How to Become a Web Developer (And Land Your First Job)

So, you want to become a web developer. The question is, how do you turn your aspirations into a fulfilling career?

Web development has several upsides — it’s challenging, professionally rewarding and has excellent salary potential — and the tech industry offers a wide range of lucrative jobs to individuals with strong coding skills. The tricky part is gaining the skills you need to enter the job pool in the first place.

In this article, we will go over the steps required to become a web developer and build your career in the field. We’ll discuss different learning methods, skills that are important for web developers and educational opportunities like a web development bootcamp, which provides a fast track for upskillers to quickly gain the skills needed to enter the field. By taking a few key steps, you can start moving toward a new, in-demand career with excellent growth potential.

Let’s start navigating your course.

5 Steps to Becoming a Web Developer

To put the matter simply: education is key to your career change.

There are several formal educational avenues open to aspiring web developers, as well as self-directed routes that you can walk independently. Read on to learn more about the steps involved in becoming a web developer!

1. Get Started on Your Road to Learning

Education is paramount. Your first step to achieving success in web development must be learning foundational programming technologies.

That said, you don’t necessarily need to start your academic explorations by committing to a formal education. Engaging with web-based resources and watching tutorial videos can help you develop background knowledge in web development basics and help you determine what you want to study.

But before we get into learning routes, let’s start with some of the most critical skills to research when considering a career in web development. Take a look at our list:

HTML and CSS

HTML and CSS are often referred to as the building blocks of any website. HTML, or hypertext markup language, organizes a website’s structure and defines what a site user encounters when they visit a page.

On the other hand, CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, defines the style and appearance of how that information is displayed. Even the most basic websites make use of HTML and CSS, and they provide a basis for the more advanced technologies you’ll need to explore as you build your career plans.

JavaScript

This scripting language allows you to create dynamic, interactive websites that not only display static information but also respond to the needs of your customers and visitors (e.g., buttons, forms, animations and so on).

Along with HTML and CSS, JavaScript is the most widely used technology on the web today. As you improve your JavaScript skills, you’ll want to learn libraries like jQuery, which power many interactive web applications.

PHP

If you want to develop sites, themes or plugins for popular content management systems like WordPress, knowing PHP is essential for your web development career. Many popular websites and content management systems make wide use of PHP for scripting, or writing code that executes tasks.

Because its syntax borrows a great deal from other common programming languages, PHP tends to be an easy language for programmers to pick up.

Bootstrap and Development Frameworks

The more you learn, the more you’ll want to think about your specialization. If you’re going to become a front end developer and handle the part of the site that users interact with, learning how to navigate Bootstrap and similar development frameworks will be a necessary part of your education.

For context, Bootstrap is a free, open-source framework that helps developers create fast, responsive and mobile-optimized websites. It is one of the countless development frameworks that make it easier for programmers to develop programs for a specific platform.

Python, Java and Programming Languages

On the other hand, if you want to become a back end developer — a professional who works primarily on the behind-the-scenes-code that visitors never see — learning server-side languages is a must. Some of the same programming languages used to create desktop applications are also widely used in web development; however, some are specific to back end coding.

At the very least, an aspiring back end coder should have experience using Python and Java. However, there are many more technologies to explore, from database languages like MySQL to the wide range of popular development libraries available via React or Node.js.

As you progress beyond learning basic definitions and skills, you may need more structure in your web development education. It can be difficult — if not impossible — for aspiring programmers to gain the above skills without help or guidance. Which brings us to our next point: educational routes.

2. Get a Web Development Education

Getting a high-quality education is one of the most important steps in establishing yourself as a professional web developer. That said, the way you go about obtaining that education can vary depending on your current career status, family obligations, work schedule and current level of knowledge and experience.

For example, someone who needs to support their family may not have the financial and scheduling bandwidth to take several years off of work to pursue a traditional university degree. Similarly, a professional who already has some relevant skills or experience may prefer to study independently or enroll in a short, intensive bootcamp to upskill into a new career.

It’s important to note that college is not always necessary to enter the field, either. According to Stack Overflow’s 2020 Developer Survey, only 9.7 percent of professional developers believe that a formal education is critically important, while over a third (39.5 percent) view it as somewhat or not at all important.

Coding bootcamps and self-directed learning provide two alternative routes into the tech industry.

