How to Become a Web Developer & How Long It Takes

If you love working with technology, have a passion for design, and live for the challenge of making online tools work better, a career in web development may be right for you. But how does a person become a web developer — and how long does the process take?

In this article, we’ll review the steps you can take to start a career in web development. We’ll also trace a few educational paths (and their associated timelines) you can take when entering the field. We’ll also explain how a web development bootcamp can help you kickstart your career change.

Changing your life for the better isn’t as hard as you might think. By taking your first steps, you can place yourself on the road to an in-demand career with tremendous growth potential, opportunities for creative expression, and upward mobility.

Steps to Becoming a Web Developer

While you know that you want to become a coder, you may not know the boxes you have to tick in order to succeed in the field.

Passion and desire can play a significant role in helping you to achieve your dreams; however, you’ll also need to collect a few essential soft skills, programming languages, and technical capabilities before vying for a job. Once you build a sturdy educational foundation, you’ll be in an excellent position to start your career as a coder.

Below, we’ve outlined a few steps that aspiring web developers of all experience levels should consider when pursuing their studies.

1. Get Familiar With the Technology

Where you start in your academic journey partly depends on how much coding knowledge you already have. Maybe you’ve used do-it-yourself software to build your own website or have some baseline experience organizing content on an employer’s site. Or, you might have no experience as a programmer at all — only an interest in learning to code.

If you’ve built or edited websites before, even if you’ve relied mainly on code written and developed by others, you may be able to move more quickly into more advanced areas of web development. On the flip side, starting your journey with no experience may mean that you need to spend a little extra time brushing up on the basics.

If you’re considering a career as a programmer, you should set aside some time to familiarize yourself with popular coding languages, technologies, and tools. Luckily, this is easier than you might think; free resources are readily available via the web, books, and video platforms like YouTube.

Getting a basic introduction to key technologies is critical to progressing as a coder in training. Below, we’ve listed some of the technologies you may want to review as you become a web developer.

HTML/CSS

These languages are often used to construct basic websites. HTML, or hypertext markup language, is used to define the structure and architecture of a site, as well as define the content on each page.

While HTML is more about structure, CSS focuses on style. Cascading Style Sheets define a website’s appearance, from the fonts and colors used to how the site changes when you shift from desktop to mobile. HTML and CSS are at the heart of even the most complex websites, as they provide the basic foundation that more advanced web-building tools build upon.

JavaScript

JavaScript is a popular language that underpins many of the dynamic, interactive features that make websites responsive (basic animations, buttons, forms, etc.). Along with HTML and CSS, JavaScript constitutes one-third of the foundational web development trifecta.

Database Management

Most modern websites need to conduct at least some interaction with databases. MySQL and MongoDB are two of the most common “query languages” that allow developers to interact with, manage, and access databases efficiently.

Libraries and Development Frameworks

Want to build a website from the ground up? You may want to expand your back and front end capabilities by exploring libraries and development frameworks that are designed to help programmers facilitate and expedite development.

Not sure where to start? Technologies like Bootstrap, Node.js, and React.js are a few of the most widely used development libraries and frameworks in the industry today.

PHP and Scripting

Major content management systems such as WordPress and Drupal frequently make use of PHP scripting. Exploring the world of theme and plugin development for WordPress, for example, would expose you to many types of PHP applications. Moreover, PHP’s syntax is similar to several other languages, so it may be more approachable for those who have some past programming experience.

These are some — but by no means all — of the skills you may want to prioritize as you make your career change into web development. You can get a head start on your education by engaging with sites such as Codecademy or freeCodeCamp, which offer free web resources for motivated learners.

However, if you’re considering a faster change in careers or want a more comprehensive coding education, you may want to augment your independent studies by enrolling in a formal college or bootcamp program.

2. Choose Your Educational Path

It’s a simple fact of life — no one will hire you if you don’t have the skills and knowledge necessary to do the job. Education is paramount in coding; you need to know how to program if you want to build a career in the field. That said, there isn’t a “right” way for an aspiring programmer to learn to code. The educational path you take will depend on your goals, circumstances, and available resources.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re a person looking to make a mid-career pivot. You already have a four-year degree in an unrelated field, work full-time, and have family members that you support. Given your situation, you’re probably not going to have the time or financial leeway to take a four-year break from the workforce and enroll in a college program.

Fortunately, you don’t need to.

While college programs remain the most popular option for coding education, they aren’t strictly necessary. According to a 2020 survey from Stack Overflow, only 9.7 percent of professional developers view a formal coding education as being “critically important,” while 15.8 percent see it as being “not at all important/not necessary.”

This isn’t to say, of course, that a college education won’t be invaluable to the right person. College presents an unparalleled opportunity for aspiring coders to accumulate a wealth of theoretical and practical knowledge, professional connections, and portfolio projects.

