Part 1: How to Build a Career as a Web Developer
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Citrus Studios has been designing websites since 1999, and, to majorly understate things, the web has changed a lot in that time. The skills we look for in a web developer have evolved quite a bit.
We spoke recently with Citrus Studios’ web developer Steve Rifkin about the changing role of a website developer. In Part 1, Steve dishes on what developers should focus on to build a long-lasting career.
In what pivotal way has the need for tech-savvy web developers progressed in Los Angeles since 2010?
Hmmm, interesting question. I believe it is a red herring though since we have really sidestepped the notion of “web” developer since 2010. Web 2.0 is pretty much passed and any “developer” worth their salt is moving to becoming a “full stack” developer. So the biggest change I would say is that more is being expected out of each developer on a team. This is world wide though and not very specific to LA. From where we sit in LA, I would say that we are seeing the requests for “web” development go down and the request for “data” development go up. We don’t need HTML always and the assumptions built into many hours of development in 2010 was just that. So now we pass JSON and other data types and let the rendering be decided client/device side.
What is the best way to prepare for a sustainable career as a web developer?
Constantly be learning. The minute you stop you will not be marketable. We have seen this in some of the structural shifts in the economy after the 2008 recession that weren’t just age-related unemployment. People who worked the same tasks or maintained the same knowledge set for many years could not recoup on that knowledge. I guess it is not specific to our industry, but I would guess that the pace in which it happens in our industry is head spinning. So it is always best to check in with yourself every 3-6 months and ask whether the work you are doing day to day will be relevant 5 years from know. I think that helps to make more informed choices as you decide what the next technology you will learn will be.
What is your pointed advice to those interested in pursuing a career as a web developer?
Wow. I feel jaded answering this one. I think my most pointed advice would be twofold.
First would be RTFM. I think I’ve seen the most success over the years when I have stepped back and taken the time to simply read the documentation. A focused 30 minutes to an hour looking through docs is much better time spent than changing a line of code and refreshing to see what happens. You can get lucky sometimes that your instincts worked but as you grow as a developer you will need to possess the instinct to have a better understanding of the material before spending the next 100 hour project in it.
The second is, don’t be afraid to ask. I would much rather a developer expose their gap in knowledge up front than learn about it later. We understand that everything is not always known, but I am surprised how far some people will go trying to bolster their knowledge when a simple, “I’m not sure about this and will need some help from someone to point me in the right direction”, goes a very long way with any employer.
One of the other things you’ve said is important is to understand a client or employer’s need beyond the technology. You mention, in Part 2 of this interview that developers need to understand the engineering of a website, but also how to create business solutions. Why should developers build this skillset?
From the perspective of the developer themselves, a technologically-adept web developer is a good thing to be as you will be more sought after and can make many demands on employers that they might not concede to other types of workers in their organizations…salary…ahem…to name one.
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