Ten Things You Don't Need to Become a Web Developer
If you are wondering how to become a web developer, or have just started down the road, chances are that you will have come across several factors that you feel may block your entry into the industry.
You may think you don't have the correct equipment, contacts or know-how to become a web development professional. Have you heard people say things like "you need a Mac to develop website properly" or "you must be passionate about design"?
Well, you won't find any of that here. I've been there and come out of the other side with a career in web development.
Clichés are ripe within the web development industry, and they do more harm than good. In an industry where many people contribute their development time for free to open-source projects, it's much better to try to include a wide variety of people, rather than a select few who, to some, may have the cream of the crop equipment or the contacts that money can't buy.
So here is a run down of the things that are not essential to becoming a web developer, viable alternatives to them, and advice to try to get you closer to your goals.
1. Any Apple products
The ubiquitous Apple Mac haunts the portfolio of almost every digital agency. If they're not right there plastered with the agency's work, they're being waved about by the staff or just sneaking in at the edge of an office shot.
No doubt, Mac's are easy to use and aesthetically pleasing, and do lend an air of creativity to a business, but they are expensive, and are certainly not essential to building a website. The computer you are reading this article on is almost certainly powerful enough to build a web site.
2. Any Adobe products
Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard design package for designing websites, and along with Illustrator and Dreamweaver, Adobe's Creative Suite is a very full featured design package. But again, it's expensive, and no web development job means no web development money.
There are some great, free graphic design packages, that, while they might not pack in as many features as other paid for packages, are well up to the job of creating media for the web. GNOME distribute free software, including image manipulation software GIMP and the vector drawing tool Inkscape, and are well worth checking out.
3. An encyclopedic knowledge of everything web
I strongly believe that part of my job is to keep up with current web technologies and standards. Things change so fast that if keeping up isn't one of your priorities, then quite soon you will be less able to deliver the best project work you can.
The flip-side of this is that if you are interested in becoming a web programmer, you will not have to know every technology, every trick and every application - most web developers still don't. Being positive, adaptable and willing to learn will more than make up for gaps in knowledge.
4. An obsession with web standards
This is a contentious one. Without web standards the web would be much worse off than it is today, and future advancement would be hampered without a clear road-map. Web standards are here to stay and will continue to help developers deliver cross-browser web applications.
However, if you have validated your mark-up to W3C standards and find that you have some errors that you can't overcome, don't worry. At the time of writing this article, I checked tumblr.com and amazon.com by the direct input method of the W3C validator and both came back with errors (Amazon had 470!), and people still blog on Tumblr and buy stuff from Amazon.
As an admission, the mark-up of my homepage comes back with one error, due to the tracking code of Google Analytics. If the choice is between obsessing over standards and knowing what's going down on my website, I'll take the latter.
5. A "passion" for design
As a web developer you will no doubt have to do some design at some point, from creating a whole web design to adding a new page following a template, but selling yourself as something you are not is a bad idea, and has the potential to ruin any interview.
Do you really think about design twenty-four hours a day? Or do you have much more specific skills that would be of interest to an employer?
6. Any friends within the industry
When I got my first job as a developer, I didn't know anyone in the industry. I didn't even really know of anyone. I read a few blogs, but I certainly didn't have any contacts.
This is a bad position to be in, but just goes to show that a concerted effort in creating a CV and going through the usual channels of job sites and recruitment consultants pays off (thanks Fiona at Perfect Marketing People!).
7. To be social media genius
I probably had about thirty followers on Twitter at the time of my employment and certainly wasn't going to get a job off any of my mates on Facebook. A social media presence shows that you are digitally inclined and is fully recommended (and come on, it is free), but being a "social media maven" or whatever they call themselves these days certainly isn't necessary.
8. To be top of Google
Again, I don't think my website was anywhere for any good search terms on Google (which has changed recently), but I came number one for my name. Just being findable online is a massive help to any bid getting into a digital career.
9. Expensive hosting
If you are going to take the plunge and create your own, hosted website with your own domain (and I advise you do), you don't need a dedicated server to do it on. You get what you pay for in web hosting, but there are very cheap options for starting out, making it so cheap that you'd be mad not to make your own site.
If you do want a free option, create a blog on Tumblr or Wordpress.com and focus on creating great content.
10. A degree (in computer science)
Degrees are great. They are instant proof that you can be committed to a project and can apply yourself, and will more than likely help you get an interview. But they are not essential for a job as a web dev. I have a degree that is almost completely unrelated to web development (Physics and Philosophy - I did a bit off C++), but this didn't stop me entering the profession. The thing that got me my first job was experience.
The digital creative industries are mostly quite new; there are very few people who can boast 10 years of experience as a web developer (although there certainly are a few). Also, most agencies will want someone who can, at least in part, hit the ground running when they start.
This means that someone with relevant experience, who are relatively rare, will more likely be offered a position than someone without experience - degree or no degree. But how are you supposed to get a job with no experience, and experience with no job?
Bonus! Three Things You Will Need!
As I've already mentioned, making your own site is a great way to gain practice, experience and exposure. A blog is a good place to start, and creating helpful content within a certain niche will help with career focus and SEO within your site.
There are so many free resources online that you should start to teach yourself development as soon as possible. It may seem like a daunting task, but you will be able to put what you have learnt into practice very quickly.
What ever you do, make sure you have an about page with some information about your skills, interests in your spare time and that you are looking for employment, and an easy to find email address so people can get in touch.
If you've created yourself a website, why not create one for someone else? There are plenty of charities that will appreciate someone creating them a website. Chances are you will have to take charity gigs for free, but at your stage of career, experience is worth more than money - you can't buy your way into a job.
You should also ask around your friends and family, and their friends and colleagues. Spread the word that you are prepared to help create a website for someone at a reasonable rate, or just help someone maintain a current website. Getting those URLs on your CV is vital.
Noticing a theme here?
If you've created you own site and got some more experience through charities or friends, why not get involved in an open source project? GitHub is a great network full of people who code collaboratively. If you see a project that is of interest to you, why not fork it and add some extra functionality? Or, you could download a project and create a working demo, with blog posts explaining the finer details as you go.
Whatever you do, make sure you get some experience on your CV. You may hit the jackpot and walk straight into a job from college or university, but if you are struggling, or keep getting passed over for people with more experience, it's time to knuckle down and get some serious coding done!
Oh, and attention to detail is critical. All your hard work may be in vain if you miss a detail as basic as getting a link wrong, so check those URLs on your CV.
And then double check them.