Below, we’ve outlined two other educational routes you might want to consider if you’re wondering how to become a web developer. Consider your options carefully before you commit to a learning track!

A chart that shows how to become a web developer and how long each educational path takes.

Self-Directed Learning

Earlier, we recommended using online resources as a way to familiarize yourself with coding basics — and that advice certainly still stands. However, in addition to using online resources as adjuncts to a more formal education, you could also use online classes, tutorial videos, and projects to form the core of your skill set.

There is an abundance of paid and free courses available online; with these, you follow a set curriculum and watch a series of tutorials and recorded lessons. Some may provide opportunities to submit your code for some sort of review. You can also gain practical experience by joining communities like freeCodeCamp, which offers opportunities to volunteer your growing coding experience to nonprofits.

However, in general, it is essential to remember that these programs are self-directed. You set the schedule and pace of your education. On the one hand, this can be an advantage, as you can study when you have time.

That said, you need to be confident in your ability to set a schedule and follow through. If you don’t have a strong sense of motivation, you may find yourself falling behind. Many aspiring web developers need more structure, interaction, and feedback to create a meaningful and accountable educational experience.

Coding Bootcamps

If you want the flexibility of an online learning experience but can’t forgo the structure and support provided by a formal learning program, a web development bootcamp might just be the route for you.

Programming bootcamps are intensive learning experiences that train learners how to be professional-grade coders in as little as three to six months. These programs offer structured curricula, individualized and group lessons, hands-on projects, scheduled classes, and supportive instructors. Most provide various scheduling options that can fit around any other existing work and family obligations that you may have.

At a web development bootcamp, you can focus on learning web development skills that employers want. You can also choose a bootcamp program that focuses on your areas of interest in the field (full stack development, front end development, back end development, etc.). Bootcamps are designed for job success rather than theoretical education, so you can hit the ground running on your first day on the job.

It’s worth noting that employers tend to like — and hire — bootcamp graduates, too. One recent survey from Hacker Rank (PDF, 2.4 MB) found that 39.2 percent of surveyed hiring managers felt that bootcamp alums were equally qualified as college grads, and 33 percent felt bootcampers were better equipped than their degree-holding counterparts.

Bootcamps are designed to set their students up to succeed in the professional world, so you will graduate from a web development bootcamp with a portfolio of individual and group projects to present to potential employers that show off your practical coding skills and experience.

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3. Consider Your Career Direction

As you start planning your education, you may want to set aside some time to plot a general course for your career. Many web developers choose some form of specialty. Even those who aim to hone their skills in all areas of web development may have particular areas of interest and expertise.

Generally speaking, there are three primary “tracks” a coder can take in the professional world: front end, back end, and full stack development. According to a recent Stack Overflow survey, 55.2 percent of developers identify themselves as back end coders, 37.1 percent as front end, and 54.9 percent as full stack.

A chart that shows the percentage of developers who identify as full stack, front end, back end, or something else.Let’s dive into what those terms mean.

Front End Development

Front end developers are primarily concerned with the client-side of a website — that is, the part of a site that visitors can interact with and view. These professionals manage the look, feel, and function of a website — and define its user experience. Front end development offers many opportunities for creative and collaborative work on the design front. These professionals are typically well-versed in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Back End Development

Back end development is equally important to creating great sites. Back end developers maintain and improve the core technologies that power the site behind the scenes, facilitate performance, and manage interaction with the server.

As a back end developer, you might focus more heavily on technologies like PHP, Python, Java, and Ruby on Rails to build web applications. Alternatively, you could use your database management skills to interact more efficiently with front end code for more robust performance and an improved user experience.

Full Stack Development

Don’t want to choose between the front and back ends? Don’t worry; you don’t need to — becoming a full stack developer will allow you to work on both. Still, you might choose to sharpen your expertise in particular languages even as you remain knowledgeable about all sides and aspects of the overall development process.

When you think about your future career path, you may want to consider the job you want to work in. Keeping your plans and dreams in mind can help you build the right kind of portfolio that shows off the skills you want to hone and demonstrate to employers. By delving into your areas of interest, you can move toward becoming a top coder and establish yourself as a subject matter expert.

4. Build Your Website and Boost Your Portfolio

If you’re looking for a job in web development, you’ll need to build a standout portfolio website. Making a portfolio poses an excellent opportunity to put your theoretical knowledge into practice; with it, you can demonstrate your skills and creativity to employers and potential clients.

A robust website can be an excellent advertisement for your web development skills and help to build your personal brand in the field. By developing a site, you’ll not only stay in practice but also demonstrate your mastery of the technologies involved in site development and maintenance.

