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Employers increasingly value capable web developers with in-demand technical abilities. How exactly does a person acquire and build those skills?
Fortunately, aspiring devs can take several pathways to the profession. The general steps to becoming a web developer include learning key technical skills and building a portfolio. You can acquire the necessary abilities through formal education, professional practice, or self-directed learning.
This career prep guide explains how to become a web developer in complete detail. Explore various learning options, certifications, experience requirements, job search tips, and more.
What Is a Web Developer?
A web developer uses programming languages to design and develop websites and applications. These professionals may emphasize front-end development, which focuses on creating the visual aspects of the website that users can see, or back-end development, which relates to site functionality. Some web developers work in a full stack, combining front-end and back-end development.
Computer systems design, publishing, and digital marketing agencies employ web developers. Developers interact with writers, graphic designers, and animators to integrate aesthetic elements into websites.
Popular contemporary programming languages for web development include PHP, Python, Java, SQL, and Ruby. Careers in this field usually require proficiency in several of these languages. Though some web developers are self-taught, many complete a bootcamp program or bachelor's degree.
What Does a Web Developer Do?
The primary goal for web developers is creating functional, user-friendly websites that meet client specifications and end-users' needs. These professionals make information, services, and products accessible globally.
Web developers can work as independent contractors or as full-time employees. In freelance roles, they collaborate directly with clients. As full-time employees, they typically work on a team, regularly interacting with other developers, web designers, IT professionals, and management.
Responsibilities for web developers vary according to their specialization — front-end, back-end, or full-stack — and current project. Tasks include building new websites, fixing bugs in existing sites, and enhancing the user experience.
The ideal web development professional possesses strong communication and collaboration skills, creativity, and a knack for programming languages. Experienced web developers may advance to senior web developer or project manager roles.
Daily Responsibilities of Web Developers
Meet with Clients/Management: Communication is a crucial skill in this field. Web developers speak directly with clients or management about the vision and user needs for sites as they develop these digital interfaces.
Write Code: A significant part of web developers' day includes writing code for websites in languages like HTML, CSS, and Java. Depending on their specialization, web developers may focus on front-end code, back-end code, or both.
Create and Test Applications: Web developers create custom controls, dynamic content, navigation menus, and mobile applications for websites. These professionals test elements of the user interface to identify and correct bugs.
Coordinate with Other Team Members: Web developers often coordinate with other professionals to create sites. Project managers, business analysts, user experience designers, and quality assurance engineers all collaborate with web developers.
Monitoring Site Performance and Traffic: In addition to building new sites and applications, web developers can also serve as webmasters for their employers' internal websites. Webmasters update and maintain site functionality, including monitoring errors and metrics, resolving long load times, and ensuring applications work properly.
Occasional Responsibilities of Web Developers
Create Graphic Designs: Web developers' duties can overlap with other creative fields. For example, front-end web developers may use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or similar applications to establish the desired look and feel of a site before they begin coding. Small businesses may rely on web developers to create graphics for their sites.
Perform Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Businesses may rely on web developers to optimize their sites so they are ranked highly in search engine results. Key SEO web development tasks include avoiding duplicate content on webpages, using efficient code layout, and optimizing sites for mobile devices. Developers may also integrate SEO keywords into website content.
Work Outside Their Specialization: Unless they are trained in full-stack development, web developers typically specialize in either front-end — customer-facing — development or back-end — server-side — development. Each specialization requires its own set of skills, so a front-end developer rarely works on back-end projects or vice versa. Occasionally, however, specific jobs will require these developers to use skills outside their specialization.
Generate Online Content: Clients may ask web developers to generate content for the sites they build and maintain. This can include uploading blog posts, sourcing stock images, creating infographics, and editing video content for publication.
Aid in Marketing Efforts: Web developers working for digital agencies that specialize in web design may engage in direct marketing efforts with potential clients. This can include responding to email and phone inquiries. Web developers also provide marketing support for external clients by updating site pages and applications to reflect current sales campaigns.
Typical Day for a Web Developer
A day in the life of a web developer varies depending on whether they work as a freelancer or as a full-time employee.
A freelance web developer typically begins the day by reviewing upcoming deadlines and holding planning sessions with clients. These developers spend most of their day coding or debugging sites. Freelance developers regularly discuss progress with their clients, handle administrative tasks like finances, and search for new work opportunities.
Web developers employed full time usually start their day with development team meetings. In these sessions, each professional summarizes their project progress and plans their upcoming workdays to meet deadlines. Aside from meetings, these developers spend the day coding for their current projects.
