Daaaamn, I'd like to develop HER website...
October 2, 2005 10:44 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to know to become a web developer? Be as vague or specific as you want. How can I get started and learn what I need to learn? Where should I go for help? How do I find clients and keep up on industry news? I'm just trying to sus out if it's the right field for me.
posted by saysthis to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What do you know now? What's your background?
posted by acoutu at 11:08 PM on October 2, 2005

You need to have some artistic ability, for one. Then, start by learning HTML using CSS style sheets. Once you have an idea of how to generate the look and feel of a decent website, then you can move onto the various scripting languages that allow you to do interesting stuff behind the scenes.

Pick a language and a platform - there are so many out there. There's some interesting stuff going on with AJAX, that Javascript will help out with.

On UNIX, you could learn Perl (not great for high volume websites, but maybe the easiest to learn. Python, Ruby, and PHP might be a little tougher, but give you better performance.

On Windows, ASP (and various versions of .net like asp.net) are options.

I guess the question is, what kind of a background do you have, and what skills do you think would translate into web development?
posted by stovenator at 11:10 PM on October 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

How much do you already know? That will help us a little.

I would probably take some classes at a local community college as you will get up to speed quicker than if you were trying to learn on your own. As for finding clients, it is just like every other business. Once you are ready to start looking for clients, make sure to let all your friends and family know that you are making websites (or whatever you plan on doing). Hopefully you can a job or two from that.

At first you should be concerned with doing really good work to build your portfolio and please your clients enough to get some jobs from word of mouth. I did a site for a fellow and charged him way less then I probably should have, but he has referred me to 4 other people looking for sites, so at the beginning take pretty much whatever you can get (within reason).

Catering to small businesses is tough, if you don't want to deal with all the hassles of finding work and dealing with clueless individuals you might try to land a job in a bigger design firm. Of course that will be tough if you are just starting out and will also depend upon where you live.

Good luck!
posted by meta87 at 11:11 PM on October 2, 2005

Play with a few blogger templates and you should be good to go!
posted by angry modem at 11:18 PM on October 2, 2005

The biggest thing you need to know: when to subcontract some of the work.

You'll need business management, client management, advertising, finances, graphic design, usability, html/css/javascript, systems administration and near infinite possibilities of backend skills if the site extends beyond the static page.

Outsource your weak spots, it'll be good for your sanity, and for your business.
posted by I Love Tacos at 11:27 PM on October 2, 2005

The web design business is completely overflowing right now. It's not the kind of industry I would recommend anyone stake their livelyhood upon.

That said, learn HTML and CSS. Do it now. The w3c's tutorials are fine. Despite what some might tell you, you don't need Dreamweaver or GoLive to create a website. You'll be a lot more well-rounded and knowledgable if you start off just doing everything by hand. Trust me. With real knowledge of how HTML and stylesheets work, you will be ahead of 80% of the industy as it is.

You'll need a good text editor. If you're on a Mac, use BBEdit or SubEthaEdit. If you're on a PC, jEdit is pretty good. Text-editors are a very personal matter, and if you ask 100 coders what they like, you'll get 100 different answers. Those are just my picks, YMMV.

Some good resources for what's going on around the web/design industry and it's ephemeral interests are A List Apart, our benevolent overlord's blog, powazek, and web standards awards. This list could easily be 100 times longer, and it *is* in my feedreader.

Design is in the eye of the beholder, but functionality is just as important. As much as I find myself hating him, Jakob Nielsen will help you figure out what's what in the world of usability. Remember: Usability is a symptom of good design, not a cause.
posted by zerolives at 11:41 PM on October 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

It's a field with a ton of specialties, so it'd help us to know where your interests and current skills lie. If you're not already viewing source on websites you like and trying to reverse engineer them, then maybe this isn't for you.

I started in the dot-com boom as a graphic artist who could do HTML. I ended up becoming an information architect who still does visual design and markup, but mainly prefers to lead development meetings and write documentation. I specialize in planning sites for the healthcare industry, so I have to know a lot about their special issues - HIPAA, how hospital scheduling systems work, etc.

Though I don't write actual programming code, I still consider myself a "developer", mainly because I write the programming specifications and contribute to the database design.

A lot of us who have been in this business for some years got in with little to no formal training (my degree is in music performance). These days, you might need a design or programing degree just to get in the door. Experience and a solid portfolio will make or break you.

