So You Want to Be a Web Developer

In an early “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” sketch, Mr. Anchovy, a chartered accountant (what we would call a CPA in the U.S.), seeks the help of a vocational guidance counselor in finding a new career, only to discover that the only job he’s suited for is that of…chartered accountant. A far cry from the lion tamer position he fancies.

If you’re looking for more excitement, adventure, and danger in your career, perhaps you should consider becoming a chartered accountant web developer. Do you have what it takes? (Hint: If you knew that Monty Python sketch by heart, you may already be a good candidate.) Here are some skills and traits that make a good web developer:

Education and Experience

With many occupations, education is less important than experience. Web development is no different. If you have no meaningful prior experience, a computer science degree or a certification from one of the many coding bootcamps that have sprung up recently is helpful.

But what kind of experience is best? It’s not just the programming languages that are important—it’s experience in a real for-profit enterprise with real stakeholders who expect professional results. It’s experience in a project team environment with interdependencies among roles, and experience with one or more modern software development methodologies, such as Agile or Scrum. People with these types of experiences can hit the ground running because they already speak the language of the trade and know what to expect.

Technical Skills

You may choose to specialize in one thing or another, but a broad-based knowledge of all of the various technologies that power websites is important, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Knowledge of the alphabet soup of protocols (HTTP, HTTPS, SOAP, CGI, SSL, TCP/IP…) and underlying web server technologies is essential. And knowledge of website security is an absolute must.

Portfolio

Every web developer should have a portfolio. One of the advantages of web development as a profession is that you can show people what you’ve done. Even if it was done on a volunteer basis or is a sample that wasn’t built for any real customer, you can show off your skills with something people can see and interact with. It’s all the better if you can show some clever or innovative use of the technology.

“Soft” Skills

Just as essential as technical skills are the “soft” skills. There are lots of people out there who know JavaScript. What puts some of them above the rest is their mastery of skills, such as:

  • Business Acumen: Web development clients, by and large, don’t want websites for the fun of it; they are trying to fill a business need or support a business process. Knowledge of standard business processes, and the ability to understand how a business operates and how it makes money, are important skills for making clients happy.
  • Communication: This is another essential skill in interacting not only with clients but other members of the development team. Asking good questions, active listening, and expressing your own viewpoint are indispensable. Tact and diplomacy go a long way, too.
  • Documentation: Coders, not surprisingly, like to code, and are notoriously bad about documenting that code so that others can pick it up later and understand how it works. Being disciplined about documentation will set you apart from many other developers.
  • Time management: Poor time management leads to project delays and unhappy clients. The ability to set priorities, plan your work, and execute your plan are mandatory skills, especially in busy shops with multiple projects going on simultaneously.

Still interested? Ready to take the plunge? Great! Brush up on your skills, get a portfolio together, and get ready for your interview.