Coding Bootcamps

Online coding bootcamps can be excellent resources for people who value flexibility and want to upskill quickly. In a bootcamp, students focus more on web development skills that employers are looking for in comparison to a more theoretical approach that college curricula typically offer.

Bootcamps focus on teaching foundational and intermediate web development skills. Many bootcamp curricula are tailored to a particular area of focus (i.e., front end, back end, full stack). That said, you can expect to leave a full stack web development bootcamp with job-ready coding knowledge and a well-stocked professional portfolio.

Full stack bootcamps are full, structured programs that provide experienced instructors, individualized support and lively class environments. They are particularly attractive for their flexibility; aside from being significantly cheaper than four-year degrees, many provide part-time, weekend and night scheduling options that can be completed in as little as three to six months.

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Self-Directed Learning

These days, information is only ever a few clicks away. There are many online options, both free and paid, where you can sign up for a formal class, watch tutorial videos, complete projects or even watch recorded computer science lectures. Such programs are typically entirely self-directed: you set your own schedule, engage with the material when you have time and explore the resources provided at your own pace.

Some free online sources provide practical coding experience by connecting students with nonprofit projects. You can also read books on coding to expand your theoretical knowledge. In fact, these resources can be an excellent adjunct even when you pursue a more structured and formal education program.

A caveat here — this type of self-directed education requires you to set up a clear schedule and prioritize your lessons even when you have other obligations and stressors.

College

All this said, we would be remiss if we didn’t highlight the value that a college education offers to those who have the time and resources to obtain one. College degrees are comprehensive; they provide students with a broad knowledge base and ample opportunities for project-based learning. They also tend to be connective, offering networking and internship opportunities to motivated learners.

Your education should fit your needs and circumstances — so think carefully before committing to an academic path!

3. Choose Your Development Specialization

Generally speaking, most developers fall into one of three categories: front end, back end and full stack.

Front End Development

If you work in front end development, you manage the user experience for people who visit a website. Front end developers are experts in CSS, HTML and JavaScript, and can create the code that brings website design ideas to life. Your tools define how users interact with a website; if you love the creative, visual side of web development, a front end career may be a great option for you.

Back End Development

Back end developers design, maintain and improve the technologies that keep sites running behind the scenes. Back end developers use languages such as Python, PHP, Ruby on Rails and Java to build applications, manage server-side technologies and interact with front end code for faster, more responsive website experiences.

Full Stack Development

You don’t necessarily have to choose between front and back end programming. If you have a strong aptitude and interest in both aspects of web development, you may pursue a career as a full stack developer. These professionals are knowledgeable about all aspects of the web development process, from conducting back end, server-side programming to managing front end user experience.

This path may also be appealing to new career changers who don’t want to limit themselves early on in the educational process. For that reason, many coding bootcamps provide an array of full stack skills to give you a strong foundation in most major areas of development.

Learn more about full stack development in our article 9 Useful Facts About Full Stack Development.

4. Build Your Personal Web Development Portfolio

When it comes to making a successful career in the web development field, you will want to have a strong portfolio to share with potential employers and clients.

When you attend a structured educational program such as a four-year degree or web development bootcamp, you will naturally be assigned several projects. These will help you engage in hands-on learning — and ensure that you graduate with a portfolio that highlights your skills and experience with a wide range of industry-relevant technologies.

You can continue to augment your portfolio with projects you build at home or within a bootcamp environment. Even small programs you create as a hobby can become a part of your portfolio.

It is worth noting that not all relevant skills relate directly to programming languages or technologies. Soft skills like working within a team, for example, are essential in many tech careers.

When you attend a coding bootcamp or college class, you will often be assigned group projects as part of the program. Because most bootcamp learners tend to be highly motivated, these group projects more closely parallel the experience you’ll find later on the job and can thus be used in your portfolio to prove your aptitude for teamwork.

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5. Keep Learning and Coding

Web development is an incredibly dynamic field, with new technologies, preferred frameworks and standards continually evolving.

Even after you become a web development professional, one of the best ways to ensure your continued success is to keep learning and coding, exploring newer technologies and building upon your skills. According to recent reporting from Stack Overflow, roughly 75 percent of polled professional developers say that they learn a new technology “at least every few months or once per year.”

A chart that shows how often developers learn a new language or framework.

