Web developers are at the forefront of the Internet age. The websites we browse, the gifts we order and the news we peruse online are all made possible by the web developers who design, build and implement Internet websites. They are heavily involved in website creation, from helping design aesthetic properties such as layout and color, to technical considerations such as how to design a website to handle a given amount of Internet traffic.

Not only is the web development field exciting and on the forefront of the digital age, but it’s also a growing field. This guide will explain how to become a web developer, what skills and education are needed, different career paths, current market trends, and what people can expect as a web developer professional.

What Does a Web Developer Do?

Web Development Basics

Web developers are responsible for designing and developing websites and website applications. Using a variety of programming languages and web technologies, web developers manage site functionality, implement application features, and integrate security measures.

Web Development In-Depth

Web developers have expertise in object-oriented programming, multiplatform development, and the building of web applications. They blend creative vision with project management skills to plan, design and build websites and integrated applications. Because of the complex nature of websites, developers traditionally specialize in one of two tracks: front-end or back-end development.

Front-end developers (also known as client-side development) use a variety of programming languages and frameworks such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript to build the exterior look and features of a site. Back-end developers use programming languages such as Python and Ruby to design, build and integrate applications from front-end development into the back end—in other words, they make the features on the site operate. Individuals with skills in both front- and back-end development are known as “full-stack developers.”

Web Development Salaries

Web development salaries have steadily been on the rise during the past five years and are projected to continue increasing. Robert Half Technology estimates earnings for web development professionals will increase by an average of approximately 5.6 percent in 2016:

Occupation 2016 Salary Increase
Senior Web Developer 5.7%
Web Developer 5.8%
Front-End Web Developer 6.1%
Web Administrator 4.5%
Web Designer 6.0%
E-Commerce Analyst 5.7%

Specialized skill sets also impact potential earnings according to Robert Half Technology. Based on a review of salary data, the company projects that web developers with in-demand skills can see upward of a nine percent increase in annual salaries.

Skill Set Salary Increase
SharePoint 9%
Virtualization 8%
Web Services 8%
C# 7%
LAMP 7%
.NET 7%
PHP 7%
Content management system 6%
Java 6%
Ruby on Rails 6%
Java EE/J2EE 5%
Python 5%
ASP 4%
AJAX 3%
Cold Fusion 3%
DCOM/COM/ActiveX 3%

Overall, the salaries for web developers range from approximately $60,000 to more than $125,000. This range is due to a number of factors, such as experience, location, and field of practice. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the national median salary at $63,490, while Robert Half Technology’s survey places median salaries substantially higher, at $97,750.

Steps to Becoming a Web Developer

Web development is a flexible professional field, one that affords prospective students multiple ways to gain the training and experience necessary to begin their careers. Below is an overview of steps interested individuals can take to enter this career field.

1
Choose a Development Specialization

Each element of a website is linked to something else, and it’s a complex job to build a website successfully. Depending on their specific jobs, web developers will be proficient in using various software programs (e.g. JavaScript frameworks, version control, CSS), and will have not only the specialized knowledge that characterizes their roles, but also an understanding of the process as a whole. Prior to starting out, it’s wise to get an understanding of the type of web development work that seems interesting—such as user interface design, mobile application development, or front-end development—to best set the stage for future education and training.

2
Get an Education

No specific degree or educational path exists for careers in web development, and it’s possible to become a web developer with or without a formal education. While it’s certainly possible to learn coding languages independently, there is more to web development than coding. Individuals who can implement coding skills within a broader context may have an advantage, and that’s where a formal education can help prospective developers gain foundational knowledge of web development principles and practices, expose them to project management and situations that require problem-solving, and encourage critical thinking.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an associate degree is the most common minimum educational requirement for employment. However, Robert Half Technology notes that a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field is traditionally necessary for career advancement. More recently, coding boot camps such as Code Academy and App Academy have emerged as short-term, intensive training options for students to gain career-specific coding skills that can boost their chances for employment.

3
Develop Technical Skills

Despite the real advantages that come with an organized education, web development is still a field in which concrete skills can trump education when it comes to employment opportunities. Companies want employees who can produce, and how or where something was learned is secondary to simply being able to do it. Prospective web developers should have expertise in the three core programming components: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. They should also learn about CSS and CSS frameworks such as Backbone, Bootstrap, and Foundation. Finally, to build applications, developers should be proficient in back-end languages such as Ruby, Java, PHP and tools such as Oracle and SQL Server.

