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What Do Web Developers Actually Do?

Web Developers: You’ve heard of them. You’ve seen them in movies and tv shows.  You’ve probably even observed one while checking out at the grocery store. Perhaps you think of us as elusive, sunshine-starved individuals who keep the internet alive and overflowing with cat videos. While you’re not wrong, in reality, we’re actually pretty normal.  We’re not magicians or mad keyboard scientists; we just know how to tweak code.

A Quick History Lesson

A little more than 40 years ago, computer coding wasn’t an actual job; it was a skill you picked up as part of your career. In the early days of the modern computing revolution, a scientist might be required to learn how to code a program to complete their research tasks. It wasn’t the computer part that was important, but the task at hand that defined the job. I look at web development today in the same way. I’m in the business of creating solutions for an organization and their audience on the web. Coding is merely the means I use to accomplish the task.

Open Source Coding

Obviously, a lot has changed, and much of the “development revolution” has come from collective efforts of thousands of developers, working on open source projects through bug reports, suggestions, code pull requests and evangelism. Thanks to endless hours of hard work by developers across the globe, on softwares such as JavascriptNode.jsnpmwebpackgitWordPressDrupal (and countless other softwares), I am able to deploy code to a live website, through a controlled process, within seconds. From there, I’m working on top of what others have already figured out.

Community efforts almost always lead to exponential leaps in coding performance and reliability. Take the PHP language for instance—today it’s used to power a significant portion of the web, but it wasn’t always well-suited for enterprise solutions.  Then Facebook came along. It ran on PHP and worked around much of PHP’s flaws. Part of that focus brought about great change for PHP and further legitimized its reputation on the web. Much of the work was open source and available to the community.

We Come in All Shapes and Sizes

The term “web developer” is an umbrella term that describes professionals with very different backgrounds, who work on very different kinds of projects. Some web developers have experience in design, support, and other technical coding work, while others come from different professions completely. I have experience in IT support, sysadmin, and a bit of design.  Before that, I took a shot at a music career and wanted to be a comic book penciler in high school.

The polymath is the exactly the type of person that gets into web development and makes a living from it. And for that reason, I don’t think you’ll be surprised to discover there are many ways to be a web developer.

Frontend Some developers are experts in frontend development and style what you see on a website and how it works. Honing in on the right visual feel and experience is their bread and butter. This work takes a creative eye, and consequently, many frontend developers tend to have some sort of arts background.

Backend Developers that work on the backend like to handle data, connect the dots, and automate testing for bug free code, the latter of which clients and other developers depend upon. This skillset is easy for developers from other computing languages and sectors to pick up. These folks are the backbone of the web.

Site Builders Some developers are equal parts designer, dabbling in web technology and able to take a WordPress site from start to finish with out-of-the-box tools (and a little know-how when needed). Many freelancers fit this bill. They typically have varying levels of coding and scripting experience.

Sysadmins A “sysadmin” is a technologist experienced in different systems needed to host and serve web technologies.This skillset isn’t necessarily a standard focus for most web developers,  but it’s incredibly important in the web and internet as a whole when it comes to complex deployments.

Et al The above skills are the most commonly applied in web, and certainly not an exhaustive list. There are also those that cover testing, spoken language, compliance, data science and many others.

We Work Well With Others

Many people imagine web developers sit in rooms or cubicles by themselves, coding away in a vacuum. But in reality, most websites require considerable collaboration and a multi-disciplinary approach. As a website developer who works at a creative agency, I work closely with designers, project managers, and other developers. When I’m solving problems, I’m usually doing it with the help of these fine people.

Designers Here’s an oversimplified explanation of how we work together: The designers make designs and then hand them off to the developers. That’s how some teams do it, via a linear production line. While it may work for some, this method doesn’t make sense for a tight production team.  Instead, we share ideas. We think about the possibilities. We equally divvy up success and failure. Without Visual and UX Design, developers are missing key points of focus.

Project Managers I couldn’t do my job without talented project managers (PM). They keep me sane and schedule time for the many mishaps that come with web development. I’ve worked with the good and the bad, always making sure to let PMs know I appreciate what they do. I like to think of my PM as a good football coach that keeps all the teams within the team working together to win the day.

Other Developers Sharing code, helping another developer solve a tough problem, or simply offering kind words when it feels like there’s no end in sight — Developers helping other developers is what makes the fight worth fighting.

The Cat is Out of the Bag

Web development isn’t a mysterious or complicated profession.  The coding can be, but our ultimate goal is simple:  We work with the rest of our team to build a product that [hopefully] satisfies the client’s vision. Often times, it takes different types of developers to successfully see a project through, but we’re all working towards the same objective, just doing so from behind the computer screen.

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