Web developers are specialist software engineers who use their technical ability and creative vision to develop web applications, such as content management systems, e-commerce solutions and other bespoke web-based products.
Web developers are a unique breed, and the development projects they work on have a number of key differences. For instance, web developers develop their products on a web server and use a web browser as a graphical user interface (GUI).
Consequently, web developers also need to think about cross-browser compatibility, i.e. how the web application will function across various different browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Opera and Safari.
It’s also important to note that web development can be split into two main disciplines: front-end development and back-end development. Back-end developers deal with the ‘server-side’. They develop the stuff we don’t physically see on the website. For example, they write code that determines how data is managed, distributed, processed and arranged.
Front-end developers, however, focus on the ‘client-side’. Their work determines the functionality of the user interface, such as how the website looks and behaves. For example, this can include deciding how a website scrolls up and down, how hyperlinks open and how multimedia features work.
Many web developers are skilled in a range of different scripting languages. However, most people eventually choose to specialise in one or two specific languages and develop their careers around those niche skills.
Web developers are involved throughout the entire project lifecycle. Firstly, they get involved with the requirements gathering process, where they will find out the objectives of the proposed web solution.
Secondly, they ‘scope’ the project, identifying what needs to be developed, how it needs to be developed and when it should be developed by. They will also choose the most appropriate scripting language for the job and identify any development frameworks which can be exploited to speed up the process.
Once this has all been worked out, the web developer will get stuck into the actual coding of the web application. During the development phase, web developers will also conduct automated unit testing. This innovative approach, which is known as test-driven development (TDD), essentially involves programming and testing in parallel. This makes the whole process much more efficient.
Once the development process is complete, more testing will be undertaken. This will involve conducting functional testing to ensure everything works properly, and user acceptance testing (UAT) to make sure the product fulfils the requirements of the end user.
A web developer’s job might also involve some database administration. The majority of web applications are database-driven. Therefore, web developers need to be able to develop and administer databases, and understand and write complex SQL queries.
Once a web application has been developed, a web developer will also be responsible for detecting and fixing bugs before the product is launched.
Salary & benefits
Entry-level web developers tend to earn between £20,000 and £27,000 per annum.
Senior web developers, however, can earn up to £70,000 a year, and freelance contractors can earn considerably more.
Web developers typically work five days a week from nine-to-five, although extra evening and weekend work may be required from time to time to meet project deadlines.
Although a degree is not strictly necessary for entry into this line of work, completing an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject, such as computer science, software engineering, maths or physics, may boost your chances of securing an entry-level position.
If you don’t have a computing-related undergraduate degree, it may be advisable to complete a postgraduate qualification in a relevant subject.
Another way to boost your employability is to get work experience with a digital agency or I.T. company. This will give you fantastic hands-on experience and will enable you to build up a network of useful contacts.
Training & progression
The majority of your training will be done ‘on-the-job’ under the supervision of a senior web developer. You may also be given the opportunity to attend in-house training sessions.
Organisations such as Pearson VUE also offer training courses, professional qualifications and vendor certifications for web developers who are keen to keep their skills fresh.
Working in I.T. is a constant learning process and, in order to be successful, you will need to keep on top of industry developments and teach yourself new skills all the time.
Once you have gained a decent amount of experience, you may step up into a senior web developer position with team leading responsibilities. Eventually, you may advance your technical knowledge even further and begin working as a web architect.
Alternatively, you might decide to branch out and work in a different area of the I.T. industry, such as web project management.
Many web developers eventually become independent contractors and work on a freelance basis for a range of different clients.