Web developers work independently as freelancers or with company teams to create websites. Depending on the job, these professionals may focus on front-end development, which involves designing sites and producing content, or back-end development, which involves writing code to make website features work. Web developers may also become webmasters for a site, providing maintenance, updates, and troubleshooting when needed.
Prospective web developers can use the following information to choose a career path and understand the required steps for that career, such as completing education and understanding potential web developer roles and contexts. Read on to learn about the daily tasks and skills of a web developer, available career resources, and salary information.
What Does a Web Developer Do?
Web development and web design share many commonalities, but they differ in some key areas. Web design deals with the front-end of a website, concerning itself with appearance and user experience. Web development, on the other hand, deals with building technical front-end and/or back-end code that informs site function. Web developers may work exclusively on front-end code, back-end code, or both, and many modern jobs also require overlap into web design. These professionals may work independently on a freelance basis or with marketing or IT departments.
Entry-level jobs often require only a small amount of formal education and training. As the internet continues to expand, so does the demand for talented web developers, making this career an attractive option. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that web development jobs will grow by 13% between 2018 and 2028 -- much faster than the national average growth for all occupations.
Key Hard Skills
Hard skills, or the specific knowledge and abilities needed for a job, vary by industry and position. Coding is one of the primary hard skills of a web developer, and these professionals must understand at least some of the programming languages described below.
- HTML5: A markup language used to provide structure to content on the web, HTML5 is the most current version of the HTML standard. Web developers use HTML5 to form the fundamental rules of webpages, including whether to format content as paragraphs, headings, lists, links, or other element types.
- PHP: PHP, a server-side scripting language, functions within web content management systems, HTML code, web template systems, or web frameworks. Fundamental to back-end development, web developers typically use PHP for server scripting to determine a site's response to user actions.
- Cascading Style Sheets (CSS): Web developers use CSS to control the layout and appearance of elements across multiple pages of a site. CSS language can influence the presentation of font faces, colors, spacing among elements, and element sizes on a page.
- ASP.NET: An open-source, server-side web application framework developed by Microsoft, ASP.NET provides tools and resources to help web developers build dynamic websites, applications, and services. Though there are many web applications frameworks, web developers often rely on ASP.NET as an industry-standard option.
Key Soft Skills
In addition to developing skills in programming languages and other hard skills, web developers should build soft skills to secure and complete their work effectively. Web developers often work remotely and independently, so they must perform quality control for and manage their own projects. General web developer skills include multitasking, self-motivating, organizing, and attending to detail.
- Multitasking: Multitasking involves observing or attending to several tasks at once. It has drawbacks, but multitasking can sometimes increase efficiency for web developers working on multiple projects under tight deadlines.
- Self-motivation: Because of the time-consuming, project-based nature of web development, web developers cannot afford to procrastinate if they want to meet project deadlines or find new projects.
- Organizational Skills: Organizational skills go a long way for web developers who have to keep track of multiple tasks, projects, deadlines, budgets, and workflow planning.
- Attention to Detail: Given the intricacy of visual design elements and programming languages, web developers must pay painstaking attention to detail to produce professional work.
Web developers' daily tasks depend on their industry, position, and project. Developers often find themselves communicating with clients, planning web layouts, composing code to enable site functions, and creating or adding verbal or visual content into the code structure. Web developers also test website functions and take charge of building, maintaining, updating, and troubleshooting websites.
Can Anyone Be a Web Developer?
Web developers usually need to demonstrate skill with learning programming languages and other computer-based applications. To succeed, many web developers also need professional training or education, plus the hard and soft skills described above.
Is It Hard to Become a Web Developer?
Given the intricacies of web design and coding, web developers must usually learn a lot before taking on their first professional project. In addition to completing academic coursework or online tutorials to learn programming languages and applications, web developers create portfolios and pursue hands-on training through internships.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Web Developer?
Many web developers complete four-year degrees, create portfolios, and take on internships. However, self-taught web developers may get a faster start, particularly if they know exactly what they want to learn and have an easy time learning programming languages and website design principles.
Do You Need a Degree to Become a Web Developer?
Some web developers learn their trade entirely from tutorials and other online resources, but many hold at least a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor's degree in a computer-related field.
What Do Entry-Level Web Developers Do?
Entry-level web developers typically maintain, troubleshoot, or create websites by drawing from their repertoire of programming and graphic design skills and knowledge.
Web Developer Salary Information
National data gathered by the BLS depicts web development as a lucrative and growing career. The BLS reports that web developers earned an annual median salary of $69,430 as of 2018, and it projects a job growth rate of 13% from 2018 through 2028.