Open-source technologies can be a great way for web developers to build their portfolios, strengthen their coding chops and network with others in the field.

For example, sites like GitHub allow people to contribute to large, open-source projects and collaborate with other programmers. Good contributions and commitment to these projects can help introduce your work to others in the industry and build an even more diverse and technically rich portfolio.

Like the projects you produce, a coding career is dynamic, interactive and continually evolving to suit the times. By remaining active in the community and sharpening your skills, you ensure that your skills stay marketable and relevant to employers’ needs.

5 Steps to Land Your First Job

Once you’ve graduated from your educational path, you’ll want to enter the coding world and land your first job as a junior web developer. But there’s no need to wait — you can get started preparing for the job hunt while attending an online coding bootcamp, pursuing a university degree or exploring online self-managed learning. By building your skills and putting together a great portfolio, you’re already well on your way to finding your first role.

Let’s go over what you’ll need to do to find professional success.

1. Plan for What You Want to Achieve

You’ve already considered your web development specialties; this will give you a good idea of the job titles you’ll want to seek out on job boards. Planning for the type of job you would like to have, the specialty you’d like to pursue and even your current location will help you target your job search to the most valuable options.

That said, when you are planning for a career change, almost any job in your desired field, especially if it comes with a decent salary, may present substantial appeal — so don’t limit yourself too much!

2. Take an Optimistic, Realistic Look at Your Next Step

Both optimism and realism are essential in the job search. You want to build a great, even industry-leading career in web development. Still, as a new graduate, you will likely be seeking a junior web development job.

Consider your future goals; even a job that may seem less overtly interesting may help you get to your bigger goals quicker and more effectively. Continuing to work on passion projects and open-source initiatives in your free time can also help you land a great job with substantial upsides.

3. Develop a Great Resume and Portfolio

Writing a great resume can highlight your technical skills and specialties for prospective employers at a glance. Action-oriented resumes that highlight your achievements and direct employers to your portfolio can help you get attention from hiring managers and show off your technical skills.

4. Work Your Network

Networking is crucial for success in the tech industry.

When you attend an online coding bootcamp or college program, you’ll likely develop connections with many other industry professionals. When you join message boards, open-source development groups or even social clubs, you should let people know that you are in the market for a job. When people are impressed by your work, dedication and technical skills, they just might refer you to the perfect opening for the next step in your career.

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5. Keep Your Skills Strong

Many tech industry jobs involve a technical interview or a coding test. Even after you graduate, keep practicing and building projects. Beyond creating a great portfolio, this practice will keep you in good shape when it’s time to take a technical interview or ace a coding test.

The good news is that web developers and coders are in high demand. Many employers are looking for web professionals who have the skills they need to keep their sites running and develop new applications. By keeping these tips in mind, you will be well-placed for a quick, successful career shift.

Expected Job Growth for Web Developers in California and the U.S.

Of course, one thing that makes a web development career change so appealing is the fact that this is a profession on the rise. There is tremendous potential for job growth for web developers in California and across the country.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of available web development roles is expected to increase by 8 percent between 2019 and 2029. This is significantly faster (nearly double) the average rate of growth for all other professions.

A graph that shows the projected job growth for web developers and digital designers.

It is worth noting that pay can vary widely between geographical areas. In San Francisco, developers tend to make more than colleagues in other geographical regions. There are a few reasons for this higher pay — for one, the San Francisco area is home to Silicon Valley and the headquarters of some of the largest tech companies in the world. It also has a higher cost of living than other, less popular hubs.

That said, living outside of the West Coast may not preclude you from enjoying high profits. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, more tech workers than ever have been able to take advantage of remote work and relocate to areas with a lower cost of living. This movement may have a flattening effect that equalizes pay across areas — however, the long-term influence of the remote work trend remains to be seen.

Want to gauge your regional earning potential? You can consult the Bureau of Labor Statistics to consider the prospective location’s pay potential before you make a career or household move.

Summary

Web development isn’t just a potentially lucrative profession with a high job growth rate and employer interest. It’s also a creative field that allows you to develop new, dynamic ways for people to interact with technology, gather information and build communities with others. By learning the technical skills to drive your web development career forward, you can build on your passion and make your career change dreams a reality.

Explore educational options like Berkeley Coding Boot Camp as you plan your next steps toward a career in web development!

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