If you're going up the visual design tree, you need to be someone who has a good grasp of design fundamentals, can write HTML and CSS by hand, and can think in terms of component-based, database-driven design. I'd strongly encourage a few basic computer programming courses, just to learn how programmers think. Mad graphic skills help, too. Not only do you have to be creative, but you need to be able to emulate a variety of styles.

If you're going up the programming tree, you need a solid foundation in database design and web programming, as well as markup. Many shops are ASP/ASP.net or PHP, with SQL or mySQL for databases (there are, of course, many other languages and DBs). You should have a basic grasp of design fundamentals to learn the types of issues designers deal with. You should also know a bit of IT, because when the server crashes or gets hacked, you *will* be one of the people working to fix the problem and prevent it in the future.

Somewhere midway are the interactive folks - the Flash gurus. As an added skillset, they need to be able to think in terms of timing, motion, and audio. All the basic concepts of good multimedia.

Book learnin' and hacking away at your own site are great, but I would strongly recommend trying to shadow someone working on a real-world project. There are a ton of little details in live websites that are a real trial-by-fire experience, even for those of us who have been around a while.
posted by Sangre Azul at 11:42 PM on October 2, 2005

Unix, vim, css, and php will get you hired in any major city.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 12:36 AM on October 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

You need to have some artistic ability, for one

That's just not true. I've been a professional developer for the last ~6 years, and my artistic ability (or lack thereof) has had no impact whatsoever. I currently work for $enormousInternetGiant and neither I nor any of the other developers are artistically inclined at all.

As with most places, we have a strict separation between front end developers, back end developers, information architects and designers. While everybody has some crossover skills in another area, it's your core skills that really count.
posted by influx at 12:37 AM on October 3, 2005

Is "web designer" even a job still? I know designers, I know programmers, and I know information architects, and I know brand managers, and ...

To me "web developer is a non-title that says you do cheap shit for people who don't know any better. Sorry.

What I'm trying to say is that web site production, for sites of any complexity, is now a stratified, specialised area, and website development now is heading where desktop publishing went. It's not a job in its own right any more, except for small fry.

On the other hand, there is always work for generalists who can direct others. But you need to pay your dues in some sub-discipline first.

From my POV as a programmer, web sites are just another front end for applications. I have a friend in the book biz for whom they're a special case of publishing. And I have mates in advertising for whom they are another communications channel.

I suggest to you that the web is not all it's cracked up to be from a vocational point of view and you might be better off thinking about which aspect appeals to you - programming, graphic design, usability, whatever - and going for that.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:44 AM on October 3, 2005

[web development is] not a job in its own right any more, except for small fry

I take exception to that. Web development is very much a job in its own right. If it wasn't for web developers such as myself, 'programmers' would just be spewing their apps' output into monolithic table soup 'HTML' with no thought for accessibility or standards compliance. I often hear 'programmers' proclaiming that web development isn't a real job because HTML isn't a real programming language, as if that has any relevance to the importance or difficulty of building a site correctly and efficiently.

How many Java/Perl/C/whatever programmers have the time, knowlege or inclination to make a CSS layout work across the board? How many are happy to fill their minds with obscure browser bugs, and spend hours testing layouts in all of the different browsers?

Several times I've been brought onto projects towards the end of their development, where they until then only had a designer and a stable of programmers. They get to within a couple of weeks of release and realise that their site only works in IE, does not conform to government accessibility standards, and they basically shit themselves.
posted by influx at 1:02 AM on October 3, 2005

Some good news: web development is fun.

I very little personal experience with the commercial side of web development, but in terms of employability, the best language to learn is PHP (there are more jobs for Java developers, but its a much harder toolset to learn). I'd argue that Python is the best language to develop in, but there are more jobs in PHP.

