median salary of $78,300, according to BLS data.
Software developers, who develop the applications that allow people to do specific tasks on a computer or other device, earned a median salary of $120,730 in 2021. Jobs for software developers are projected to grow 26% between 2021 and 2031, according to BLS.
Jobs for database administrators, who use specialized software to store and organize business data, are projected to grow 8% by 2031. Database administrators earned a median salary of $96,710 in 2021, BLS data shows.
How to Become a Web Developer & Jumpstart Your Career
If you want to build a successful career as a web developer, your learning can’t stop after you’ve earned a degree. Because technology changes all the time, you’ll need to commit to finding new opportunities to practice your skills, learn new technologies and network with other developers.
“Find developer forums, hobby projects, virtual meetups and other ways to continue to invest in your technical abilities and think about technology holistically,” Gaston said. “It’s not enough to just learn about coding. You need to think about the many factors that affect what you code and how you code.”
Focusing on continued learning not only opens up more career growth opportunities, said Manning; it can also help you build a more satisfying career.
“You get out of it what you put into it,” Manning said. “If you put the effort into it, you’re going to have a much more successful career and you’ll find that you’ll be able to be the best version of yourself as that developer, coder, software engineer, web designer or web developer. If you do that, you’re going to be happy going to work in the morning.”
A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU technology program that can best help you meet your goals.
Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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