4
Practice Your Coding Skills

Web developers learn by doing. Set up a Github account and push code to the site. An active Github profile can get the attention of employers searching through stacks of resumes, and demonstrates not only what a candidate does to solve programming issues, but also the thinking and strategies behind those solutions. Practicing coding and getting used to using Git prepares developers to work as part of a team, as well as manage complicated site and application builds.

5
Launch an Online Portfolio

Employers want to see results, such as current examples of successful site and application builds. With a portfolio, developers can test new technologies and tools, as well as demonstrate their coding talent and technical capabilities. Standout portfolios can help candidates clear that crucial first hurdle: landing a job interview.

Web Development Degrees & Concentrations

Matching Web Developer Career Goals to Web Development Degrees

Career Goals & Educational Needs Certificate Associate Bachelor Master’s Online

I am currently working in the computer or Internet industry, but I would like to learn advanced principles, theories and concepts for developing web pages.

I need a formal degree in web development, but I don’t have the time or money to get a bachelor’s degree. I want something that will teach me only what I need to know without being required to take loads of general education classes.

I would like to obtain an education that will fully prepare me with practical and theoretical web development concepts as well as serve as a stepping stone for graduate education later in my career.

I would like to get a degree or certificate in web development, but I need the flexibility to take classes on my own schedule and be able to learn at my own pace.

I just want to learn how to program, build and design web pages and I want to learn this as soon as possible. I don’t need a degree, just something that will teach me how to create web sites.

Web Development Degree Levels

Students looking to acquire formal education in web development have four typical avenues available: certificate, associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Professional requirements and goals, as well as the student’s background, will help dictate which path to take. The following section will give a brief overview of each of the four educational possibilities and what students can expect when enrolled.

Web Development Certificates

The certificate option is designed for targeted educational training and is intended for students who need practical and fundamental knowledge relating to web development. Prior programming and computer technology experience can be helpful, but may not be required. Some certificate programs may even serve as a stepping stone to an associate degree in web development.

Programs lengths can last from a few months to several years, depending on the course load and curriculum commitment from the student. Potential classes include:

Introduction to Coding

This class provides a foundation in computer programming and teaches the basic principles of how computers use software.

Skills Gained
  • Learning programming basics, such as syntax, functions and code structure

  • Understanding of hexadecimal and binary numbers

  • Fundamentals of computer networks

JavaScript Programming

Building off basic web programming such as HTML, JavaScript is a more advance web programming language that allows for the creation of interactive web pages.

Skills Gained
  • Designing a web application

  • Implementation and testing client and server solutions

  • Learning user-interface principles

HTML Programming

Students will learn the basic language of the Internet, including the theoretical principles of HTML and fluency in the HTML programming language.

Skills Gained
  • Syntax and principles of HTML coding

  • How to embed other web programming languages

  • The ability to create web pages with desired elements and requirements

Intro to Web Design

This course teaches students about all elements needed to successfully create a web page. From computer hardware requirements to principles of computer networking to commonly used Internet coding languages, students will gain an overall understanding of web page design.

Skills Gained
  • How web page design elements translate to hardware requirements

  • The interaction of several web programming languages and how they produce desired web pages

  • Maintaining and updating web pages

Associate Degrees in Web Development

The associate degree is a popular track for aspiring web developers. Usually lasting two years, the associate degree can also serve as a base for a future bachelor’s degree. In addition to learning extensive web development, computer science and information technology concepts, students will also take general education classes to obtain a well-rounded education.

Most associate web developer programs will cover common subjects, such as these:

Website Graphics

This focuses on graphics and how they’re used in website design. Both aesthetic and technical considerations will be discussed.

Skills Gained
  • Industry standard graphic formats

  • Compatibility issues between web browsers when displaying graphics

  • How to manipulate graphics for website use

e-Commerce

Students will learn to create websites for businesses, taking into consideration the needs unique to businesses.

Skills Gained
  • Principles of customer service websites

  • Effective web page techniques for marketing

  • Create effective electronic storefronts for businesses

Web Page Multimedia

In addition to the use of graphics, students will learn about animation, video and objects and how they can be used when creating websites.

Skills Gained
  • Manipulation of multimedia for effective web page presentation

  • Overview of different types of multimedia

  • When and how certain types of multimedia should and can be used

Database Management

An introduction to database concepts, principles and design. Computer science concepts will be covered.

