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How to Start a Career in Web development

Wondering how to start a career in web development? Will a web developer role suit your skills and desires for a job? What are the different types of web development and what do they involve?

We’re here to help you suss whether pursuing web development work is right for you.

But first, we want to acknowledge several common myths about starting a career as a web developer, including:

  1. A university degree is a must-have.

  2. You need high-level maths abilities.

  3. Learning to code takes years and years. 

Our hundreds of School of Code alumni and leading industry partners prove that you can learn to code in just a matter of months and a degree from a tertiary institution isn’t the only route to kick off a career in web development. But more on this later.

If you’re about to finish high school or are considering an information and communication technology career pivot, here's everything you need to know about working as a developer, the myths we need to debunk and the necessary steps to make it happen.

What does a web developer actually do?

We get this question a lot. In a nutshell, web developers are specialists in the development of websites, web applications and web-based content. They use coding and languages and frameworks, such as HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript and more, to turn the plans created by web designers into live and functional websites and web applications using code.

Most web developers specialise in either front or backend development, and many will go on to become full stack developers. Here’s a quick guide to what’s involved in each of these areas of web development: 

  • Front end developers:

    use languages like HTML, CSS and JavaScript to build the ‘front-facing’ visible parts of websites. Think: the look, feel, design elements and layout of a website and the way users interact with it.  

  • Back end developers

    : work on the behind the scenes and specialise in business logic, databases, application interfaces and more. Users don’t see this work but back end devs make sure the parts users see operate smoothly. They use programming languages (like Python, Ruby and JavaScript) to request data from a site’s server which appears as HTML output on a user’s screen.

  • Full stack developers:

    are web or app developers with both front end and back end developer skill sets.

Common web developer job requirement myths debunked

Myth: You must have a university degree to become a developer.

Fact: Turns out, you don’t necessarily need to spend two to four years getting a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, a certificate or diploma in IT or similar to land a job in web development.

Having a degree is looked on somewhat favourably by employers BUT as a skills-based field if you know how to do the work, learn by doing through volunteer opportunities and internships, are dedicated and passionate about learning, and showcase your skills with a great portfolio, there’s absolutely no reason you’ll be overlooked for a position.

We know employers in tech are increasingly valuing skills and experience over education and are open to hiring anyone who can prove their abilities and meet the job requirements regardless of whether they hold a university degree or not.

“My pathway into web development didn't involve a degree in computer science or software engineering. I was always interested in computers, but I studied Arts and Music at university. When I entered the workforce, I found there were opportunities for self-starting people with diverse skill sets to work in web development, and I started out creating simple websites for small businesses and learned as I went along. I spent many years honing my skills through online tutorials and by trial and error (breaking things and working out how to fix them!). Through my career I've had a number of excellent peer mentors who have also helped me learn, as well as the Code Like a Girl community who have provided amazing moral support for the challenges I've faced as a minority in the industry. It's so much more about your attitude towards problem solving and your passion for building things than any kind of tertiary qualification!" – Sarah Brown, Lead Technologist at Code Like a Girl.

Myth: You need high-level maths abilities to become a developer.

Fact: You can easily learn to code without a high-level understanding and background in mathematics. A majority of web development work doesn’t require advanced mathematical calculations at all.

“​​I have to admit, I enjoyed maths in high school though I did the most basic level on offer. Now, about 10 years into my career, I'd struggle to pass a high school maths test. I rarely use any kind of advanced mathematics as a web developer. It’s a common misconception that myself and my colleagues are math whizzes. I don’t mind fooling the onlookers but for those who might want to break into tech without a maths background, we welcome you! You’ll be fine!” – Lara Salameh, Front End Developer at Code Like a Girl.

Industry experts agree that critical thinking, attention to detail, a commitment to ongoing learning, problem solving and an eye for design are much more crucial skills than advanced maths calculations when working as a developer.

Myth: Learning to code takes years.

Fact: You can learn the basics of coding in a matter of weeks. 

For anyone looking to explore a career in web development, we’d suggest learning at least two front end coding languages. You can learn to code with HTML and CSS within a matter of weeks or even days depending on your pace and process. Next up, learning JavaScript can typically be achieved within a couple of months and will open doors to a lot more front end developer jobs.

Our Foundations of Web Development course is an awesome place to start understanding the core languages  of website development, HTML and CSS. By the end of this 10-week course, you’ll understand the fundamentals of HTML markup and CSS styling, know how to host and publish a website, as well as get an introduction to using JavaScript in web development. With enough practice, you’ll even be ready to snap up your first gig as a junior developer.

