How to Become a Web Developer: A Beginner’s Guide
Technology is increasingly taking a center stage in our lives, from the simplest of applications all the way to groundbreaking discoveries. Every web application you have come across has been built by a website developer -ok, you already know that;). So, who exactly are web developers and what do they do?
To most people, web development may seem complicated, confusing and somewhat a field reserved only for geniuses. To help demystify this exciting field, this post is designed to introduce you to web development and what it takes to become a professional website developer. This post will take you through the details of web development and point you to the essential skills and resources you need to break into this industry.
So, what is website development?
Basically, this is the process of building websites and applications for the Internet or Intranet. It is important to note that website development has nothing to do with the design of the website. Rather, it involves writing codes and programs that power the functionality of a website. Whether it is a simple static landing page, a social media platform, or an e-commerce site complete with a CMS, all the tools you interact with online on a daily basis are the work of a web developer.
Web development can be broken further into three layers:
- Client-sided or front-end coding
- Server-sided or backend coding
- Database technology
Now let’s discuss each of these layers in detail:
Front-End development, also known as client-sided scripting, refers to everything the website’s end user interacts with directly. Front-end code executes in the web browser and directly relates to what users see when they visit a website. This includes elements like layout, colors, fonts, menus, and contact forms.
Back-end development or server-sided scripting, as the name suggests, is all about what goes on behind the scenes. Ideally, this is the part of the website that the user does not interact with directly. It is responsible for data organization and ensuring that everything on the front-end side is running smoothly. It achieves this by communicating with the front-end. Whenever an action is executed on the front-end – say, a user creates an account – the browser relays the command to the server-side. The server-side then responds with relevant information in form of a front-end code that the browser interprets and displays on the user’s screen.
A website also relies on database technology. A database is where all the files and content required for website function are stored in such a way that they are easy to retrieve, organize, edit, and save. This database is stored in the server and nearly all websites use some form of Relational Database Management System.
The client-side, server-side and database technology all work together to create and run a fully functional application or website, and these three layers form the basis of website development.
Understanding the difference between website design and development
Chances are you have heard the terms website development and website design used interchangeably. However, they mean two very different things.
Think about a web designer and a web developer teaming together to build a car. The designer will focus on the visual aspects of the car, how it will look like, the design of the seats, the dashboard layout, etc. The developer, on the other hand, will take care of the car’s functionality. Things like the engine, breaking system, wheels, electronics, etc.
A web designer works on the website’s look and feel. They create the website’s layout, making sure that everything is both logical and user-friendly. They take into account the various visual elements like the choice of fonts and color schemes, the buttons, drop-down menus and scrollbars. They also work on the website’s information architecture, deciding what content is to be used and where it is to be placed on the website.
Website design is quite broad and is often broken down into more specific roles as follows:
- User Experience Design
- Information Architecture
- User Interface Design
To summarize: A web designer is the architect while the web developer is the engineer or builder.
Now, what does a website developer do?
Simply put, a web developer exists to build and maintain websites. These professionals can work in-house or as freelancers. Their specific tasks and responsibilities vary depending on whether they are working as a front-end, back-end, or full-stack website developer.
A website developer is responsible for developing a product that meets both the client and the users’ needs. They work in collaboration with the client in order to understand and transform their vision into a fully functional website.
A big part of website development also has to do with identifying and correcting the bugs in order to optimize the website or application. A website developer is a problem solver, constantly coming up with solutions and workarounds to keep the website functioning optimally.
As a website developer, it goes without saying that you need to be proficient in certain programming languages. That said, different developers work with different programming languages based on their specific job title and areas of expertise. Let us now look at the different website development layers and the related tasks in more detail.
Understanding what a Front-End Web Developer Does
A front-end developer works on the website’s layout, interactive as well as navigational elements such as scrollbars, buttons, images, text, and internal links. A front end developer is also responsible for ensuring that the website displays properly on different devices and browsers. They achieve by coding the website in such a way that it is responsive to various screen sizes so that the users enjoy the same experience whether they are viewing the website on a desktop, tablet, or mobile.
A front end developer also performs the usability tests to fix any arising bug. They also ensure the web pages adhere to SEO best practices. Finally, they also develop tools that boost a user’s experience while on the website.
Understanding what a back-end website developer does
A website’s back-end is basically the engine that powers the front-end. As such, a back-end developer focuses on building and maintaining the technology required to keep the front-end working. This technology consists of three components: the server, the application, and the database.
A back-end developer, thus, ensures that everything the front-end developer is building is fully functional. Simply put, it is a front-end developer’s job to ensure that the server, database, and application are all communicating well with each other.
So, how do they accomplish this?
First, they use server sided-languages like Ruby, PHP, Java, and Python to build the application. Next, they use tools like Oracle, MySQL, and SQL Server to find, edit or save data and deliver it to the user in front-end code.
Just like the front-end developer, a back-end developer must work with the client to understand what they are looking for. They then accomplish their work in a number of ways depending on the project’s specifics. Here are the typical back-end development tasks: creating, integrating, and managing the database, using back-end frameworks to build server-sided software, developing and deploying content management systems, and working with web server technologies, operating systems, and API integration.
A back-end developer is also tests and debugs any back-end elements of the application or website.