Factors such as location, credentials, and industry have considerable influence on web developers' salaries. For example, California and Washington currently employ the most web developers and pay them more than other states do. As the table below indicates, web developer salaries also vary by experience; experienced professionals make over $20,000 more than entry-level web developers do.
According to the BLS, the computer systems design industry employs more web developers than other industries, though many work in information services, advertising, management, and consulting. The BLS projects that the data management industry offers the highest salaries for web developers, followed by computer systems design and advertising. Successful freelancers enjoy high earning potential, as well, for which reason many web developers pursue this avenue.
Average Salary of Web Developers by Job Level
|Entry-Level (0-12 Months)||$50,089|
|Early Career (1-4 Years)||$56,195|
|Mid-Career (5-9 Years)||$65,909|
|Experienced (10-19 Years)||$70,447|
How to Become a Web Developer
Earn Your Degree
Aspiring web professionals often begin by pursuing a web developer education. Some opt for certificate programs or online web developer courses instead, but professionals seeking lucrative positions should pursue associate or bachelor's degrees in web development, information technology, computer science, or a similar field.
Associate or bachelor's degrees in these disciplines feature courses on coding languages, such as Python or Java, which prepare students to pass certification tests in these languages. Other courses vary based on program, major, and concentration, but common subjects include website design, business systems analysis, and network management.
Web developer bachelor's programs usually entail a capstone project, which integrates students' acquired knowledge through the creation of a database, web application, computer program, or related project. This project becomes part of a portfolio for students to show prospective employers. Good web developer schools also encourage internship experience at a site related to the student's desired focus or industry.
Aspiring web developers who have not gained internship experience or built a portfolio as part of their degree program may need to do so to obtain employment. An original, professional portfolio proves essential, particularly for freelancers who rely on it to find projects.
Web developers seeking more traditional positions may benefit from internship experience. Internships allow students to learn on-the-job skills, procedures, and workflow dynamics within a specific industry. Internships at technology firms may prove particularly helpful for prospective web developers, offering solid preparation for entry-level positions.
Given technology's rapidly changing nature, web developer careers typically call for lifelong learning. Entry-level and freelance jobs do not require as many credentials, but many jobs do, mandating certification in specific programming languages, web applications, and roles. Common certifications include Java foundations certified junior associate, Java SE8 programmer, and Microsoft certified solutions developer.
Earning certifications typically involves passing (with a 65% or higher) a certification test in that area. These tests demonstrate competency to future employers. Certification course and test packages may cost more.
Types of Careers in Web Development
Depending on their industry, location, education, and experience level, web developers can pursue a variety of careers. Associate degree graduates can obtain entry-level web developer or programmer positions if they have the right certifications, though some companies only hire bachelor's degree-holders.
A bachelor's degree represents the common standard for database administrators and software developers, but a master's can give job candidates an edge in competing for more advanced positions. Keep in mind, however, that when hiring for upper-level positions, many employers expect a history of on-the-job success and academic credentials.
Salaries in this field vary based on the factors described below, but according to the BLS, web developers earned a national median salary of $69,430 as of May 2018. Higher education degrees in web development or related fields makes candidates more competitive, particularly for higher-paying positions requiring relevant degrees. According to PayScale, associate degree graduates earn a median salary of $60,000, while bachelor's degree-holders make considerably more.
Careers for Web Development Graduates
These professionals usually hold at least an associate degree and know several programming languages. Computer programmers create code for computer applications and programs.
Median Annual Salary: $84,280
Working in a variety of industries such as advertising, consulting, and publishing, web developers usually design websites, computer systems, and related platforms. Web developers do not always require a formal degree, but they must be competent in computer programming, graphic design, and other related skill areas.
Median Annual Salary: $69,430
Database administrators use software to sort and store information. These administrators usually hold computer-related bachelor's degrees and may work for companies specializing in computer design or for institutions with large databases.
Median Annual Salary: $90,070
Often employed by computer systems design or software publishing companies, software developers produce computer-based systems or applications. Software developers usually hold computer-related bachelor's degrees, which include programming training.
Median Annual Salary: $105,590
Where Can I Work as a Web Developer?
Since most companies need websites, web developers can find work at smaller companies, startups, and larger organizations across many industries. Other web developers become freelancers who work independently (and often remotely). These professionals often get to choose which projects they take.