Exact coding responsibilities vary between front- and back-end developers, but all code is typically uploaded to a central testing server or GitHub for final review before approval and publication. Throughout the day, web developers may confer with management or coworkers to discuss issues and brainstorm solutions. They may need to respond to urgent coding-related errors on sites they develop.
What Are the Education Requirements for Web Developers?
Educational requirements vary. Depending on the role, some employers may require a degree or other formal education in a specific field. To advance into management positions, web developers often need bachelor's degrees, and postsecondary teaching or research positions typically require doctorates.
Experienced developers may not want to repeat the basic skills taught in an associate degree and might pursue certificates or advanced bootcamps. Similarly, aspiring professionals with bachelor's degrees can consider certificates or master's degrees.
Throughout their careers, web developers need to stay on top of new tools and technologies, computer languages, and frameworks. Some web development professionals take advantage of continuing education opportunities, while others pursue advanced degrees or computer science certifications.
How Much Prior Experience Do New Web Developers Need?
Web developer career requirements do not always include experience. However, many certifications require at least two years of experience to qualify. Employers may also expect applicants to possess experience with certain products. Top-paying senior developer jobs typically demand more experience than entry-level positions.
According to Payscale, web developers with 20 or more years of experience earn 35% more than the average developer. Promotion to a management role may require five years of experience and a bachelor's degree.
Certifications for Web Developers
Certifications validate a tech professional's skills as assessed by trusted third-party agencies. They can supplement other forms of education, such as diplomas or degrees, or function as standalone credentials.
Some employers prefer or require certifications — especially for senior roles and positions with advancement potential — while others consider them optional.
Tech insiders often say that holding relevant certifications can boost your chances of landing a job. However, these credentials can lengthen your career prep timeline, and some credentials require renewal.
Some web developer certifications focus on niche areas of technology, such as cloud development or user experience (UX) specializations. Others may simply cover front-end, back-end, or full-stack web development.
Examples of widely recognized web developer certifications include:
- International Web Association Certified Web Professional: IWA's signature web development certification covers multiple specializations. These range from entry-level associate credentials to skills-focused specialist and master certificates — including the CWP web developer certificate.
- Learning Tree International Web Development Certification Paths: Learning Tree's internationally recognized web development certifications cover three main credentials: specialist HTML5, expert HTML 5, and responsive web design.
- IBM Cloud Professional Developer: Cloud computing continues to grow rapidly due to its enterprise-level appeal. IBM's cloud professional developer certification covers cloud applications, integration, data service, and cloud security for web developers looking to expand their expertise.
How Do I Become a Web Developer?
Emerging web developers often prepare for their careers through education, such as bootcamps, certificate programs, and formal degrees. Bootcamps and diploma or certificate programs typically teach targeted skills on compact timelines to equip students with the skills to pursue entry-level employment.
Learners seeking more educational depth and exposure to broader topics may prefer degree programs. Completing two-year associate degrees allows graduates to pursue employment or continue their education at the bachelor's level. Four-year bachelor's programs generally serve as the minimum standard for access to job opportunities with growth and advancement potential.
Self-directed learning offers a less common option. Individuals wondering how to become web developers without formal education must weigh additional considerations. The sections below explain in greater detail.
Steps to Becoming a Web Developer
- Consider Bootcamps and Non-Degree Programs. Bootcamps typically cover about 12-16 weeks of full-time learning. Non-degree certificate and diploma programs run for variable lengths, but most have shorter completion timelines than associate degrees.
- Develop Skills. Some bootcamps and non-degree programs focus on targeted skills, such as front-end or back-end development. Others cover the "full stack" of front-end and back-end skills, programming languages, and other web development proficiencies.
- Build a Portfolio. As you move through the program, you will work on assignments and projects to showcase to potential employers.
- Choose Your Degree Path. Undergraduate associate and bachelor's degrees begin with introductory topics and gradually increase in complexity. Graduate programs generally appeal to knowledgeable and experienced learners looking to build advanced skills in niche areas.
- Take Advantage of Unique Opportunities. Degree programs, particularly campus-based programs, support peer and faculty interactions. These networking opportunities, along with connections made in internships, may be valuable in the job marketplace.
- Enter the Job Market. Take advantage of campus-based job fairs, recruitment events, and career services to connect with career opportunities.
- Learn the Basics. Begin by familiarizing yourself with the fundamentals of web development.