Understanding what a full-stack developer does
A full stack developer understands both the front-end and back-end components of the website or application. They understand every stage of the website development process, meaning they have what it takes to take care of the front end development as well as back-end development projects.
Most full-stack developers have years of experience in a various website development roles, giving them a solid understanding of the entire website development process. A full-stack developer is proficient in both front-end as well as back-end frameworks and languages, the server, network as well as the hosting environment. They also have sound knowledge in both user experience and business logic.
A website developer can also specialize in mobile application development, either android development or iOS development.
An iOS builds applications that run on the iOS operating. These professionals should be fluent in Swift, the programming language that was specifically created by Apple for their applications.
Android application developers, on the other hand, build applications that are compatible with Android devices. Java is the official language for developing Android applications.
Website Development Languages, Frameworks, and Libraries
Website developers work with programming languages, frameworks, and libraries to build websites and applications. In this section, we are going to look at these as well as other tools that website developers use in their daily work.
Web development Languages
Languages are the building blocks that website developers use to create websites, software and applications. There different types of languages for developers, including programming languages, markup languages, style sheet languages, and database languages.
This is essentially a set of commands and languages that instructs the computer to produce certain outputs. Programmers use “high-end” programming languages to write source codes. High-end languages utilize symbols and logical words that are easy for humans to read and understand. These high-level languages can either be classified as compiled or interpreted languages.
Java and C++ are, for instance, compiled high-level languages. They can be saved in a text-based format that human programmers can comprehend but not computers. In order for a computer to run this course code, it has to be converted into a low-level language, or machine code. Compiled languages are used for creating software applications.
Interpreted languages like PHP and Perl do not require compiling. Instead, the source code written in these languages require interpretation – a program that reads and executes the code. Interpreted languages are typically used for running scripts, such as those used for content generation in dynamic websites.
A low-level language can be directly recognized and executed by a computer’s hardware. In other words, they do not need translation or interpretation. Assembly language and Machine language are some of the most common examples of low-level languages.
These languages are used to specify for formatting text files. Simply put, markup languages tell the application that displays the text how the text should be formatted. Markup languages contain standard words that make them legible to the human eye. However, markup tags are not visible in the final output.
XML and HTML are the two most popular markup languages. HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is used for building websites.
XML, on the other hand, stands for eXtensible Markup Language and is used for storing and transporting data.
Style Sheet Languages
Basically, a style sheet is a set of stylistic rules. As the name suggests, style sheet languages are used for styling documents that have been written in markup languages. CSS is the most popular style sheet language. It is used to add colors, change fonts, add borders and backgrounds, and style forms. It can also be used for optimizing web pages for responsive designs to ensure that they adapt their layout to different devices.
Languages are not only used for building websites, applications, and software. They can also be used for creating and managing databases.
A database is used to store a large amount of data. Netflix, for example, uses databases to store movies as well as about the user’s listening preferences. Same way, social media applications like Pinterest use databases to store user information; thus, any time you update your profile, the app’s database will also be updated.
A database is not designed to recognize the same languages that applications are programmed in, so it is important to have a language that they can interpret. This is where SQL comes in.
SQL stands for Structured Query Language and is the standard language used for accessing and manipulating relational databases. SQL comes with its own markup, and basically allows programmers to work with the data that has is stored within the database system.
Frameworks and Libraries
A framework, on the other hand, contains pre-designed components and tools that a developer uses to write codes faster. It is important to mention that most frameworks come with libraries. This gives the developer a structure to work from, and the framework you choose to work with will generally define how you build your website or application. As such, choosing a framework is quite a deal. Some of the most popular frameworks include Rails, Bootstrap, and Angular.
Other Website Development Tools
Web developers also use tools like Sublime, text editor, Visual Studio Code, and Atom when writing their codes, web browsers like Firefox and Chrome, as well as an extremely important tool known as Git.
Git is a version control system where you can store and manage your codes. As a developer, there is no doubt that you will need to effect constant changes on your code, and a tool like Git is crucial for tracking and reversing these changes when there is need. Git also makes it easier for developers to work in teams and manage several projects all at once. In fact, Git has become one of the most important tools in website development that it is almost considered a bad practice if you are not using it.
Another very important tool is the cloud interface for Git known as the GitHub. Besides offering all the version control functionality of Git, GitHub also comes with its own features like task management, bug tracking, and project wikis. GitHub hosts repositories and provides developers with a comprehensive toolset that makes it easier to follow best coding practices. This is the perfect place to be when handling open source projects. It also provides a platform where you can showcase your skills or present your work for critique from other developers.
So what does it take to start a career in website development?
A career in website development is exciting, financially rewarding, and has plenty to offer in terms of job security. In fact, this is one of the fastest growing industries in terms of job opportunities. A web developer is ranked the eighth best tech job based on employability and salary. According to survey, the average website developer salary in the US is $77,572 per annum. Of course, this salary varies based on your experience, skills, and location.
The first step towards becoming a website developer is learning the necessary languages, frameworks, and libraries. You will also need to acquaint yourself with some of the tools discussed above as well as the common website development syntax.
- Sign up for web development courses
- Find a mentor
- Code, code, code…..and code some more!
- Build your portfolio
- Work on your resume
- Apply for jobs
- Prepare for the interview
- Ace that interview, and get started!
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