By: Jeremy Brochue

Date: July 24, 2015

How Does One Become a Web Developer? I asked myself this question years ago after a friend told me about his new job. I knew that he spent four years in college to learn all about web design and development; designing documents in Photoshop, planning site architecture and writing a lot of code. Despite knowing what he did, I found my brain swimming as he explained his role and the languages and tools he used to do it. I knew, but I didn’t understand. What does a developer do and how can I become one too? There is no simple answer to the question, at least not that I’ve found so far, and one of the most complicated factors to becoming a web developer is the very difficult task of translating what is taught into what is needed in the field.

How Does One Become a Web Developer?

The College Experience – And Reality

The value of a college degree no longer lies in the simple fact that you have a degree, but that you are willing to work hard and adapt. With any luck, students also find that they learn skills. As much as studying Political Science can be a fun and rewarding process on its own, there have to be skills pulled from that education, such as the ability to communicate abstract concepts in a clear and concise manner or analyze statistical data to find correlations. For every English major or Earth Sciences degree that some may write off as a waste, there are work applicable skills the student can learn and use to open up a wide variety of career opportunities. For a developer, it can be difficult choosing classes and languages to focus on because there are so many career possibilities in the field. That means for someone like myself pursuing a career in web development, the skills that one needs to learn are varied. In the end though, most college graduates are a Jack-of-all-trades. The important thing to take from the college experience is the ability to keep your head down and work through whatever comes your way. We learn through the experience of completing college how to persevere and the ability to streamline our own learning process. To quote a mentor; “keep your knees bent”, after all, you never know when you might have to hit the ground running.

The Core of a Great Developer

Education is a never-ending process of growing into the person we want to be, regardless of the field of study we pursue. Becoming a developer requires an embrace and love of learning. One day you may be teaching yourself how to code a bare-bones WordPress template and the next you may need to read up on site architecture for a new project. What is trending in popularity, or what works well for certain projects and tasks is constantly shifting. This means that most developers are studying a new language or problem solving tool at any time. In the last month alone, I have been learning about Sass, setting up Scout, learning to use Github and generally refining my JavaScript knowledge. All of that is what I need to know in the working world right now, nevermind that I also have several classes this summer covering Photoshop and Python. Part of what makes a strong developer is a love of continual learning. There are those in the development world who will never need to learn another language. Perhaps they work exclusively with C# for Microsoft’s .NET Framework. Yet, even those developers will have an ongoing learning experience in order to stay current with best practices, changes in the code’s function and the ever-present need for security. It really is one of the things I love about becoming a developer. Every time I learn a new trick with JavaScript or manage to make a project that was stuck work, there is a rush of satisfaction that follows. It is that joy in learning and achieving that a strong developer will need.

Be Meticulous

One syntax error can ruin everything. To make a project run properly and look professional, everything has to be impeccable. Getting into the habit of treating every project as if it were going to be critiqued with a microscope can help motivate the kind of focus a developer needs. Writing code and not checking every line for errors can make far more work in the end. Being sloppy in the structure of code can also hamper the ability of others to help you. While pixel-perfect is a buzzword right now, the implication is the same. The level of focus and finish being put into everything you do should be unerring.

Be Efficient

Efficiency is what separates a good developer from a great one. There has been much debate over Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion that it takes ten thousand hours to master any skill, but when it comes to writing code, analyzing a project or any other task that will fall to you as a developer, you can only get better by doing it. The act of repetition is not the lone way to become better though. Another means to streamline processes is to step back from them and plot your course. One of the biggest mistakes I make is allowing myself to be sucked into a task without getting a wider view of where it is going. One can also gain proficiency by seeking out a mentor to guide them. Developers tend to be open and inviting people, despite what the world may expect of them. Having a mentor who has already learned better ways of working and is willing to pass on shortcuts and tricks can shave off hours at the keyboard. Finding ways to save time and energy will save you countless headaches in the end.

Get to the Core

You will need to learn to whittle down extraneous information. A large part of learning to be a developer is the ability to hone in on the information you actually need. While learning about software design, code, user experience and all the other elements that one will use as a developer, it is important to be able to make assessments of what is critical and what is superfluous. An important portion of what developers do is distilling concepts and information into a finished deliverable. The ability to wrap one’s head around an abstract concept and form it into code is needed, but just as important is the ability to only code what you need. Scope creep is something a good developer should abhor. There is no simple, open source tool or elegant line of script that can do the winnowing of information for us. It is on us to learn how to deconstruct projects or issues and harness the ability to plan a solution.

Be Goal Oriented

Of all the skills and adaptations I’ve learned over the years, the one that has changed my life was becoming goal-oriented. The process of learning new skills and facing challenges can be daunting, but making it a goal to overcome makes getting started in the first place easier. There are endless articles, books and sites on the web about achieving success and setting goals if you want to read more about it (all done to a wide variety of success themselves). Much of it is click-bait, but there is truth in it. I’m not saying that you’ll reach every goal you set, however you are far more likely to get there by making it a goal. If you set small, short-term markers as well as large, long-term milestones, they begin to feed into a cycle. In the end, everyone finds their own rhythm of setting goals but the variety of scale and time can really help to drive people forward.

Where do I stand?

I am not a developer. Not yet anyway. I am moving forward and pushing myself to learn everything I can from anyone willing to help. I’ve had to self-reflect on my skills to this point. None of the classes, languages and software I learned have been what I expected. I have had to accept that I am not where I hoped to be. Importantly, I am learning. Step one can be a doozy.

I know from experience how overwhelming all of this is. I’m not going to make it any easier. If you think you want to pursue a life in code you should really read this.