How to become a web developer

With recent studies showing there is a significant - and growing - skills shortage across the digital sphere, it is imperative that this critical knowledge gap within the industry is addressed.

More traditional jobs are ceasing to exist, so training in an industry that is proliferating is the ideal way to ensure you are employed well into the future.

The British Chamber of Commerce found that more than 75% of UK businesses face a digital skills shortage, so a career in web development can be lucrative, as well as flexible.

Businesses based across Hertfordshire are in need of experienced digital professionals, making this the ideal time to consider a career in web development.

Whether you’re choosing your future school exam options, you’ve just graduated or you wish to retrain in a futureproof industry, by following the steps in our essential guide you can begin to plan your career as a web developer. Alternatively, contact us today for any web design Hertfordshire-related questions and queries.

What does a web developer do?

Also known as web programmers or web coders, web developers essentially make a website work by building the functionality, interactivity and visible structure of the site, normally based on the vision of designers and other key roles.

Web developers are also responsible for ensuring a site functions correctly on all browsers - both desktop and mobile - through testing. Once a site is live, a developer carries out  updates and other maintenance tasks as necessary.

What is the difference between a web developer and a web designer?

While the roles of web developers and web designers are interdependent, they are also very different in terms of their required skill sets and duties.  

Web designers create the aesthetic elements of a site, including all visuals, graphics and imagery. The use of image editing software such as Photoshop is key to their role.  

Web developers take the website design created by a web designer, then make a functioning website from it.

Web developers can be split into two different areas of responsibilities and skills - frontend and backend. Frontend developers focus on programming languages such as HTML, CSS and Javascript to create the visual and interactive parts of a website - essentially the parts you can see.

Backend developers are responsible for creating the logic that runs on a server which typically involves communicating with a database and manipulating data, before passing it back to the browser and presenting to the user. Typical programming languages used are PHP, Ruby, ASP are SQL.

Within an agency, the roles tend to follow a framework:

  • Creatives - also known as web designers, responsible for design work, using software such as Photoshop and Sketch

  • UID - User Interface developers - also known as frontend developers. Using HTML, CSS and Javascript, they will create interactivity including mouseovers, on screen validation and interactivity

  • Backend developers - write code which interprets user input and either stores it to a database or performs functions on the input such as calculation libraries or templating systems

  • Most modern sites will require both backend and frontend development. Backend technologies consist of languages like C# and sit in frameworks like the .Net framework

Web developers do not need to be designers and vice versa, however by getting to grips with user experience design, you’ll understand how a website is supposed to work in order to function properly.

While it may seem like the code languages are more difficult to get to grips with than French, German or Spanish, once you have mastered the basics they become much more accessible.

What qualifications do you need to become a web developer?

While there are no formal or specific qualifications required to become a web developer, a numerate degree in a subject such as maths or science will be useful.

You should also ideally have an aptitude for - or experience of - elements such as:

  • User experience (UX)

  • User interface (UI)

  • Visual design

  • Coding languages including HTML and CSS

  • Frontend web programing languages and skills such as JavaScript, Ajax and web animation techniques

  • Backend web programing languages such as C# or Java, PHP and Ruby

  • Design software like Photoshop and Illustrator and Sketch

  • An understanding of SEO

  • Web servers and how they function

A career as a web developer is very specialised. While programs such as Adobe Dreamweaver and platforms such as WordPress are often perceived to take the place of core coding skills - and they do indeed allow novice users to create sites with basic knowledge - developing sites for corporate clients requires high levels of customisation which cannot be met with the use of programs such as Adobe Dreamweaver, as web developers are required to code in the raw language of the web.

A portfolio of your work is an ideal way to demonstrate your skills as a developer. Aim to include:

  1. Examples of websites you've worked on - this allows you to share the work you have completed and helps to show prospective clients what you can do

  2. Testimonials from clients you have previously worked with - this will reassure prospective clients that you have completed work for other clients and they were happy with what you delivered. Always ask any clients you work for to provide a testimonial once you complete a project

  3. Your USPs - this is the ideal way to really sell yourself to prospective clients, showing what makes you stand out and why they should choose you over other developers

  4. Your contact details - your name, email address, telephone number and social media handles, plus a link to your portfolio

Resources you may find helpful in building your portfolio include:

  • Sitepoint- tips on how to create a portfolio site to get you hired

  • Codementor - advice on elements you should always include in your portfolio

If you are considering which subjects may stand you in good stead for a career in web development, consider numeracy-based subjects such as maths or science, plus subjects such as computer science.

