How I Got Into This Industry
After graduating from Arizona State University with a B.S. in Marketing, like so many in my generation, I wasn’t sure what to do next. It wasn’t clear how I was going to take my degree plus my knowledge and turn it into a career. I figured with a marketing background I should do sales, so I did that for some time. Unfortunately, I realized that while I was good at it and could make a great living, it wasn’t what I was passionate about. I needed to find something where I would wake up in the morning and look forward to coming to work. That is exactly what I did.
I found development while I was working at a prior company, before my time at Zion & Zion. The first time I saw what just a few lines of code could do to a webpage I thought it was black magic. I wanted to know everything about it—understand how it worked, learn what was possible and, of course, whether I was capable of doing these things myself. I started tutorials on the side and found that I was so passionate about this field. I could only imagine how happy it would make me if this was my career. I made a goal to do just that. Within a year I was given an opportunity to join the company’s development team as a web designer/developer. In that new role I worked on websites every day, and it was everything I had hoped for.
Looking back now, I had very little experience when I got that first development job. The development team’s manager took a chance on me, and I’m forever in his debt because of it. I later asked him why he chose me, and he said he had his reasons behind wanting me on the team. I looked at our team, and it was made up of range of individuals with varied backgrounds and degrees. I had colleagues that had majored in web development, design, game design, animation, marketing, communication, art history, ceramics, and more. That got me to thinking: what were my manager’s reasons behind hiring these diverse team members, and what makes for a great web developer?
What Makes a Great Web Developer?
After being in the industry for several years now, I have seen and met many different developers (web developers and otherwise). Some were good and some were bad, but the one consistent thing I noticed is no one had the same background or experience. The more I meet people, the more I realize that we don’t need to have gone to a certain school, or majored in a certain degree, or interned with one of only a handful of certain companies to do what we do and be successful.
What a web developer needs more than anything is a passion to continually learn as our field evolves and a willingness to get (and stay) out of their comfort zone so they can learn and grow. All the other pieces of an individual’s background and skills are just an added “bonus” for the company that they work for. To lay out what I mean by these “bonuses,” I’ll go through a few backgrounds and soft skills:
The “background bonuses” that I have seen in individual web developers generally fall into the following buckets:
Coding School or Boot Camp
This person usually knows their stuff but has little real-world experience right out of school. This is great because they are exposed to things in school that others may not, bringing ideas and new ways of thinking about problems to a team or company.
This is similar to a coding school or boot camp, but they typically learn more knowledge over a longer school length and with a different focus. Again, different ideas and ways of thinking is good as a whole.
This person might have been a designer, have done design work at some point, or just has an eye for it. They will most likely be able to develop from a mockup without a designer asking for adjustments, which helps a project stay on track. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a designer say to someone, “look at the mockup” because the spacing on a website was still not correct. Beyond developing, they may be adept on tools such as Photoshop, Sketch, Illustrator, XD, etc.
This person may have experience provisioning servers, has resolved issues that hosting a website can bring, or has worked in technical support in some capacity. Having this person for any hosting questions/issues is great for peace of mind.
A website lives at a domain of some kind, so knowing the ins and outs is helpful. This can involve advice on choosing a domain name (see my previous article), configuring DNS, or general domain rules.
These web developers work from a different point of view because they not only know what they will be coding, but also the business side. They can approach projects knowing a site/app will be used by a sales team, or in conjunction with marketing, and will already be thinking about what kind of development they can do to help make these efforts successful.
A web developer with management experience is a very nice bonus, especially if there’s a team of developers who are relatively inexperienced. Having a built-in team lead or manager is a positive for both their team members and management.
Soft skills can’t be quantified like other items on a resume but are just as important. These will help determine whether a web developer is a good fit for a company and if they will enjoy their position and stay for a greater amount of time.
As in any position I’ve had, it’s a necessity to be able to communicate with team members, contribute to discussions and have email etiquette. They allow a colleague to be more professional and someone that their coworkers want to work and interact with.
Complementing a company’s culture will help to “buy-in” to what everyone is doing there. I find that I work harder when I believe in who I’m working for and what I’m making, so I search out companies that align with what I’m looking for.
A common saying I hear is “the only constant is change” and I agree. It is essential to be able to change the way something is done in order to improve a process or get more in line with what another department is doing. Something that we as web developers have to be proactive about is looking how we can change with the ever-changing industry standards and best practices.
What I’ve Concluded
When I meet someone who says, “you must be really smart to do that job!” I usually laugh and say, “yes, but it’s a job that many can do if they want to.” If an individual has the desire and the skills to do the work, there’s no reason why they can’t be a great web developer. As I am an example, the hard skills are something that can be learned if someone wants to learn. The larger portion of a person are things that can’t always be taught but are all specific to an individual.
I believe that the balance of a web developer is a 25/75 split. Twenty-five percent are the skills a potential web developer will need to be able to do the work (a web developer needs to be able to create the code they are hired to create) and 75% are soft skills. We are all unique, and as long as someone can do the work, then it’s just finding that web developer that is a perfect fit for a particular role, company, or team.