What Education and Experience Is Required to Be a Web Developer?

Learn what it takes to be a professional web developer

Web Designer at work in her office

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There are lots of ways to get the education and experience needed to become a professional web designer or developer. The basics you should know to get a foot in the door include knowledge of HTML and CSS. Once on the job, you can gain the experience needed for advanced programming jobs.

Keep in mind that when it comes to general education and experience, most large companies want you to have a bachelor's degree. Small companies don't care as much, but they also don't always pay as well.

Web development jobs often require or prefer that you have other education and experience, depending upon the type of job you're applying for.

Basic Web Development Knowledge

Although there are plenty of programming languages you may be called upon to know as you advance in web development, to get your first job, you need to be familiar with HTML and CSS. An understanding of basic JavaScript is also useful.

  • HTML Some people tell you that because WYSIWYG programs are so widespread, you don't need to learn HTML, but don't listen to them; you need to know HTML. It is the backbone of web design, and if you know how web pages are put together, you will be better at the job — even with a WYSIWYG editor.
  • CSS Cascading style sheets make your pages look good. Even if you're planning on doing more web programming than web design, you should know how CSS works. The content and behaviors of the web page interact with the CSS to create the full design, and CSS can be complicated.
  • Basic JavaScript Most web designers never learn any JavaScript, and this can hurt them in their careers. Knowing enough JavaScript to write a quick validation script or rollover image can improve websites while you wait for the more complicated server behaviors to be built.

If you want to polish your web development skills before job hunting, sign up for an online program. General Assembly offers a fee-based 13-week web developer course, while Web Fundamentals, Khan Academy, and Code Academy offer free tutorials for beginning web developers.

Web Designer Education and Experience

Web designers should focus their education on design with an emphasis on graphics and layout. Most companies hiring designers want people who are visually artistic. Study color theory and composition and earn a degree in visual arts or visual design.

Focus your education on design and less on building web pages specifically. The sad fact is that many web designers spend a lot more time learning HTML and how to use Dreamweaver than they spend learning anything about white space and creating a design that flows. If you are educated in classical design techniques and skills and then learn how to apply them to web pages, your designs should stand out from the crowd.

Most companies that are looking for web designers want to see a portfolio of sites that you've designed. Keep screenshots and color prints of the designs you've worked on — even if they were class projects or sites you built for yourself. Put together a diverse portfolio that shows more than only the front page of a site. Your designs won't remain on a site forever, so keep your own copies.

Web Programmer Education and Experience

Web programmers focus on the behavior of websites. Many companies don't hire web programmers specifically, but rather software developers who are skilled at a specific programming language.

Programming languages you may be called upon to learn include PHP, Ruby, Swift, C++, Java, Python, and C#, among others. The languages you need are determined by the employer. The more you can put on a resume, the stronger you look as a candidate.

Web programmers do best when they have a computer science degree. It used to be possible to get a web programming position without a degree in computer science, but the level of programming required for most enterprise websites demands highly skilled computer science professionals.

Don't focus on any one programming language. Chances are, by the time you finish school, the language you learn will be out, and something completely different will be in. Companies follow fads just as much as any other industry, and web programmers need to be aware of what's hot and not. You're better off learning how to learn programming languages and then scanning the jobs six months or so before you are going to start job hunting to find out what language you should focus on to be hired.

Web Producer Education and Experience

Web producers create and manage the content for websites. The best web producers have a strong understanding of marketing and PR and are skilled writers. Companies often hire web producers who work well with other people because they act as intermediaries between web designers, programmers, and the rest of the company.

Web producers benefit from having a liberal arts degree. Which one you choose isn't as important as the fact that you went through a program that had a lot of writing requirements. A marketing or PR degree doesn't hurt. You may be asked to focus more on marketing and less on web development if that's your focus.

Web production jobs often have the most diverse titles. You might be a web content owner, web editor, web writer, copywriter, or something different. If you have good writing skills and don't want to earn a degree in programming or design, web production can lead to the web development field.

Gaining Web Development Experience

No one starts out with a blank slate and a million dollars to build a website. Everyone starts at the bottom, and the bottom for web development can be boring.

If you find an entry-level position, use your time fixing links and correcting typos to learn as much as you can. Every designer and programmer for a website is different, and if you try, you can learn something from each of them.

Don't be afraid to suggest changes and design solutions, even if you are junior on the team. If your ideas are accepted, use them in your portfolio. If they aren't, save them in your design ideas folder and try to find out why they ware rejected. Then use those criticisms to improve your next design or program. Every time you open up Dreamweaver to edit a web page, think of it as an opportunity to learn more and improve your skills.