Web developers have one of the most important jobs in the digital era. They do a little of everything when it comes to putting websites up on the Internet and making sure they get the best traffic possible. Web developers are essentially programmers with some business, marketing and graphic design training, and the computer science knowledge required to work in this field is minimal. As far as education is concerned, Web developers can find employment with only an associate’s degree or, if they have strong confidence in their abilities, begin working freelance without a degree. A four-year computer science degree is unnecessary but can give Web developers an upper hand in this competitive market. With a computer science education, Web developers can build advanced online applications or design the frameworks with which other programmers create software. Another important aspect of Web development is mobile application design, which utilizes similar programming frameworks.

Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Web developers earned a median annual salary of $62,500 in 2012, with the highest-earning 10 percent taking home about $105,200 per year.

Beginning Salary

While acquiring experience, Web developers can expect to earn about as much as the lowest-earning 10 percent in the occupation, making around $33,550 per year.

Key Responsibilities

Web developers are responsible for doing everything from programming Python, PHP and JavaScript to designing HTML and CSS templates. When the work setting up a website is finished, Web developers continue to do SEO and marketing work for their clients and employers. A website is never really finished because code must be continually updated and maintained to prevent security vulnerabilities, such as distributed denial of service attacks and cross-site scripting exploits. Web developers who work freelance typically have close relationships with their clients, consulting with them about their goals and strategies before starting a project.

Necessary Skills

The most important skills to have are HTML, CSS and JavaScript programming abilities. All Web developers need to know how to code in these template languages, and it’s possible to base a career on these languages alone. Other essential skills include SQL programming, dynamic website programming, object-oriented programming, model-view-controller (MVC) programming and knowledge of setting up Apache in Linux. A professional Web developer is intimately familiar with all of these skills, as well as easier tasks, such as setting up WordPress, Joomla or Drupal with a shopping cart service.

Degree and Education Requirements

Most community colleges offer a Web development associate’s degree, and this education prepares students for all of the above-mentioned duties, except possibly iOS and Android programming. A different path to take is to get a four-year computer science degree and do more advanced Web programming, such as sophisticated Ruby on Rails site architecture or WebGL programming. A computer science degree doesn’t really cover any Web programming frameworks, however. Instead, it teaches students the fundamentals of designing efficient algorithms and software, and it’s up to the students to learn programming languages. With an associate’s degree, developers can work freelance or for small firms, and with a four-year degree, they can work for larger firms, hospitals and government agencies. Most Web developers have a two- or four-year degree, but with a master’s degree, developers can do specialized work, such as research or developing Web protocols.

Rewards and Challenges

The biggest challenges facing Web developers are the countless security threats that exist in current Internet technologies. Many of these flaws have yet to be found, and a zero-day attack on a new installation of a package, such as Java or SSL, can be extremely nasty. The rewards far outweigh the challenges, however, as Web development is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country. Because the demand for network-enabled mobile and wearable software is driving the increase in Web development work, iOS and Android programming skills are highly beneficial. These frameworks are based on MVC design patterns, so they’re similar to w2 Web frameworks, such as Django and Ruby on Rails. A rewarding career path for many programmers is to go into Web or mobile game development. As mobile technology develops, devices are able to use less battery power, allowing advanced games to be made.

Getting Started

The first thing to do to get started is to learn HTML, CSS and JavaScript programming and then start picking up freelance jobs on websites such as Elance and oDesk. A large number of Web developers work for small firms that provide complete website development services to small businesses. It’s more important to have strong programming skills than to have a degree when working freelance or for a small, independent firm. After learning HTML, CSS and JavaScript, begin learning Django, PHP and MySQL programming, then move on to setting up a Linux server with Apache, TLS/SSL and other modules. It’s important to know SEO marketing strategies as well as some of the common content management system (CMS) platforms, such as Drupal and WordPress. Clients will expect you to be able to quickly set up a Drupal or WordPress site with a shopping cart and an administrator dashboard, such as cPanel.

Future Outlook

Demand for Web developers is expected to increase by 20 percent over the next ten years, which is much faster than average for all occupations in the U.S. economy. With strong programming skills and a good understanding of the Web programming field, developers should have no trouble finding steady work, even without a degree. However, with advanced computer science knowledge and experience, opportunities for more responsibility are available. The types of employers hiring Web developers can be found in healthcare, game development, mobile app development, government, private research institutions, universities, corporations and small businesses. With a four-year degree, a developer can be hired by a corporation with employee benefits and a 401K plan, and with a master’s degree, a developer can be hired by a university or research firm, such as Google, Microsoft or IBM. Most jobs are done locally because developers must work closely with clients and employers.

Web developers have a wide-open future with many opportunities for interesting and rewarding work. There are few challenges and many reasons to be excited about learning these new, developing technologies, although the challenges shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you have a natural interest in technical problem solving and good communication skills, continue looking into becoming a Web developer.

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