Aspiring web developers should bear in mind that job opportunities and salaries differ by location. According to the BLS, California, Washington, New York, Texas, and Florida employ more web developers than other areas. Likewise, California, Washington, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and Virginia have the highest median salaries for web developers. See below for specific numbers in each of these areas.
|States With the Highest Employment Level of Web Developers (Applications)||Number of Web Developers (Applications) Employed|
|Top Paying States for Web Developers||Annual Mean Wage|
|District of Columbia||$87,320|
Given the widespread need for websites, web developers can find work at companies of all sizes and in many industries. For entry-level web developers, large companies offer some advantages, including better organization, clear policies and procedures, helpful training and mentoring, and opportunities for greater specialization. Small companies offer benefits, as well, such as greater flexibility, advancement potential, and the chance to learn multiple aspects of the business.
According to the BLS, the following industry areas employ the most web developers: advertising, public relations, computer systems, design, and data-related services. Web developers seeking advanced positions usually find the most opportunities in these areas: computer systems, information services, consulting, company management, advertising, and public relations.
|Industries With the Highest Level of Employment of Web Developers||Number of Web Developers (Applications) Employed|
|Computer Systems Design and Related Services||27,050|
|Other Information Services||8,950|
|Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services||7,500|
|Management of Companies and Enterprises||6,840|
|Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services||6,660|
|Industries with the Highest Concentration of Employment of Web Developers||Annual Mean Wage|
|Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services||$72,740|
|Computer Systems Design and Related Services||$75,230|
|Specialized Design Services||$68,120|
|Data Processing, Hosting, and Related Services||$85,370|
Working as a Freelancer
Freelancing features many advantages, including flexibility in schedule and location and greater freedom in choosing their projects and experimenting in their work. Depending on their specialty, freelancers may not need as much formal schooling; they can learn new skills on a practical, as-needed basis instead of investing large amounts of time and money in education before getting started.
Freelancers do not have the same security or benefits, such as retirement accounts and health insurance. Despite these drawbacks, about 16% of web developers in May 2018 worked as freelancers.
Kyle Theil founded Visual Realm, a Florida-based web design and marketing firm. As a graduate with a multimedia degree in 2005, Theil started Visual Realm directly out of college. With expertise in web design and graphic design, Theil started landing clients and the firm began to take off. Through the years, Theil saw the rise and fall of many coding languages and trends for the web. He believes his background in custom code and his motivation to “never become outdated” has kept him and his company on top.
Continuing education for Theil and his employees remains a high priority in the fast-paced world of online marketing and design. Today, the team at Visual Realm and Theil focus on growing businesses through online and offline marketing, often taking ownership shares of the business as incentive.
Why did you decide to pursue computer programming?
In 2001, when I was just entering college, I knew I wanted to work in computers and have always been intrigued with the internet. Computer programming was considered one of the top-paying careers at the time, and I believe probably still is, but money aside, I loved working on computers.
What are the most challenging aspects of working in computer programing?
By far the biggest challenge with working in computer programming is the ever-changing landscape. New technologies blossom, and old technologies can just completely die. Many times, programmers will go with a new up-and-coming technology, and then out of nowhere, it becomes obsolete with no support.
The most rewarding aspects?
The most rewarding aspect is being able to deliver exactly what a client is looking for without there being an “off-the-shelf” option. This can separate your client from their competition because no one else has it, and you gave them something can push their company to new heights.
Was it challenging to find a job in the field?
Luckily for me, it was not challenging to find a job, because I decided to start my own company directly out of college and use the resources I had to get my company off the ground.
What did your career trajectory look like after you graduated?
I must admit, I was terrified at the end of my college career because I didn't believe I learned enough in college to succeed. I looked at bigger, established universities to produce much better graduates than my university, because we weren’t exactly known for computer programming and/or online technology in general. Some of the classes I took were the first years they were available.
How do you organize, plan, and prioritize your work?
I personally organize myself with the G suite applications, using the calendar to plan my months and using Google Sheets to prioritize my next jobs.
Advice for newcomers to the profession?
My biggest advice for newcomers is to not expect you will be ready to succeed and flourish just on your degree alone. Like I mentioned previously, computer programming and the internet change at breakneck speeds; if you think what you learned in college is going to be enough, you are dead wrong. Continuing education is essential to succeed in this industry.
What are some of the best ways you gained experience outside of primary education?
Gaining experience was essentially on my shoulders coming out of college because I chose to start my own company, so the best way I progressed was to constantly read blogs and resources on the industry to make sure I stayed current with the newest technologies. My biggest fear is to become a 50-year-old programmer that still relies on technology that was developed years ago, and I've made my skill set obsolete.
Continuing Education for Web Developers
Given the speed at which technology changes, web developers must stay current on new trends and tools, so continuing education proves essential to learning new coding languages and staying competitive. Sites like The HTML Writers Guild or W3Schools have much to offer web developers seeking new credentials and skills, such as Python or Java certification.
