So you want to be a < web developer />

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First off, let's go into detail on what a web developer does and what you need to become a good developer. Most people are aware that web developers build websites, but there is much more to it than that. Web developers build websites, web applications, web-based games, and more. Web developers do more than just write code, and while writing code is a big part of the job, interacting with designers, illustrators, copywriters and other personnel involved in the planning process is an essential piece of the puzzle. Web developers also analyse website performance and strategise updates and improvements. They build an easy-to-use website that takes into account the end-user and their specific needs while still optimising the website to be as efficient as possible. On top of that, it’s crucial for them to spend a great deal of time researching new programming techniques and technologies.

Many people seem to confuse web development with web design when they are in fact two separate entities. A good web developer must be familiar with web design and have an understanding of what good design is. Web developers should be able to design a simple website, but the main focus should be on development.

In short, developers need to be able to:

  • Build websites using authoring or scripting languages (more on that later)
  • Write, design and edit content while keeping in mind the layout, structure and efficiency of the website
  • Test and debug code, as well as identify and correct problems uncovered by testing or user feedback
  • Convert written, graphic, audio and video components to compatible web formats
  • Ensure the website is responsive on all platforms (eg: computer/laptop, tablet, mobile phone)
  • Become familiar with new technologies and techniques as they emerge

Fact: Employment for web developers is expected to grow 20% through 2020

If all of this sounds like a good time to you, then you are on the right track to becoming a developer! So you know what a developer does, but what makes a good developer? It is one thing knowing how to code and build websites, but you need certain personal qualities to ensure that you are a great developer throughout your career.

Developers need good communication skills, whether you are working as a team leader or team member, you need to be able to organise with other developers, designers, content managers, project managers, etc. You also need to be able to communicate with clients and interpret their wants and needs. A lot of the time a client might not be able to convey the idea that they have in their head and it is your job to try and understand them and translate that idea into the website or app that you are building.

Developers must have a love of learning and a passion for their field. A good developer loves their job and what they do, even if the work gets a little stale sometimes. The Internet and development is evolving constantly, new scripts, widgets, designs, better techniques and technologies are released daily. It is essential to stay educated and familiar with all technologies so that your work is always efficient, of the best quality and so that you, as a developer, remain relevant in the industry. Developers are never satisfied so they are constantly adjusting, honing and perfecting their craft. Stay curious! Stay passionate! Get excited!

Patience can be very difficult to find at times, but it is very important to practice it at all times. The reality of the job is that, at one point or another, you WILL deal with a frustrating client/co-worker, or get stuck on a problem in your code that takes you hours to solve, or have to build a dull website that doesn’t seem to end. It is imperative that you keep your composure and persevere. Mastering your emotions can be tricky but it will make your professional life a whole lot easier without resorting to drink.

Perfectionism is a highly valued trait as a developer - it is critical for web developers to employ an extreme attention to detail because one small mistake can break an entire website; there is no margin of error for web developers. This perfectionism needs to be present not only in code but also in the layout of the website – every pixel is important and if your content is not aligned correctly, your website will not be aesthetically pleasing.

“Most web developers I’ve encountered [suffer from] borderline obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to checking and double-checking their code.”  -  Sam McRoberts (Vudu Marketing)

If you have not been scared away yet then congratulations! You might have what it takes to become a developer! As such, I think it is safe at this point for me to throw out some technical information. Web developers will never only use one coding language – one language will never be enough to do the things you need to do and you will almost always use at least 3 or 4 languages for a single project. It is therefore crucial to be well-versed in multiple languages.

The below scripts are the most-used by web developers, but you may be required to know additional languages:

  • CSS
  • PHP
  • Javascript
  • jQuery
  • And often (but not always) Java and C#
  • And rarely XML

HTML, CSS, and PHP are your bread and butter, your reason for being. Love them, take them out to dinner and snuggle with them under the stars. You will never not use these scripts.

HTML is used to structure your website, it is the skeleton or foundation that holds your site together and provides areas for you to house your content. HTML uses tags that are enclosed in < and > symbols.

CSS is used to style your website and makes it look good. CSS is used to change the font, colour, alignment, etc of your website. It is a very powerful language and there are many different tricks and effects, and animations you can achieve with CSS.

For example, you can create simple games with CSS!


Or maybe create some of your favourite cartoon characters (that move)


How about a working calculator?


In short, CSS is magic.

A rule that should always be followed is that you should never have any content in your code. This is where PHP comes in; it is used to get all your content from posts, custom post types, pages, widgets and other sources. This is so that the user can easily view and edit content in a user-friendly environment (such as Wordpress, which we will get to in a minute) that will reflect on the website. PHP works hand in hand with backend services like Wordpress, Joomla (although this is not used anymore), Magento, and others. It is imperative that, as a developer, you are familiar with these services, especially Wordpress, as it is one of the most used.
Javascript and jQuery are used when you want some additional functionalities to your website – you do not HAVE to use them but they sure do make life a lot easier. These two scripts are very powerful and are very handy to have in your back pocket. They can solve your problems quickly and easily and will also allow you to do some pretty awesome stuff with your website (including games!). I highly recommend making good friends with these two languages.

Still here? Still hearing the call of the web developer? Then it is time to study!

The best thing to do is to get a qualification, however, there are many different qualifications that can set you up for a career in multimedia. The trick is to find the one that best suits you.

University of Pretoria:
(BIS) Multimedia
(BSc) Computer Science

University of South Africa:
(BA) Multimedia Studies: Computer-Generated Multimedia
(BSc) Information Technology and Computer Science

(BSc) Computer Science

Varsity Collage:
Diploma in Information Technology and Software Development

Microsoft Certifications (online):
MCSD: Web Applications
MTA: Developer

If a qualification is not possible, have no fear! There are also many online schools that can offer free or paid courses in web development:

Code School

The Internet is a fantastic source of information and the best way to learn is to research and practice. The developer community is (generally) very friendly and eager to help. Ask questions and don’t give up.

Happy coding!

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