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How to become a web developer

Web developers build and maintain websites using programming languages. Joining this dynamic, expanding career path requires a mix of education and experience.
Written by Genevieve Carlton, Contributor

As the tech field continues to expand, web developers take advantage of many opportunities for career advancement and growth. These professionals play an essential role in tech by building engaging, functional websites. 

Web developers work for major tech companies, startups, and small development companies. Some web developers also pursue freelance opportunities. Web developer careers offer above-average salaries and high demand. The median web developer salary exceeds $77,000 per year. 

Becoming a web developer requires several steps. Prospective developers complete a bootcamp, certificate, or degree to build the technical skills required for the career path. This article offers a step-by-step view of how to become a web developer, from the educational requirements to the job market. It also introduces different types of web developers, key considerations before launching a web development career, and related careers.

What type of web developer should I be?

Within the field of web development, professionals focus on front-end, back-end, or full-stack development. Each type of web developer requires a different skill set. When choosing a focus area, learners should consider their strengths, prior experience, and interests. 

Front-end developer

Front-end developers program the user-facing side of a website. They use programming languages like HTML and CSS to create the visual look of the site. Front-end developers also create interactive features with JavaScript.

Good fit for: Professionals with visual or graphic design experience; those who enjoy working closely with digital designers and copywriters; people with strong collaboration and client-facing skills

Back-end developer

Back-end developers program the server side of a website. They connect the site with databases and application programming interfaces (APIs) to pull information. Back-end developers also focus on speed and security. 

Good fit for: Professionals with database or algorithm experience; those with strong abstract thinking skills; people who enjoy working closely with database administrators and security specialists

Full-stack developer

Full-stack developers bring both front-end and back-end skills to their roles. They bridge the two specializations by working on the user-facing and server side of sites. As a result, full-stack developers require the broadest array of technical skills.

Good fit for: Professionals with strong programming skills in multiple languages and frameworks; those with previous experience as a front-end or back-end developer; people who enjoy working closely with developers, designers, and other tech professionals.

Things to consider before becoming a web developer

A career in web development offers many rewards, including strong demand and above-average salaries. However, professionals should research the job market and educational requirements before becoming a web developer. 

  • Web developers benefit from high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects much faster than average job growth for web developers from 2020-2030. 
  • A growing number of web development jobs offer remote work opportunities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers switched to remote work, increasing the opportunities for working from home. 
  • Web developers earn an above-average salary. In 2020, the median web developer salary was $77,200.
  • Learners can enter the field with a degree or a certificate. A coding bootcamp can also build web development fundamentals. 
  • As technology continues to evolve, web developers must stay current in the field through consistent learning and skill development.
  • Web developers work with teams, which requires strong collaboration, teamwork, and communication skills.
  • The field offers multiple specialization opportunities, including in site design, security, information architecture, and web application design.
  • Web developers often need multiple programming languages to enter the field. Beyond core languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, many roles require SQL, Python, Java, PHP, or other languages.

How do I become a web developer?

Launching a web developer career can take as little as a few months or as long as several years. Experienced tech professionals can add web development skills through an accelerated bootcamp. Those new to the field may require a certificate or degree, plus internship or freelance experience. This section walks through how to become a web developer.

  1. Earn degree(s) or complete coding bootcamps to learn web development.

Web developers begin their journey by studying web development. Prospective developers benefit from multiple educational paths. For example, many colleges and private companies offer coding bootcamps focused on web development. Learners can also pursue a certificate or degree in web development.

The main programming languages for web development include:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript

Web developers may also use SQL, Java, PHP, or Python, depending on their specialization.

According to the BLS, an associate degree represents the typical entry-level educational requirement for web developer careers. Prospective developers with a college degree in another area can quickly build web developer skills through a bootcamp or certificate program. Accelerated coding bootcamps typically take around 12-24 weeks, while a certificate takes 9-12 months to complete.

Students who pursue a degree major in web development, computer programming, and computer science. The Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology (ABET) accredits web development programs.

2. Take on projects and build your portfolio.

Early on in the process of how to become a web developer, prospective developers begin to create a portfolio showcasing their projects. This portfolio demonstrates expertise in different programming languages, web development frameworks, and development skills. During a project-based web development program, learners gradually add to their portfolio.

Web developers can also add to their portfolio with internship projects, side projects, and freelance work. Building a website from scratch or in a content management system like WordPress showcases web development skills, for example. Many web developers build their own professional websites to showcase their portfolios.

3. Pursue internship(s).

An internship helps web developers strengthen their skills, choose a specialization, and build a professional network. During an internship, developers work in a professional environment and learn more about web developer careers. Internships can pay off in a big way––they help web developers stand out on the job market. 

Web development students may complete an internship as part of their program. Schools connect learners with internship opportunities and often grant credit for internships. Web developers can also pursue internships outside of school. Many employers list internship opportunities on their websites and job application sites.

4. Determine your web development specialization.

Web developers specialize in three primary areas: front-end development, back-end development, or full-stack development. While front-end developers focus on the user-facing side of a website, back-end developers work on the server side. Full-stack developers cover both. 

Each specialization focuses on different skills and programming languages. Developers choose their specialization based on their skills, training, and interests. Developers should also research demand in their local area to help them choose a specialization.

5. Create your resume and apply for jobs.

After gaining technical skills and building a portfolio, web developers create a resume and apply for jobs. A web developer's resume should highlight their tech skills and projects. Web developers focused on front-end development should also include design experience. 

Most web developer resumes include a section to list programming languages, frameworks, and software proficiencies. Web developers new to the profession should list any freelance or project-based experience. They should also list professional experience in other fields that demonstrates strong time management, teamwork, and organizational skills.

Web development job interviews often include a skills test. Around 10% of web developers work as freelancers. Freelancers network to find clients and submit applications for contract positions. Many freelancers also find jobs on freelance websites.

6. Continue learning and earn web development certification(s).

Like many other tech jobs, web developer careers require continuing education. As programming languages evolve and new tools become standard, web developers must constantly refresh their technical abilities. 

Web development certifications help professionals stay current in the field and demonstrate their strengths to employers. Many organizations offer tech certifications. For example, the International Web Association offers the Certified Web Professional credential with multiple focus areas. Web developers can pursue certification in site design, server administration, e-commerce, or cybersecurity. 

Most certifications require a mix of education and experience. Candidates also typically pass an exam to earn their credentials. Certified web developers may need to meet continuing education requirements to maintain the credential. 

Similar careers

Web developers work in the growing tech sector. In addition to web development, prospective tech professionals can specialize in areas like software development, cybersecurity, software engineering, and video game development. 

Software engineer

Software engineers design, test, and develop software programs. Compared to web developers, software engineers require stronger engineering and computer science skills. Most software engineers hold a degree in computer science or software engineering. 

Video game developer

Video game developers write the code for video games. They work with game designers to turn concepts into playable games. Like web developers, video game developers need strong programming skills. 

How long does it take to become a web developer?

Prospective web developers typically complete a certificate or associate degree in web development. These programs take 1-2 years. Some employers prefer to hire candidates with a bachelor's degree. 

What is a web developer salary?

The median web developer salary exceeds $77,000 per year, according to May 2020 data from the BLS. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Salaries vary depending on job title, experience, and location.

Do web developers work from home?

Yes, web developers can often work remotely. Freelance web developers typically work from home, and many employers increasingly allow tech workers to have flexible schedules.

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