What Does a Web Developer Do (and How Do I Become One)?

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 29, 2021

Web developers build websites and ensure they perform reliably and efficiently. Learn more about this critical role in the tech industry and how to get started.

A web developers sits at his laptop computer. He's folding his hands in front of him and smiling at the camera.

What is web development?

A web developer’s job is to create websites. While their primary role is to ensure the website is visually appealing and easy to navigate, many web developers are also responsible for the website’s performance and capacity. 

Types of web developers

Web developers usually fall under one of three categories: back-end developers, front-end developers, and full-stack developers. Some web developers also work as webmasters. Let’s take a closer look at each of these roles.

  • Back-end web developers create the website’s structure, write code, and verify the code works. Their responsibilities also may include managing access points for others who need to manage a website’s content.

  • Front-end web developers work on the visual part of the website—the pages visitors see and interact with (also known as the user interface). They design the physical layout of each page, integrate graphics, and use HTML and JavaScript to enhance the site.

  • Full-stack developers do the work of both a back-end and front-end developer. These developers have the knowledge to build a complete website and may work for organizations that don’t have the budget for a large website team.

  • Webmasters are essentially website managers. Their primary responsibility is to keep the website updated, ensuring that the links and applications on each page work properly.

Web developer tasks and responsibilities

As a web developer, you could work for a company or agency, or as a freelancer taking on projects for individual clients. Your tasks will vary depending on your work situation, but day-to-day responsibilities might generally include:

  • Designing user interfaces and navigation menus

  • Writing and reviewing code for sites, typically HTML, XML, or JavaScript

  • Integrating multimedia content onto a site

  • Testing web applications

  • Troubleshooting problems with performance or user experience

  • Collaborating with designers, developers, and stakeholders

Web developer career path

Many web developers start their careers with a single focus, usually front-end or back-end development. They may move on to be full-stack developers or explore careers in related fields, including project management, computer programming, or graphic design. 

How much do web developers make?

The median annual salary for web developers in the US is $77,200, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) [1]. Top earning web developers can sometimes make over $120,000 per year. How much you earn will depend on many factors, including where you work, what industry you work in, and how much experience you have.

Current projections show faster than average growth of these jobs through 2030, according to the BLS. One of the driving forces behind this increase in web development jobs is the growth of e-commerce. Companies are becoming more reliant on functioning websites that operate on multiple devices to do business.

How to become a web developer

A formal education isn’t always necessary to become an entry-level web developer. Some web developers have an associate's or bachelor’s degree in website design or computer science, but others teach themselves how to code and design websites. While earning a degree can make you a more competitive candidate, a strong portfolio can go a long way toward validating your skills to potential employers.

If you’re interested in becoming a web developer, here are some steps you can take.

1. Build web developer skills.

Employers and clients usually expect web developers to have certain skills that demonstrate their ability to deliver on website requirements. If you’re interested in a career as a web developer, these are some skills you can focus on to build a foundation for success.

Technical skills

  • Coding: Common programming languages include HTML, PHP, cascading style sheets, and JavaScript for front-end design. Consider learning Python, Java, or Ruby if you want to do back-end development.

  • Responsive design: People use a variety of devices to view websites. Developers should be able to create sites that look as good on smartphones and tablets as they do on computer screens.

  • Technical SEO: Many factors of website design can affect the site’s search engine ranking. Understanding how search engines rank sites is useful in a developer’s work.

  • Version control: This lets you track and control changes to the source code without starting over from the beginning each time you run into a problem.

  • Visual design: Understanding basic design principles, such as how to use white space, choose fonts, and incorporate images could boost your marketability.

Workplace skills

  • Communication: Web developers spend time discussing design ideas with their clients and team members through each step of the project.

  • Customer service: A web developer creates websites for the client to use and should remain client-focused to achieve the best results.

  • Detail-oriented: Little details, like a small change in code, can make a big difference in how a website performs.

  • Organization: Keeping track of deadlines, project tasks, workflow, and budgets is helpful if you want to complete a website design on time.

  • Problem-solving: Web developers often run into issues when designing websites. They should have the patience and ability to identify problems in the design or coding and solve them in a methodical way.

2. Consider a degree in computer science or web design.

While you don’t always need a degree to get a job in web development, it can certainly help. If you’re already in school (or considering earning a degree), some majors might be a better fit for your career goals than others. If you’re more interested in back-end web development, consider a degree program in computer science. If you feel more drawn to front-end development, you might opt for a degree in web design or user experience (UX).

3. Take a course in web development.

You don’t necessarily need formal training to work as a web developer. It’s possible to acquire the skills you need on your own. For example, you can take a course to learn programming languages like HTML, JavaScript, or CSS, and then put what you learn into practice on your own website.

By completing an online course in web development, like Web Design for Everybody: Basics of Web Development & Coding from the University of Michigan, you can build skills while completing development projects for your portfolio.

Get a feel for what the course is like by watching this video on interactivity with JavaScript:

4. Built a portfolio of web development work.

As a web developer, your portfolio is often one of the most important parts of your resume. This collection of projects shows potential employers what you’re capable of creating. Include the types of projects that represent the work you’d like to do. If you’re including code, be sure to annotate it to show your thought process.

5. Get certified.

Earning a certification can validate your skill set to potential employers. You’ll find a range of general and vendor-specific options, including Adobe Certified Expert (ACE), Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSD), Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Developer, or Zend Certified PHP Engineer.

Get started with Coursera

If you’re considering web development as a career option, experience for yourself whether it would be a good fit with a beginner-friendly course like Web Design for Everybody from the University of Michigan or Introduction to Web Development from the University of California, Davis. If your career goals include a role as a web developer, learn more about how a degree in computer science can help create new opportunities.

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Web Developers and Digital Designers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm." Accessed September 29, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 29, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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