Skills Gained
  • Familiarity with SQL for database management

  • Understanding the underlying computer science principles of databases and how they work

  • Identification and experience with different database platforms

Web Development Bachelor’s Degrees

A bachelor’s degree provides a comprehensive education for web development and design, as well as an extensive general education background. The typical bachelor’s degree takes four years of full-time study to complete and covers a variety of subjects, such as the four listed below:

Website Usability

This course teaches students the basic principles of what makes a website easy to use.

Skills Gained
  • How we obtain and interpret information

  • Strategies for designing websites in an organized way for ease of use

  • Learning about web interface technologies and how they can be implemented

Social Media and Collaboration

Students are exposed to web-based interaction and collaboration technologies and then learn how to apply those technologies to a given objective or purpose.

Skills Gained
  • Differentiating between Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0

  • Learning how collaboration online services work

  • The fundamentals of social media communications

Optimizing Websites

Techniques used to improve web traffic, streamline efficiency and monitor website performance are covered in this class.

Skills Gained
  • How to optimize websites for a given goal, such as marketing

  • How to secure a website based on its purpose

  • Methods used to monitor websites and quantify its performance

Advanced Web Design

Complex and advanced web creation techniques will be taught in this class. The website process from start to finish will also be explained.

Skills Gained
  • How to utilize a storyboard to plan a website

  • Website creation within a budget

  • Techniques and tools for monitoring a website’s performance

Master’s Web Development Degrees

The master’s degree is generally the highest degree an individual can receive in web development. This is well suited for web developers who seek advanced or specialized knowledge, or those who are already in a computer technology related industry but would like to shift their focus to web development.

Program lengths vary but many master’s degrees may be obtained in under two years. Classes available vary depending on the program and the particular classes chosen by the individual student; however, the following classes are among the most common.

Content Management Systems

This course explains how content management systems work and how they can be used to streamline the creation of web content.

Skills Gained
  • The theoretical principles for creating a content management system

  • Basics of database management and creation

  • Tailoring content management system features to a given application

Digital Communications

Students will learn how communication theories apply to the digital and Internet age.

Skills Gained
  • Apply communication principles to improve website effectiveness

  • Understanding of mass media and how it’s used

  • Understanding of the theoretical principles of digital communications and how they work

Web Development for Servers

Creation of web applications for servers using specialized programming languages.

Skills Gained
  • Utilizing programs such as PHP and SQL to create server web applications

  • Web application security

  • Implementation of server principles when developing server based web applications

Capstone Project

The final step before completing the master’s degree, the capstone project pulls together major concepts covered in prior classes to provide an opportunity to demonstrate the students’ understanding of web development.

Skills Gained
  • Be able to manage a web project from start to finish

  • Work on a website project applying real-world principles and considerations

  • Handle all aspects of website creation from design to monitoring and maintenance

Components of a Successful Web Developer Career: Skills, Tools, and Technology

Skills

Central to the success of a web developer are strong technical coding skills, and how to implement them within the context of Internet conventions and web applications. Beyond technical expertise, web developers must also have the right blend of soft skills in the workplace, including the ability to communicate clearly as well as a mindset geared to analytical problem-solving. Below is a list of common technical skills and competency areas that are important in web development.

HTML.

Not a programming language, but the foundational element of any website. Includes the core elements of how a page should look.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

CSS manages the way a page looks and serves as the guiding style instructions for a website—from fonts to color.

CSS Frameworks.

CSS frameworks are used to structure and develop websites. They provide custom style guides that are used to help developers maintain industry best practices. Examples include Bootstrap and Foundation.

JavaScript.

A programming language that controls how websites and dynamic web applications operate.

Responsive Web Design.

Modern websites must adapt to mobile device use, requiring an understanding of responsive web design.

Version Control.

When building a site, developers must manage the progress of their projects. Version control software, such as Git, allows developers to maintain and track changes to their code.

Browser Development Tools.

Web developers need to understand how pages are rendered in a browser in order to identify bugs and improve performance.

Testing.

When coding, bugs will be introduced into the system. Web developers should have familiarity with testing processes used to identify those bugs, and software frameworks such as Jasmine.

Programming Languages.

Depending on their professional specialty, web developers should be proficient in programming languages and frameworks such as Ruby on Rails, Python, or PHP.