Creating a professional, well-developed portfolio also goes a long way in demonstrating candidates' talents and abilities to potential employers. Useful sites such as Behance.net allow web developers to create profiles to showcase their projects and attract new business. Professional organizations such as the American Webmasters Association and WebProfessionals.org post networking events, continuing education opportunities, and other career-building resources for web developers.
Continuing Education Resources
- The HTML Writers GuildFor over 20 years, this guild has offered affordable, flexible, instructor-led online courses and certification programs on a variety of topics related to web technologies, programming, graphics, and business.
- Amazon Web Services Focused on building developers' cloud skills, AWS provides certifications, trainings, and other learning paths. Both classroom and digital learning options are available.
- Udemy Udemy, another online learning platform, provides affordably priced courses in web development, data science, programming languages, and other topics.
- Skillcrush This online coding school provides courses on essential web development topics including web design, front-end development, python, and digital marketing. Skillcrush also offers a "break into tech" course package for newcomers to the industry.
- Wix.com Developed by the Israeli company Wix, this cloud-based platform enables HTML5 website and mobile site creation through online tools. Wix offers web business tools such as a store, blog, videomaker, and logomaker, as well.
- Behance.net Behance is a free, interdisciplinary Adobe online platform for creatives and consumers to display or purchase work. This platform allows users to create profiles for showcasing their projects and provides a personalized feed of profiles the user has followed.
- codeburst.ioAn online publication site designed for web development students, codeburst.io features web development tutorials, news, and articles.
How Do I Find a Job as a Web Developer?
Aspiring web developers can choose from many available job-finding strategies. Freelancers often start out by using job boards on sites such as Upwork.com, PeoplePerHour, or Codeable.io. Keep in mind that clients advertising on job boards sometimes set unrealistic budgets and deadlines. Portfolio sites should showcase professionals' work and attract clients -- not the other way around.
Successful web developers often find their best positions or freelance projects through networking. Prospective professionals should attend job fairs and other events advertised on general platforms such as Meetup.com, Eventbrite, LinkedIn.com, and Indeed.com. They should also consider joining professional organizations for web developers. Such organizations offer networking opportunities through conferences, committee participation, mentorship platforms, and discussion boards.
An enormous, free, international job site serving millions, Indeed allows job-seekers to create resumes, research jobs, and communicate with prospective employers. Indeed also provides a career guide, blog, hiring lab, and line of products.
The largest online professional network on Earth, LinkedIn provides users with a career profile and personalized information feed with relevant events, articles, and opportunities. LinkedIn helps job-seekers and employers find each other and enables collaborations among organizations and individuals.
Another career networking hub, Upwork helps businesses find talented freelancers and useful agencies. Prospective employers post projects, receive bids from freelancers, and use Upwork's collaboration tools and payment software to complete their projects.
Originally a question-and-answer site for computer programmers and web developers, Stack Overflow also produces useful products, offers networking opportunities, and connects developers with employment opportunities.
Professional Resources for Web Developers
Web developers who want to stay current on tools, trends, products, and opportunities often turn to professional organizations. These groups actively shape the web industry by setting professional standards and advocating on behalf of web professionals' needs and interests.
Most professional organizations offer educational opportunities in the form of training, certification, and continuing education programs or courses. Several of the sample organizations described below also provide employment opportunities and other career development opportunities, and members sometimes benefit from industry discounts on the design tools and resources they need for work.
- WebProfessionals.orgA nonprofit organization also known as the World Organization of Webmasters (WOW), WebProfessionals.org serves web designers, developers, managers, and marketers. In addition to establishing professional standards and providing networking opportunities and advocacy, WOW offers training, certification, and other educational resources.
- American Webmasters Association A professional organization founded in 2003 and also known as AAWebMasters.com, the AWA features networking opportunities; professional development; knowledge; and tools for web designers, marketers, and managers.
- American Institute of Graphic Arts Now known simply as AIGA, the professional association for design, this organization is the oldest and largest of its kind. By providing advocacy, design tool accessibility, professional development, and other resources, AIGA serves design students, entrepreneurs, thinkers, teachers, freelancers, and in-house design professionals.
- International Web Association The industry's first generator of educational, ethical, and professional standards, IWA provides certification and training programs, job resources, and relevant news for web professionals.
- GirlDevelopIt.com GDI assists women web developers by offering classes and facilitating mentoring and peer support. With chapters in 60 cities, GDI helps to address women's underrepresentation in computer science across the nation.