- Research and Learn Critical Skills. Target specific technical skills to develop by looking into current industry trends and in-demand proficiencies among employers.
- Develop through Practice. Use resources like free online learning modules, paid courses and programs, and massive open online courses to build advanced skills.
- Get Certified. Validate your abilities to employers by earning one or more widely recognized web development certifications. In the absence of a diploma or degree, certifications can take on greater importance.
Should I Become a Web Developer?
Web development is a well-paying career with intriguing professional challenges. Starting in web development can take just a few months of bootcamp training and does not always require lengthy formal education. The field can also provide opportunities for flexible, remote work. But web development is not for everyone.
The best web developers are determined problem-solvers with strong attention to detail and an interest in lifelong learning. They also love to code and can spend hours doing uninterrupted computer work.
Web developers must stay on top of the new languages, trends, and tools that are constantly emerging in their industry. These professionals may need to enroll in online courses, attend conferences, and read relevant journals to keep their skills current.
Web developers who maintain their technical competence can become lead developers who mentor junior employees and create scalable systems.
Professional Spotlight: Mark Himmelman, Owner of Cyber Hive Media
What prompted your journey to become a web developer?
My college courses covered a broad spectrum of software development in database architecture, security, web, etc. What spoke to me the most was working on visual products that users can interact with.
The more I learned about web development, the more I loved it as a career. I really enjoyed fine-tuning my skills with cleaner code, SEO best practices, page speed performance, and user experience.
If you work in a particular industry, what prompted this choice. and/or how did it evolve?
I work primarily in the digital marketing space as well as web/mobile app development. My first job in the industry was working on a mobile and web application. From there, I went into the marketing industry, and that became a huge passion for me. I was fascinated to learn what really went into a good website beyond just writing code, like implementing thoughtful and data-driven strategies.
What educational path did you take to become a web developer? Did you pursue additional education at any point? What was your educational experience like?
I studied information technology with a major in software development. Being a developer requires ongoing learning in order to keep your skills relevant in the ever-evolving world of tech.
I have taken many courses throughout my career to learn more about new trending technologies, which has helped me quite a lot. At the beginning, the learning curve was definitely a challenge. As time went on, things became easier to learn because you can apply your coding knowledge and experience to new technologies.
Did you have to pass any certifications or tests to enter the field or progress in your career?
In my experience, companies prefer to see that you have some education under your belt, as well as a portfolio to showcase your skills. Along with my college diploma, I also had a portfolio of projects I worked on during my time in school, which is what helped me get my first job in the industry. Once I started to gain real-world experience, my career as a web developer grew pretty quickly.
What advice do you have for individuals considering becoming web developers?
My advice is to first figure out what kind of web developer you want to be. Web developers cover the front end, back end, full stack, etc. Once that is decided, I would definitely recommend taking some courses or going to college/university. Having a good mentor is also extremely valuable.
Any high or low points worth mentioning about becoming a web developer?
One thing that really stood out for me was company culture. Most companies in the development industry pride themselves on the work environment they provide for their staff.
I have seen benefits such as annual education budgets, monthly team building events, snacks and drinks once a week, catered lunches, etc. One place even had a private chef who cooked everyone breakfast and lunch.
Mark Himmelman is the owner of Cyber Hive Media. He tackles all facets of digital marketing, including web design and development, for various clients. Himmelman has always enjoyed building things from scratch as a careful problem-solver. He spent a lot of time in his childhood building websites for fun — creating unique and funny content for each project.
Mark studied at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, earning an IT diploma with a major in software development. He loves the opportunity to create visual products for clients and users to engage with and enjoy. Mark finds joy in creating interactive websites that appeal to different audiences.
How Much Can You Earn as a Web Developer?
The average annual salary for web developers varies depending on location, industry, experience, education, and specialization. According to the BLS, web developers and digital designers in the United States earn an average salary of $78,300 as of 2021 — more than $30,000 higher than the average salary for all occupations.
The BLS also reports that, for this career, the lowest 10% of earners average $38,550 per year, while the highest 10% of earners average $168,200, with industries like software publishing, finance, and insurance paying the highest average salaries overall.
Median Annual Salary of Web Developers, 2021
Web Developer Salary by Experience
As is common across industries, web developers earn higher salaries as they gain more experience and expertise. For example, web developers with twenty or more years of experience average a salary more than $30,000 higher than their entry-level counterparts. These increases can result from performance-based raises as well as promotions into management and leadership roles.