Certifications are ubiquitous in the information technology industry. Once regarded as the standard-bearer for professional development and credibility, the thinking about credentials is slowly shifting. Employers typically do not regard them as highly as experience, and they are not required to get a job. Nonetheless, certifications do offer useful professional content, and web developers can use certification programs to enhance knowledge and gain expert status in a particular area of development or with a specific product. Following are a few of the available certifications:

  • Adobe Certified Expert (ACE).

    Adobe offers multiple specialization tracks through its Adobe Certified Expert credential, allowing professionals to earn certification on a single Adobe product or pursue an ACE Specialist or Master certification. The Specialist certification demonstrates the candidate’s knowledge of an Adobe product, and requires the successful passing of a current examination and an elective course within the certification track. The Master certification measures the candidate’s knowledge of Adobe’s complete suite of web tools and requires successful passing of individual exams for each product within the suite.

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer: Web Applications.

    Microsoft provides a range of certification tracks within its MCSD program. The MCSD: Web Applications survey qualifies candidates for positions as web developers or web administrators. MCSD certification requires the successful passing of three examinations: Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3; Developing ASP.NET MVC Web Applications; and Developing Microsoft Azure and Web Services.

  • Zend PHP Certification.

    An industry-recognized certification, Zend PHP Certification measures a web developer’s knowledge of PHP 5.5. Exam topics range from PHP basics to web features, and security to object-oriented programming. Candidates must successfully pass a 70-question, computer-based examination to earn the Zend PHP certification designation.

  • W3Schools Certification.

    W3Schools offers several certification tracks in web development, such as HTML, HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP. Each certificate is designed to test the candidate’s knowledge of the foundational principles and concepts of each professional area. To earn a certificate, candidates must pass an Internet-based examination that consists of 70 multiple choice or true/false questions.

  • CIW JavaScript Specialist.

    Sponsored by CIW, a vendor-neutral web technology and certification program, the JavaScript Specialist designation demonstrates knowledge of JavaScript language essentials, JavaScript code development, and JavaScript website implementation. To earn the certification, candidates must achieve 75 percent on a 90-minute exam consisting of 55 questions.

  • Amazon Web Services Certified Developer – Associate.

    The AWS Certified Developer certification is for individuals who develop and maintain applications on the Amazon Web Services platform. Candidates must have at least one year of experience working with AWS applications, an understanding of at least one programming language, and proficiency in designing Amazon application solutions. The examination is 80 minutes long and includes multiple choice and multiple answer questions.

  • Certified Ruby Programmer.

    Sponsored by the Ruby Association, this certification is designed for professionals who design and develop Ruby-based systems. The current certification designates the acquisition of basic skills that cover the fundamentals of Ruby programming, including execution environment, grammar, libraries, and object orientation. Candidates must successfully pass a 50-question, multiple-choice examination that lasts 90 minutes.

  • Professional Scrum Developer.

    Offered by Scrum.org, the Professional Scrum Developer certification is for professionals who develop software using Scrum. The assessment examination covers core concepts of Scrum, including theory and principles, framework, programming and standards. The one-hour exam requires a passing score of 85 percent.

Tools and Technology

In building websites and web applications, web developers rely on a variety of tools for each step of the process. The below details major categories of technology that developers may use on a day-to-day basis.

Database Management Software: Software application that is used to create, manage, modify, store and extract data from a database. Examples:
  • Hadoop
  • MySQL
  • PostgreSQL
Editors: Text-based editors are used for writing, storing and editing code. Examples:
  • Text++
  • Atom
  • Vim
Source Control: Software used to manage code development, allowing developers to track and remove changes to the source code during application development. Examples:
  • Git
  • Bazaar
  • Subversion
Integrated Development Environment: The software application used to facilitate software development. Typically includes source code editors, automation and debugging tools, and a graphical user interface. Examples:
  • NetBeans
  • DreamWeaver
  • Aptana
Frameworks: Software frameworks are used to support website, application, and resource development with particular programming languages. Examples:
  • Zend
  • Code Igniter
  • Django
Object-Oriented Software: Programming languages used in the development of websites and applications. Examples:
  • C++
  • Python
  • Java
Web Platform Software: Web application frameworks provide a default structure for building websites, databases, web applications or web services. Examples:
  • Ruby on Rails
  • Drupal
  • JavaScript
Debugging Software: Software used to manage coding issues and identify and remove bugs from a website, application or computer system. Examples:
  • Firebug
  • Xdebug
  • Insight

