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What would you do if someone asked you for advice about a career change? If you’re like everyone I know, you’d probably tell that person to become a web developer. And while that’s often good advice, it usually ends there for most folks. 

I’m just as guilty of this as anyone. I’ve told countless people to pursue coding as a career change without offering any practical suggestions or tips for doing so. This guide is my way to atone for that. 

What is a web developer? Let’s explore the answer to this surprisingly complex question, plus review the dozens of paths you can take to become one and the types of jobs you can expect to find on the open market.

What Does a Web Developer Do?

First things first: What is a web developer?

The term “web development” tends to be used pretty loosely to describe everything from crafting the look and feel of a website to building apps to making pages run as fast as possible. While that might confuse things at times, it also reflects how many different paths exist for talented programmers who can whip up clean, fast, and secure code.

But that’s a discussion for later in this guide. This is a good opportunity to establish a dictionary-ish definition of “web developer.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics explains that web developers create and maintain websites and are also responsible for the technical aspects of those sites, such as performance and capacity.

That’s good enough for now. But as we alluded to earlier, there are lots of different types of web developers. Let’s take a closer look.

3 Types of Web Development

I used to work for one of the biggest web development communities on the planet, where I learned about what felt like hundreds of approaches to web development. Some companies hire web developers who specialize in one type of project, such as data security or mobile responsiveness—or in some cases, developers who are experts in a specific programming language. 

But to keep things simple, here are the three most common titles you’ll find in a web developer job description.

1. Front-End Developer

As the title might suggest, front-end developers are responsible for the outward-facing appearance of a website. Not only are they tasked with creating sites that are visually appealing and stand out from the competition, but they create experiences that feel natural and enable users to get what they need as quickly as possible. These folks typically rely on well-known programming languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

2. Back-End Developer

On the flipside, back-end developers are responsible for writing code that connects to a company’s data servers and ensures that interactions and transactions are processed smoothly. The next time you impulse-buy a pair of sneakers, thank a back-end developer for making the purchasing experience seamless. Back-end developers are considered slightly more technical web developers and rely on newer programming languages such as Ruby, Python, and PHP.

3. Full-Stack Developer

Full-stack developers write code for the front and back end of a website or application. That’s no small task, as they have to know the programming languages that power each facet of a website. Also, because full-stack development can pull you into a wide variety of projects, these web developers tend to be extremely organized.

How to Become a Web Developer

Technically, I could send you back to college if you don’t have a web development degree. But many of my former colleagues (especially the developers in my network) would shame me for doing that. 

Why? Because many of the best web developers that I know are self-taught programmers who took non-traditional paths to very successful careers that didn’t require a web developer degree. Here are just a few ways to become a web developer, many of which involve web development online classes.

Web Development Education Paths

A quick Google search for any web developer job description will suggest that there are no less than 200 education paths for aspiring web developers. To help you cut through all of that noise, here are a few ways that you can get the education you need to become a web developer.

  • Web development certificates. Major universities like NYU offer certificate programs for aspiring web developers. While these aren’t necessarily cheap options, they are less expensive than a four-year degree—and they give you the ability to learn from experienced web development pros.
  • Web development bootcamps. This is an insanely popular path for folks looking to make a career change, as many of these programs can be completed over the course of 12 to 18 months. Some of the most popular options include CareerFoundry, Thinkful, and Ironhack. Bootcamps have several advantages over a web development certificate: Some programs allow students to defer their tuition until they land a job. Others have partnerships with well-known companies that offer mentorships and occasionally a direct path to a full-time job.
  • Self-directed web development education. To be frank, some of the sharpest web developers I’ve met have no formal education. These folks taught themselves how to code by taking web development online classes—and many of them say that Skillshare courses played a large role in their success.

Traditional Web Development Careers

OK, what happens after you do the hard work to get a web development certificate? Or complete a bootcamp or self-directed program? It probably comes as no surprise that companies all over the world are looking for talented web developers. 

Here are a few options for folks who want to work a traditional 9-to-5 schedule.

Industries You’ll Find Web Developer Positions In

Want to work at a fast-paced tech startup? Of course, they’re always looking for talented web developers. More interested in working for a banking institution, a real estate conglomerate, or a healthcare company? You guessed it: They’re also looking for talented web developers.

This is the part of a guide where I’d typically write out a list of industries where web developers could work, but if I were to do that, we’d be here forever. If there’s a company or industry that you’re interested in working for, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to do so as a web developer.

Remote Web Developer Jobs

Developers need two things to do their jobs: A powerful laptop and a reliable internet connection. And because web developers are in high demand, a growing number of companies are expanding their searches for candidates to locations that are far beyond the city limits of their headquarters. A 2019 study found that roughly one-third of developers work remotely full-time.

To find interesting remote jobs for developers, check out sites like Remote.co, Stack Overflow, We Work Remotely, and Remotive.io.

Web Developer Salary

More good news: Once you master your craft as a web developer, companies will compensate you very well for your services.

According to Indeed, the average web development salary in New York is roughly $93,000 per year. The national average is just under $70,000 per year. That said, your web development salary will depend on the amount of experience you bring to the table—top programmers at top companies typically earn well into the six figures.

Web Developer Job Outlook

I used to write articles about how web developers can basically choose where they want to work—and that’s because there’s an ongoing demand for (and shortage of) talented candidates. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the employment of web developers is set to grow by 13 percent between 2020 and 2030. 

Or, in other words, the job outlook is very strong—if you take the time to master your craft.

Freelance Web Development 

Not interested in a traditional 9-to-5? Want to work for several different companies? While freelance web development might require a bit more administrative work like sending invoices and quotes to potential clients, there are very viable paths to a freelance web development career.

Remote Freelance Jobs for Developers

I get a lot of emails from companies I respect looking for freelance web developers. Much of what we wrote earlier in this guide applies here. Freelance web developers can work in any industry (or for any type of company) that they want to—from startups to the Fortune 500.

How to Get Freelance Web Development Jobs

Even better news, many of the websites I mentioned earlier are also great resources for folks who want to pursue freelance careers. However, there are a few additional resources that freelance web developers rely on to find work, including:

  1. CodePen Jobs
  2. We Work Meteor
  3. Upwork
  4. Toptal
  5. Gigster

Freelance Web Development Salaries

Like most freelance jobs, your salary as a freelance web developer will vary based on your experience and the scope of the project. However, experts estimate that skilled freelance web developers earn about $75 per hour

Ready to Start Coding?

A career in web development can be lucrative and exciting. But as you dive into your web development education, you’ll quickly discover that there’s a lot to learn. Try not to get overwhelmed by the countless things you could work on. Focus on one programming language at a time, or try just one project for a few weeks. Even if you’re picking up skills quickly, you’ll never run out of things to learn about web development. Take your time, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, and have fun.

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