What a Web Developer Does

Getting on the same page about what web development is and what exactly a developer does.

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Basically, as a web developer, you get to build and maintain websites. What exactly that looks like varies widely depending on what you want to do with it.

  • If you just want to do it as a hobby, maybe you'll put up a website for your mother's flower business or your son's little league team.
  • If you want to work as a freelancer for others, that might mean building full websites from scratch for local businesses and updating them when necessary.
  • If you want to create a startup of your own, you'll need to build and deploy the entire web application, from the initial landing page to the part that keeps track of all your users and maybe even the actual product itself.
  • If you want to work as part of a team at a consultancy, you might focus only on the stuff the users see in the browser or spend all your time working on the guts of the application where the data lives.
  • If you work at a big tech company, you might focus even more, for instance specializing in optimizing how fast the pages load or getting the payment system to talk to the checkout system.

...the point is that no two roles are the same! We'll get deeper into specific possibilities soon.

Why Web Development is Awesome

Web development is awesome for many reasons, but most importantly because you have the power to actually build things. Your whole job is to create something functional from nothing and that requires an interesting blend of problem solving skills and creativity. When you have a cool idea for a site or a product, you no longer need to wonder how much it will cost for someone else to build it -- you can sit down and start building.

Another benefit of being a web developer is that you are in high demand and so, though you'll work very hard, you're generally able to command a comfortable salary and a healthy work/life balance. You will typically work 40 hours per week, though a freelancer might have far more flexibility with her time and a startup developer might be drinking lots of late-night coffee. If there are problems with the site, you might be required to work outside-normal hours regardless of the role.

Web development is a profession that rewards people who are natural problem solvers and who enjoy building things.

Because there are so many different types of web development roles, you should be able to find the one which fits you best. If you're naturally more inclined to tackle difficult conceptual problems, you might find yourself drawn to the more server-side roles. If you really enjoy making good looking and useful websites, you might find yourself drawn more to front-end roles. We'll explain the distinction between the two shortly.

Who Do We Build Websites For?

It's important to understand who you're building the sites for in the first place. Usually, you've got someone (the Client) who pays you to build a website which is designed to interact with people from out in the internet (the Users). Sometimes, for instance if you're building a site for your own business, you act as your own client. If you're working for a tech company, the client is the company itself (e.g. Facebook pays its engineers to build Facebook).

How Does it Typically Work?

As stated above, roles vary widely but this is a typical workflow in a freelance role:

  1. You will need to meet with the client to understand what they want the site to do and what their requirements are going forward. You'll have to spec out exactly what's covered under your contract. You might be asked to start at the very beginning, with identifying who the website's potential users are and what kind of site they need to fulfill their needs or the client might have an idea of exactly what they want built.
  2. You'll probably sketch a few possible layouts and get approval from the client before actually building it into a functioning site using your superhero developer skills. Sometimes you will also need to locate the images and write the copy (text) yourself.
  3. The client will ultimately need to decide whether the site fulfills his or her needs and then you will put it out onto the Web. It's your job to make sure the site functions properly on all the types of browsers you originally agreed on and/or mobile phones and tablets.
  4. Once the site is up and running, you might be tasked with making sure it stays up and with updating it as necessary.

Web Development is All About Projects

One thing you may have noticed from the above descriptions is how much web development focuses on projects. It's not a job where you do the same thing every day -- part of the fun of building stuff is that you get to build something different once the first thing is done.

Many of these projects are much bigger than just a single person. As a practicing developer, you'll probably work in a team with other developers to solve specific problems that make up the larger solution. Because of this, developers have created great communities which encourage collaboration and communication.

Want to learn more about web development communities or what makes a good developer? Check out the next lessons!

Key Take-aways:

  • Developers often work on behalf of clients who are trying to get their product or service out onto the web.
  • The work is typically very project-focused and involves collaborating with a team of people who help convert the client's needs with the end product.
  • Not all devs work for external clients... The "client" could just be your tech company, organization, government etc. who needs a website or web application built
  • It's a lot of fun, you actually get to build things that people use, and you get to play with lots of new toys. What's not to love?

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