What is a web developer?

November 6, 2020
7
min read
What is a web developer?
Thomas Limbüchler
by
Thomas Limbüchler

A web developer can be defined as someone who is specialized in the development of web applications and services (such as websites, apps, etc.) that run in a web browser. Web developers are increasingly in demand as companies try to improve their digital presence and e-commerce functionalities. 

Web development involves learning several programming languages, frameworks, and databases, as different web applications use different technologies and have other functionalities. 

Web development is broadly classified into front-end development (client-side – the face of the web application that the user interacts with) and back-end development (server-side – the logic behind a web application). Some web developers specialize in creating the front end; others work on building the back end, while some others combine both, which makes them full-stack web developers. 

Whether you are in a company or working as a freelancer, your job will be to create products that meet clients' needs. The work can be particularly varied with many projects to work on simultaneously and meetings with clients to discuss their requirements and update them on progress.

Job titles vary due to the focus of the role on particular programming languages or frameworks. 

Web developer != web developer

There are three types of web developers: 

  • Front-end developer
  • Back-end developer
  • Full-stack developer

What is a front-end web developer? 

Front-end web developers (or front-end developers) build the visible parts of web applications and services that users see and interact within their web browsers – everything a user sees, clicks, or uses to input or retrieve information. Their focus is on user experience, not on the design, but on the technology they implement that hinges on how well it will accomplish that efficiency, speed, and smooth functionality. They also make sure that there are no errors or bugs on the front end and that the design appears as it’s supposed to across various platforms and browsers.

Typically, a front-end developer’s responsibilities include: 

  • Bringing a UX concept to life with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript 
  • Familiar with frameworks, e.g. Bootstrap, Foundation, AngularJS, and EmberJS
  • As well, familiar with libraries, e.g. jQuery and LESS 
  • Production and maintenance of web applications and services
  • Creating tools that enhance interaction with the site in any browser 
  • Checking feasibility of design and implementing design
  • Maintaining software workflow management 
  • Looking at SEO best practices 
  • Testing the site for usability and fixing any bugs

Many front-end developer job listings also call for experience with Ajax, a widely used technique for using Javascript that lets pages dynamically load by downloading server data in the background. Employers often look for problem solvers, not just web developers who can code, but people who can sit down with web and UX/UI designers to solve significant challenges.

What is a back-end web developer? 

Back-end web developers (or back-end developers) build the “under the hood” parts of websites that users don’t interact with directly. The back end of an application includes business logic (how the system functions and how the data flows via a series of tasks), how the data is stored, and where the solution runs.

Responsibilities of a back-end developer can include working with:

  • Server-side programming languages, e.g. PHP, Python, Ruby, or Java
  • Back-end frameworks to build server-side software
  • Database creation, integration, and management
  • Web server technologies
  • Cloud computing integration
  • Operating systems
  • Content management system development, deployment, and maintenance
  • API integration, e.g. REST & SOAP
  • Security settings and hack prevents
  • Backup and restore technologies for a web application’s files and database

What is a full-stack web developer? 

A full-stack web developer (or full-stack developer) is a web developer who works with both the front and back ends of web applications and services – meaning they can tackle projects that involve databases and building web interfaces. When multiple tech stacks run together, they create a full stack.

You will understandably see a mix of front and back end skills listed on full-stack web developer job listings, including:

  • HTML, CSS, JavaScript
  • Programming languages, e.g. Ruby, PHP, Python
  • Ideally, one or more third-party libraries/frameworks, e.g. ReactJS, Vue.js, and Angular
  • Experience with databases and storage, e.g. NoSQL, XML, and JSON
  • Version control using Git and GitHub
  • Knowledge of security concerns and best practices
  • Ideally, understanding of web design to work with a web/UI/UX designer

Full-stack web developers have a broad skill set and an extensive knowledge base. Thus, someone needs to have several years of experience in web development to cover the requirements. 

What qualifications and skills does a web developer need?

Web developers often do not need a formal education to become employed as a web developer. Although some employers prefer candidates having a technical degree – which also depends on the interviewer. If employers do, they require candidates to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science, programming, informational technology, or other relevant fields.

Knowledge and experience define your expertise in web development. A relevant degree helps employers to identify applicants in a stage when there is only a profile or CV available and proves you know the foundations of programming and software development. 

Some employers are looking for entry-level positions that do not require any experience, but of course, build on existing knowledge and skills. If you take this route, starting salaries are generally lower than other web development positions because you will be trained on the job in specific languages, frameworks, and technologies used by the organization. 

Other options include (short) courses in universities and colleges on specific topics like programming web applications in PHP and MySQL. Training providers who specialize in web development offer courses online, in a classroom setting, in a one-day, weekend, or week boot camps. 

If you do not have the necessary budget, there are plenty of free options on the Internet for (further) training – e.g. WeAreDevelopers Live.

In the modern world of work, employers usually do not mind how you gained your expertise, as long as you can show it and comply with the technical requirements of the job confidently when interviewing. However, any kind of education and training will help you prove your qualifications – and do not underestimate the power of side projects that showcase your skills. 

What does a web developer do all day? 

A day in the life of a web developer is far from routine. In the morning in the office a web developer checks working emails and messages to get an overview for the day. In most organizations, development teams have a short team meeting or stand-up meeting in the morning where they discuss ongoing projects, talk about what they did the day before, define what they will be working on today, and make sure that they are on track as a team. 

After the meeting, you focus on current projects and initiatives implementing new features, changes or working on reported bugs. You work with project management methods and tools like Kanban boards, ticketing systems, and in sprints. Depending on how your organization is structured you work together in development teams or in interdisciplinary teams consisting of a product owner, a designer, a marketing manager etc. 

You typically work to normal office hours, from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday. However, if you work for an agency, you may be expected to work longer or irregular hours to meet deadlines or to work on projects for clients in different time zones. 

As a web developer, you need to stay on top of the latest trends. Ideally, you can spend about an hour every day (or at least try) reading and researching new technologies and tools that make you better and more efficient. 

What is the salary of a web developer? 

The salary depends on the type of web developer you are (front-end, back-end, or full-stack developer), the years of experience you have, often the location you work (urban vs. “rural” areas and cost of living), and the size of the company. For example, salaries are usually higher if you are working in Berlin and are employed by a large company. Though the progression to a senior or lead web developer may be easier and faster within a smaller company. 

Therefore the salary ranges between 35,000 Euros for entry-level or junior web developers and 80,000 Euros for senior web developers. 

Different skills can affect your salary. Skills in newer or more sought-after technologies can lead to higher salaries – e.g. Ruby, Angular, React, and Vue.js. 

Is it hard being a web developer? 

Proper education and training are highly recommended as it gives you the necessary foundation to understand the smaller parts, but also to consider the bigger picture – your managers and colleagues will appreciate it. 

Stop learning and start practicing!

The best way to broaden and deepen your knowledge is to work on real projects. When new technologies, frameworks, or programming languages emerge, try to apply them. You can only gain experience with new technologies in web development (or in software development in general) when you make use of them, either with side projects or in your next job. Take a look at our web developer jobs.

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