What skills do you need to become a web developer?

Key skills to be successful in web development include:

  • Computer literacy

  • Strong numeracy skills

  • Strong creative ability

  • Attention to detail

  • Strong communication skills

  • Excellent problem-solving skills

  • A logical approach to work

  • The ability to explain technical matters clearly

  • A keen interest in technology

Ongoing self-learning is key to developing in a web development role, in order to stay up to date with ever more frequent technological advancements and updates.

How much do web developers earn?

While there is no specific salary and what you earn will depend upon experience and expertise, the average salary for a web developer typically sits between £18k for those just beginning their career and £40k for those who are well established.

Self-employed web developers set their own rates, typically by the hour or by the project.

What are the day to day duties of a web developer?

While your exact duties will depend upon the sites you are building and the type of company for which you work, the typical day to day tasks of a web developer generally involve:

  • Meeting clients to ascertain what they want from their site

  • Creating design frameworks

  • Wireframing pages, positioning CTAs, links and imagery

  • Adding multimedia features like sound, animation and video if applicable

  • Ensuring the site is responsive, to render properly on all devices

  • Testing and improving the functionality and rendering of the site

  • Uploading the site to a designated server

Why should you choose a career in web development?

A career as a web developer is appealing for many reasons, including:

  1. You’ll be working in the ever-developing digital industry, which is continuing to expand and evolve  

  2. You can be as creative as you wish - from websites to apps and emails, you can create incredible designs

  3. You can work abroad - web development skills are highly transferable, ensuring you can work in almost any country you choose

  4. You can work flexibly - if you choose to work as a freelance web developer, you can specify your own hours, plus your fee

Web developer career progression

How you develop your career in web development will depend on your chosen area of specialism.

There are three areas of specialism within web development:

  1. Frontend development - the ‘frontend’ refers to elements on a website that you see and interact with, such as a search box and the site navigation

  2. Backend development - the ‘backend’ is essential to ensure a website is able to function. It includes elements such as servers and databases

  3. Full stack development - this encompasses both backend and frontend development but is becoming less popular as the industry expands and there is a greater specialism in frontend or backend development

Deciding the kind of role you’d like to work in is helpful in determining where you take your career, as you could either be based in a large company or a small consultancy. If you don’t wish to work for either, you could choose to work freelance or even set up your own business, once you have sufficient experience.

With experience, a web developer could progress to become a technical lead, then a technical architect. You could also choose to become a web content manager or a design team manager, or alternatively you could specialise in a code language, which would allow you to focus on one area of development. A general knowledge of all the different code languages will equip you to work on most platforms.

How do I go about beginning a career in web development?

Should you decide web development is the ideal career for you, why not consider work experience as your first port of call, ideal for all Hertfordshire-based students looking for their first taste of web development and the wider industry.

Ruby is a good entry-level programming language for beginners, ideal for beginning to familiarise yourself with the core concepts that are found in all programming languages. Javascript is also a straightforward program to get to grips with and it is high demand within the industry, with many client frameworks reliant on it.   

For further information on  specific programs, courses and industry-relevant advice, visit:

  • Code School - where you can learn how to code with a choice of courses and tutorials

  • Treehouse - learn the basics of coding and design with a free 7 day trial

  • Lynda - an online portal where you can learn at your own pace

  • Code First Girls - a women-only coding school which offers night classes

Meet ups are ideal when you are beginning a career as a web developer, as they provide the opportunity to keep up to date with the latest trends and technology.

Networking events are the ideal opportunity to meet prospective clients and grow your reputation in the industry if you work as a freelance web developer.

Aim to attend two or three networking events per month in order to meet potential clients. Even if nothing comes of the event at the time, you may find an opportunity arises further down the line.