In 1999, I interned for Zefer, a big web development shop. It called itself an internet consulting firm, but it was basically a web development company with a bunch of salespeople /consultants. Zefer landed a whopping $100 million dollars in venture capital in May 1999 and another $48 million in March 2001, which turned out to be about six months before it went belly up. I’m not sure how many of its employees were on the web development side, but it literally hired people off the street. I remember one guy came into the office to ask if they were hiring and they set him up with a desk that day. These days, finding a job in web development is not that easy. It’s even hard to find an internship. One problem is that the term “web developer” is vague.
What is a web developer?
You can divide web developers into two main types:
- Server-side developers – people who write the code interpreted by the server. Server-side developers can further be divided into many types, including:
- ASP.NET developers
- Multiple variants of Java EE developers
- PHP developers
- ColdFusion developers
We still even get people taking our Classic ASP classes, but most of them have inherited legacy code that they need to maintain. If you’re looking to get into web development now and you’re starting from scratch, here’s my recommended approach.
Learn HTML First
HTML provides the structure to a web page: the title, headings, paragraphs, lists, tables, and so on. Every web developer needs to know HTML.
And the good news is that HTML is not that difficult, but like anything new, you’ll need to study. You can learn HTML using a free HTML tutorial or with an HTML book. And, of course, we’d love to have you take our HTML class.
You should count on being able to work efficiently in HTML after just 2-4 weeks of hard work.
CSS is not incredibly difficult to learn, and now that browsers support it better, it’s much easier to make it work across browsers without learning a bunch of CSS hacks.
Count on another 2-4 weeks to learn CSS.
On the server-side, you have a slew of choices. The easiest languages to get up to speed quickly on are ColdFusion and PHP, and that might be a good place to start. ColdFusion is the simplest to learn, but it isn’t nearly as common as PHP. On the other hand, there are a lot fewer ColdFusion developers than PHP developers, so you might find the competition less fierce. In any case, you can become dangerous with either language in about a month, but it will likely take 3-6 months before you can become truly productive.
ASP.NET and Java EE are much more difficult to learn. Both require that you first learn a sophisticated programming language (C# or VB for ASP.NET and Java for JavaEE). While the jobs are better paying, you’ll be competing for them with people who have computer science degrees. If you decide to go down either of these paths, count on a lot of hard work over an extended period of time.
A Note on SQL
SQL is the language for querying databases. There are developers who focus on SQL (database developers), but most server-side web developers will find it helpful, if not necessary, to have at least basic SQL skills.
A Note on XML
XML is a metalanguage for storing and transferring data. It has become prevalent in many aspects of web development. Many things in life are easier to understand than to learn. For example, you might understand how an operation is performed, but you couldn’t do it yourself. XML is the opposite. Basic XML is easy to learn, but it’s hard to understand what the benefit is until you start actually using it in development projects.
A Note on Ajax
Our recommendation on SQL, XML and Ajax for new web developers? Cross those bridges when you come to them. It’ll likely take at least a year before you’re ready and things in the web development world change quickly.
You may find the following table useful in figuring out how long it might take you to become a web developer.
Key: applies to shaded rows
|3||Must have this skill|
|2||Should have this skill|
|1||Useful to have this skill|
|0||Don’t need this skill|
Common languages in web development
|Time to learn (min weeks)**||2||2||2||1||1|
|Time to learn (max weeks)**||4||4||4||2||4|
|*Server-side developers must also learn a server-side technology.
**This is the time it takes to become minimally productive. You’ll never stop learning.
Best of luck!
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