If you do learn PHP, please take the time to become familiar with some of the PEAR libraries too; there's a ton of repetitive gruntwork (form handling, internationalization, datetime formatting, database abstraction, etc.) to be done when building with PHP, and new users can waste lots of time on that stuff before they start to see the patterns and realize that these problems have been solved hundreds of thousands of times before. There's lots of open source PHP code out there, but most of it sucks; the PEAR libraries are semi-official at least, and will help you do things the right way (at least, by PHP's standards :).
posted by gsteff at 1:49 AM on October 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

Also, once you learn CSS, you'll start to run into the different ways that IE and Firefox render CSS. I strongly encourage everyone that does web work today to use Dean Edward's IE7 library. It drastically improves IE's CSS handling, which allows you to write much cleaner, simpler HTML. Its a godsend, and even new developers can benefit from it.
posted by gsteff at 1:54 AM on October 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

Some advice that's completely orthagonal to what I just said: there's a lot of cool frameworks for rapid development that have come out recently. Once you've played around a bit in some language (any language), and have a feel for the basics of programming, you definitely should consider learning something like Ruby on Rails (for Ruby), or Django (for Python... or Zope, but if you learn Zope, learn version 2, not 3), or EZ Publish (for PHP... I'm not an expert on PHP anymore, there's probably other allstar frameworks for it now).
posted by gsteff at 2:03 AM on October 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

I strongly encourage everyone that does web work today to use Dean Edward's IE7 library.

And if you can't use that. Make sure the DOCTYPE is set to xtml strict. It helps tremendously here and there.
posted by juiceCake at 4:18 AM on October 3, 2005

Correction: That's xhtml not xtml...
posted by juiceCake at 4:22 AM on October 3, 2005

Most people who wan to learn a skill actually go out and learn something about it. Your profiles says that you're working in PRC (whatever that is) and studying economics and psych. So where does web design fit in all that?

Not trying to be harsh or cruel, but your questions come off as idle, day dreaming thoughts i.e "hey this might be cool, I'll do THAT with my life."

Perhaps you should actually dig into HTML and CSS before you start asking "what do I need to know and how do I learn it" type questions. You're connected to the web and there's plenty of resources availabe. So get busy making your web page and see if you like doing that and THEN come back and ask more specific questions that at least give an indication that you've done some work on your own as opposed to daydreaming.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:25 AM on October 3, 2005

First, learn to write software. Then, learn how the web works. Then, learn to write software for the web. The general category of writing software is a skill with broad application that includes and exceeds web development.

Folks, he said he wanted to be a "web developer," not a minimum wage HTML jockey. Presentation layer stuff is a skilled art, but it ain't web development.
posted by majick at 5:30 AM on October 3, 2005

I'd like to develop HER website...

Start with YOUR website. Learn how to build a basic, static (HTML + CSS- no php, no db's) site for yourself first.

The easiest way to learn, once you've gotten the basic syntax of HTML, is to copy. Find a site, look at the source code, and play around with it.

On UNIX, you could learn Perl

Please, no, start with PHP, Ruby, or Python if you want to go that route. Perl is NOT a web-native language, and its lack of structure lends itself to bad practices.
posted by mkultra at 7:31 AM on October 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

Know the difference between a DESIGNER and a DEVELOPER.
posted by matildaben at 9:00 AM on October 3, 2005

Hmmmm, there's nothing to say you cannot have strong programming skills (e.g. ASP/PHP) with strong SQL skills, and a good solid grounding in web design and useability, and then actually create database driven websites entirely by yourself - and be self-employed. This is exactly what I am doing.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 9:33 AM on October 3, 2005

In fact, specifically do not go to a community college, as they will inevitably teach you years-out-of-date tag-soup HTML and tables for layout.

Learn Web standards.
posted by joeclark at 1:33 PM on October 3, 2005

influx, I'm sorry to have offended you. I certainly have worked in the past with people who had your skills, and found their contribution invaluable. However, deep knowledge of markup and browser implementations is a small niche. I'm sorry, but I don't see much call for it. I'd take your observation that you're brought in at the end, in emergencies as evidence of that. In a better world maybe there would be more enlightenment.

Now that toolkits are becoming available for AJAX interfaces, I think the ability to code them up by hand is going to become less valuable too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:10 PM on October 3, 2005

Please note. People are giving MANY answers to a very broad question. Web Developer is a term that has a few definitions. I think perhaps you should clarify which one you mean?

1) A web designer. One who deals with the look, feel and usability of a website. Also deals with the many vagaries of browser compatibilities.

2) A web programmer. Anytime you have a website that does more stuff than just display a small amount of information, you will need someone to write software for it (e.g. order a book, search and display from the company's inventory, update a sales record).

3) A jack of all trades. Someone who is a little bit of both 1 and 2. They will work with smaller sites, and smaller companies.
posted by eurasian at 1:40 PM on October 14, 2005

« Older Shuffled playlists for iTunes podcasts   |   Am I the only one who doesn't enjoy kissing? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.