Python’s approachable syntax and widespread server-side use makes it a popular programming language for back-end development. So if back end development is more your area of interest, by the end of our 10-week Python Primer course you will be able to proficiently write programming language Python with an average study load of 2-4 hours per week. We recommend learning Python for beginners who may feel a bit intimidated by the prospect of learning to code. It’s a highly versatile language and you really can use it for just about anything from apps to websites to databases and more.

Of course, we think our coding courses are pretty rad but here’s what our School of Code alumni has to say: 

“It's a perfect place to start. It's beginner-friendly, flexible and the guidance from tutors is amazing!” – Shreya

“This course was nothing short of fantastic and incredibly encouraging to working women looking to up-skill and diversify their skillset.” – Eleanor 

“To be part of CLG is a jumpstart to one's career already” – Guen

Steps to get started as a web developer sans tech degree

Step 1. Learn to code

First things first, you’ll need to build a solid understanding of web development and become proficient in several coding languages. There are many different free and paid ways you can achieve this and you’ll be able to find a pace and learning format that suits you and your circumstances. You may like to look into intensive coding bootcamps, short courses, self-led online coding courses, guided coding classes or a mix of these.

We’d recommend guided instructor-led online courses if you excel with structure and group learning and prefer mentoring, peer interaction and tutor support throughout your program. 

Self-led online courses may suit you if you prefer to work at your own pace, and are extremely self-motivated and disciplined to hold yourself accountable for your professional development. 

Step 2. Choose a specialisation 

As you work to grow your knowledge and skills over time you’ll need to select an area to specialise in and this will determine the key or additional programming languages you need to learn. Think about whether you want to work on the ‘user-facing’ elements of a website as a front end dev or specialise in the ‘under the hood’ makeup of websites and their servers as a back end dev.  

Front end coding languages:

  • HTML

  • CSS

  • JavaScript

 Back end programming languages and frameworks:

  • PHP

  • Ruby

  • Ruby on Rails

  • Python

  • C#

  • Java Script

  • React

  • Node.js

 And, once you’ve mastered one you can begin to learn the other and become a full stack developer.

Step 3. Practice makes perfect

Once you’ve learnt the coding skills you need, how do you best go about putting those lessons into practice and make the leap from coding student to working as a web developer? Working on mock coding projects is a great way to build up a portfolio of work before you’ve started your first paid internship or web development role.

We suggest doing as many mock projects as you can to practice your newfound coding skills. Try your hand at building a website that’s SEO friendly for a pretend company, design a website’s login authentication bar, build a product landing page, or redesign a website for an existing brand that you think could use a little help.

Reach out to family, friends or any small business owners you know to see if they have any website needs that you are able and confident to assist with. This is a fantastic way to gain valuable work experience and will even give you a taste of what working as a freelance web developer with different clients is like. 

Step 4. Showcase your incredible skills 

Be proactive and publish your best mock, pro bono or paid starter projects you complete online on web developer communities such as Codepen and Github. This online portfolio or ‘highlights reel’ of your work showcases to future employers and web developers your strongest abilities, passion and dedication for the work, and that you have that fire in your belly to land your first web developer gig. 

Step 5. Apply for jobs

As a launching point to the web dev role of your dreams, you may want to apply for an internship program. Interning not only provides you with incredible hands-on experiences but fosters valuable connections with experienced developers who can provide guidance and advice to breaking into the industry. Who knows, you may even end up with a job offer at the end of your internship. 

As well as a polished portfolio you’ll need to craft a custom cover letter and provide an up to date resume when applying for some internships and most web developer jobs. For your cover letter take the time to really research the company, note any areas of improvement or what they could do more of and how you could assist with these, even include an insightful anecdote from your personal experience with using their service or product.

“When reviewing internship applications, I’m always on the lookout for the candidate’s passion and enthusiasm to shine through. When writing up your cover letter and application, let us know what excites you about joining our program and what landing your dream job in tech will do for your future!” – Lizzie Webster, Partnerships and Internships Coordinator at Code Like a Girl.

Ready to pursue a career in web development?

We hope this guide has propelled your interest in a career in web development further and given you actionable next steps to start your exciting journey into the tech industry. 

Code Like a Girl’s School of Code is the perfect gateway into a lucrative career as a web developer. Get in touch if you have any questions about our online courses, events or internships.

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