We explore experience-related trends in compensation below. It is important to note the figures in the following table may include base salaries, bonuses, and other additional earnings from employers.
Web Developer Salary by Education
Education level factors into web developer salaries. Although formal education is not always required for careers in web development, having a degree in a field like information technology or computer science can increase earning potential and help aspiring web developers qualify for more jobs.
Similarly, a degree in computer science or a related field can result in higher pay than a degree in a non-technical field. Computer science programs provide a more comprehensive education in programming languages and other technical skills that employers seek when hiring web developers.
Completing a coding bootcamp — a program offering intensive training in web development — can also lead to higher wages. Though bootcamps provide valuable skills and experience, not all employers may value them as highly as traditional degree programs.
The table below, which draws from limited Payscale data, reflects the average salaries by degree level for web developers.
Discover which education path is right for you:
Web Developer Salary by Location
Another factor impacting salary is location. Typically, web developers earn higher wages in areas with higher population densities and higher costs of living. Because expenses may be greater in these areas, however, the increased pay may not translate to increased purchasing power.
In addition, a region's demand for web developers' skills can also increase their earning potential. For example, tech hub cities that headquarter startups and large companies tend to offer these workers higher salaries than cities with fewer opportunities in this industry.
|Average Annual Wage
|Percent Above the National Average
|New York, New York
|Los Angeles, California
|Number of Web Developers Employed
|Average Annual Wage
Career Outlook for Web Developers
The BLS projects a 30% increase in employment for web developers between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the rate of growth projected for all occupations. Among the drivers for this growth is businesses' increasing need for robust online presences and the growing popularity of mobile devices, which require mobile-responsive websites and applications.
As with average wages, the demand for web developers varies by location and industry. Cities with a high concentration of technology companies, such as San Francisco and New York, may offer more job opportunities for web developers. Similarly, industries such as e-commerce, healthcare, and education may demand more web developers than others.
Factors that may impact web developers' employability in the coming years include the continued evolution of web technologies, changes in consumer behavior, and the increasing importance of website accessibility and cybersecurity.
Employment Outlook for Web Developers, 2021-31
Best Locations for Web Developers
According to 2022 BLS data, California, New York, and Washington are the three states employing the highest number of web developers. These states are home to areas like Silicon Valley and Seattle, where demand for web developers is high due to the presence of tech companies.
Rural areas tend to have fewer job opportunities for web developers than large metropolitan areas. However, the remote work trend — accelerated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — has reduced locational barriers and allows more web developers to work without relocating to big cities.
|Number of Web Developers Employed
|Average Annual Wage
|Percentage Projected Change, 2020-30
|Average Annual Openings
The Job Hunt
Cold calls and resumes rarely get results, especially for professionals seeking technical positions. Successful web developers often launch their careers by completing freelance projects and showcasing their work in portfolios. Candidates can use their portfolios to draw attention from prospective employers or as a supplement to their traditional resumes.
Like other careers, web development relies on personal networks and professional organizations. Developers can meet hiring managers at computer conferences, in professional organizations, and through mentors. Top networking organizations include the International Web Association and the Computer and Communications Industry Association.
- Indeed: Featuring 250 million unique visitors each month, Indeed is one of the largest sites for job-seekers. The platform includes career advice and resources, along with open job listings.
- Y Combinator: This website features jobs at startups backed by Y Combinator. Web developers can connect with founders, attend virtual events, and search job posts.
- Authentic Jobs: Web developers and computer professionals can search for internships, part-time jobs, full-time positions, and remote work on this employment service site.
- Krop: Build a creative portfolio, find a job, or search through the resume database on Krop, a job board and portfolio site for creators.
Explore Degree Programs in Web Development
Questions About How to Be a Web Developer
How long does it take to become a web developer?
Some web developers begin their careers after just three months of hands-on learning in computer science bootcamps. Other new professionals pursue undergraduate degrees before entering the job market.
Is it hard to become a web developer?
Not necessarily. Aspiring web developers need time, patience, and perseverance as they acquire the skills required for their careers. Web developers never stop learning because they work in a highly dynamic, always-expanding field.
What education do I need to become a web developer?
Web developers need to know coding languages, along with UX and UI fundamentals. Some professionals teach themselves these qualifications, while others rely on bootcamps or academic degrees in computer science or related fields.
What are the easiest steps to become a web developer?
Becoming a web developer is never easy, but practicing programming skills on small projects can help simplify complicated tasks. Learning from forums, classes, websites, and other developers can be fun, too.
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