Career Trends in Web Development

In terms of the demand for IT skills, web development is near the top of the list. In a 2015 industry report, 28 percent of respondents reported that web development was the most important skill they needed for their organizations. There is an insatiable need for web applications in today’s information-driven economy, and as industries such as mobile, big data, cloud computing, security converge, both established companies and start-ups are hard-pressed to find talented developers to meet business demands. A talent gap exists across web development, particularly for Java developers and application developers, according to HR services provider Ranstad. It should come as no surprise the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 20 percent career growth in the field between 2012 and 2022.

Related Careers

Employers across every industry, notes Robert Half Technology, are seeking developers of all sorts: web, software, and mobile. Individuals with programming skills in .NET, PHP and responsive design skills are in particularly high demand. Below is a list of web development careers that are growing and offer opportunities for individuals with the appropriate skills and experience.

The thriving tech industry is creating new career opportunities within web design and application development. The increasing importance of responsive design on mobile devices, the rise of social media, the adoption of online shopping and e-commerce, cloud computing, and managed services (e.g. online banking) have all spurred demand for skilled and qualified web development professionals. Below are a few spotlight web development careers that span business to design, and development to user experience.

Front-End Developers Median salary: $90,000

Front-end designers combine knowledge of user interface best practices with CSS and programming skills to design functional, appealing websites and mobile-based applications. With an eye for clean design, front-end developers translate technical requirements into user-friendly websites and applications. Job growth is projected to surpass 20 percent between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; front-end developers with some back-end knowledge will likely be in the greatest demand.

Software Developer Median salary: $110,875

Software developers are detail-oriented problem solvers who have a foundational understanding of programming languages and frameworks. They develop software programs and applications, and often serve in project management roles, directing an entire development process from planning to coding to product release. A bachelor’s degree is typically preferred, but candidates with an associate degree and technical experience can also succeed in the field. Demand is surging nationwide, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting 23 percent growth in the field by 2022 and 45 percent within the computer systems design industry.

E-Commerce Analyst Median salary: $102,875

Combining analytical and marketing skills with experience in Internet technology, e-commerce analysts identify business needs and user requirements, and make recommendations for the design and implementation of e-commerce solutions on websites. A bachelor’s degree in computer science or marketing (with IT experience) is typically required, but companies seeking high-level analysts traditionally prefer candidates with an MBA. The need for analysts is on the upswing, with 43 percent job growth projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics between 2012 and 2022.

Job Growth, Prospects, and Outlook for Web Developers

Led by tech leaders such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, the hiring landscape in web development is being driven by the need for innovative web applications and technologies. A healthy start-up industry and the expansion of emerging fields including e-commerce, mobile, social media, big data, and cyber security, are also fueling growth. In particular, notes Robert Half Technology, hospitality and financial services are expected to be hot sectors for web developers as both industries need to provide reliable, secure online services to clients.

What Do Related Occupations Make?

Development is a hot topic—whether in software, web applications, websites, mobile applications, or computer hardware. Some of the most sought-after IT skills, according to ComputerWorld’s 2015 survey, include application development, security, and database development. Individuals with experience and skills in these areas can command salaries that surpass $100,000 per year. Below is a list of some of the top paying related careers”

Related Occupations: What You Need to Know

Employment research points to the same conclusion: individuals with programming and development skills are highly valued. A degree in web development can position graduates for career success not only in that specific field, but also across other professional areas, such as the following:

Web Development Degree & Web Developer Career Resources

Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)

As the world’s largest non-profit computing society, the ACM’s mission is to help professionals in the computing world with educational and career improvement opportunities.

IEEE Computer Society

When it comes to computers and the Internet, the IEEE Computer Society is at the forefront, providing professional development and educational programs to its members, as well as information to help promote and advance technology.

International Web Association (IWA)

A leading non-profit organization dedicated to establishing certification, ethical and instructional standards for web developers and other web professionals.

Webmonkey

An online site filled with tools to help web developers create websites. From software to glossaries to tutorials, this site provides information to guide web developers in creating online content.

WebProfessionals.org

This is a membership-based organization that facilitates networking between its members. Additionally, WebProfessionals.org provides several certifications for web professionals.