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5. Keep Building Your Skills

Your education as a web developer shouldn’t end when your formal curriculum does. Keeping up your skills is crucial to achieving continued success and ongoing job growth in the field. After all, frameworks, standards, and languages are constantly changing and emerging. According to Stack Overflow, 75 percent of professional developers learn a new language or framework “at least every few months” or “once a year.”

Thankfully, there are countless projects that you can pursue to sharpen and enhance your skills. As a new graduate or bootcamp student, you might want to engage in some key coding projects for new developers to practice carrying through a project from beginning to end.

Some of the most widely used web software platforms, like WordPress and Drupal, are open-source — this means that their code is available online, and large communities of developers interact to improve it. By contributing to these projects, you’ll have the chance to build modules, plugins, templates, and themes that will help countless users across the globe.

But your participation in these coding communities isn’t limited to coding from home. You can also participate in forums, conventions, and hackathons, all of which offer great hands-on coding experiences and exceptional networking opportunities with industry professionals. You never know; someone you meet at a convention could pose the connection you need to land your dream job.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Web Developer?

The length of your career path can vary based on a few key factors. However, you can achieve the career change you desire in a year (or even less) as long as you have a plan and the willingness to see it through.

The first point to consider is your experience. If you already have experience in the tech field, have made websites before, or are familiar with some HTML, you may have a speedier path than others with no experience at all.

That said, there is an argument to be made for taking your time. While a more advanced technical background will almost always give you a faster path to become a web developer, you could also use that time to develop more advanced skills in Python, Java, Ruby, or other in-demand programming languages.

You should also consider your availability for learning. If you already have a full-time job or family obligations, a part-time academic schedule may be more feasible than a more demanding full-time option.

Depending on the educational path you choose, you may need more or less time to achieve your goals. If you rely on self-directed online learning, you may want to prepare for a year or longer to make the transition. Moreover, if you want to take on a dedicated and structured educational path but need to handle personal responsibilities, you may want to give yourself more time to become a web developer.

A six-month timeframe can be an excellent choice for people who maintain a full-time job and prefer to take on a part-time studying schedule to become a web developer. You can complete online courses and self-directed education as well as an online coding bootcamp program, or supplement a formal bootcamp with additional educational resources.

If you do not need to work a full-time job while studying, you could set a three-month timeline for your career change into web development. You can complete a full-time bootcamp program in as little as three months, with all of the skills and knowledge you need to land your first job as a coder. If you enroll in The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin, you could get started in the field as a bootcamp graduate after only 12 or 24 weeks of study.

Who Can Become a Web Developer?

In short, anyone who wants to be a web developer can become one! While coding is not an exclusionary career, it’s sometimes mistaken as one.

Some people may think you need to start out as a teen or graduate with a computer science degree to find success as a web developer. Others might believe that you need a strong background in science and math to make it work, and so believe that their humanities or social sciences experience would not help them find success in coding. Still others may be concerned that web development is mostly a career for people of a specific background, gender, ethnicity, or race.

None of these misconceptions are true. In fact, the tech industry is becoming more diverse than ever. There are many initiatives to mentor and support women and people of color in the field, as well as older adults who choose a coding career later in life.

A structured educational program like a web development bootcamp can give people of all backgrounds and employment and educational experience the skills they need to get a job in web development and progress their skills.

How Much Do Web Developers Make in Austin, TX, Compared to Nationally?

You want to choose a career path that can provide you with a secure future, a viable salary, and a promising outlook for the future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, web development continues to be a career on the rise. Between 2019 and 2029, web developers’ job growth is expected to rise by eight percent — much faster than the average expected for all professions.

The COVID pandemic and remote work revolution have changed a lot about how we approach work. However, for coders, it has only driven home the importance of great technology, workable websites, and interactive programming — and opened up even more opportunities for aspiring web developers.

An increasing number of people are working online and taking full-time remote jobs in the field, which means that location has less sway in determining where professionals need to live to make a living. This point is key when we consider salary.

Across the country, web developers make a median salary of $73,760 each year. Salaries can vary widely depending on your experience, knowledge, and (as mentioned) location. Wages are not the same everywhere in the country, and they can vary significantly based on the cost of living.

In Austin, for example, web developer salaries have a median of $75,060, just around the national median. This is somewhat lower than the wages seen in the expensive tech hub of San Francisco and yet significantly higher than the pay you might receive working in a rural Midwestern town. However, as more people transition to remote work, those salaries might begin to equalize as employees leave areas with high living costs and seek other remote opportunities.

Weigh a region’s cost of living, job potential, and hiring growth carefully before you set down roots!

Summary

Whether you’re interested in the rate of job growth, the potential for lucrative salaries, or the excitement and creativity involved in coding, the field of web development offers tremendous potential. By starting on your journey to becoming a web developer, you can build on your interest and drive with the technical skills to make your vision real.

Explore your options, like the online Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin, to move forward and make your mark in web development.

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