Web Developer Career Path: Outlook, Definition, and How to Get There
There’s never been a better time to start training for a career as a web developer. Demand is high, and salaries reflect the need for talented coders who have the aptitude and training to move from junior developer through the ranks to a senior developer role.
Also, the barriers to entry are not as high as they once were. The traditional four-year computer science degree is no longer a prerequisite for a career. Instead, many programmers start with specific training in web development software languages. With that foundation, they embark on a career of self-driven education, continuing to grow their skills. In turn, employers reward that initiative with higher salaries and more opportunities.
Individuals who are interested in a tech career should understand the web developer career path.
What Is a Web Developer?
A web developer is someone who programs website applications. There are two components of web development: front end and back end. Many software developers start their careers in front-end web development. Throughout their careers, however, as they gain more knowledge and technical experience, they add back-end development to their toolkit.
Front-End Web Development
Underlying every site on the internet is software code that displays content (words, images, video, audio), interacts with users (buy buttons, comment sections, interactive media), and gathers data (clicks, shares, purchases, comments, user metrics). Front-end web development comprises everything that is user-facing.
Back-End Web Development
Back-end web development is a different animal. Back-end web coders write the code for the server (that hosts the website) and the database that holds all of the website data. Users never interact with back-end code. This is the programming that underlies the infrastructure that serves the website to the public.
What Does a Web Developer Do?
There are three kinds of web developers: front end, back end, and full stack. Each web developer career path requires different skills, different programming languages, and different responsibilities. Each role also has different career growth opportunities, which can make a difference in salary and lifetime earnings.
Front-End Web Developer Responsibilities
When a company is building a website for its products and services, it turns to its marketing and design team to come up with the site’s look and feel. Web design takes into account usability and user experience, and works to optimize all of a site’s features to make it “sticky” — meaning people stay to read articles, watch videos, browse items, and buy products.
Once the team signs off on the look and feel and other features, they bring in web developers to construct the site. All of a website’s features must be coded, from the colors and shapes, to the font size and type, to the placement of buy buttons, along with all of the details included to make the site attractive to customers and prospects.
Front-end web developers write the code that brings the website to life. They are also responsible for debugging the code so it works properly and performs as expected. A simple coding error might result in the wrong shade of blue, while a complex coding issue could impact usability and drive users from the site.
Besides debugging, front-end web developers must test links and navigation features, ensure that the site is optimized for mobile operating systems, and make sure that content displays correctly and is aligned with search engine optimization practices.
Back-End Web Developer Responsibilities
Back-end web developers don’t have to worry about how their code looks to customers, because customers will never see their work. Instead, their programs support the infrastructure that runs the website — the server that hosts the site and the database that serves its information to users.
Back-end developers make sure their code is responsive to front-end requests, such as needing only a click to reserve a flight or buy a product. They manage the process of integrating front-end and back-end code, and they test, troubleshoot, and debug this infrastructure code.
Back-end software development is more complex than front-end code work, and back-end developers have more experience and responsibility than front-end web developers. Rather than writing code to order, they have deeper knowledge of software applications and make the decisions around which software the company uses to write and maintain their back-end operations.
Full Stack Web Developer Responsibilities
Full stack web developers are responsible for both front-end and back-end software architecture. As with their counterparts, they write, test, debug, and deploy software. They are also experienced in application programming interfaces (APIs).
Because of their broad experience, they have a better understanding of how front-end and back-end software applications work together. As senior developers with the full knowledge of these processes, they may manage the entire web development department for a company or organization.
Web Developer Key Skills
The most important skill for web developers, of course, is knowing how to code. Some less obvious abilities include communication, teamwork, Agile (and Scrum) expertise, and persistence. Professionals in the field will continue to expand their skill set as they advance along the web developer career path. The following are some of the skills that are the mark of a successful web developer:
Front-End Programming Languages
Front-end developers need to be proficient in the code that displays websites to users. (To see the coding behind any website, right-click and click on View Page Source.) Here are the main languages behind that code.
Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web, invented HTML, or hypertext markup language. Web developers use HTML to define how a web page should be displayed, including formatting, images and videos, buttons, and hyperlinks. The standards organization WHATWG establishes the specifications for HTML.
CSS, or cascading style sheets, takes HTML a step further. This is the code that establishes the look and feel of a website, the background color, more in-depth style instructions, and other features. The standards organization W3C sets the specifications for CSS.
Back-End Programming Languages
Back-end programming languages fall into two categories: object-oriented programming (OOP) and functional programming. OOP languages let programmers define objects; functional programming languages treat code as logic rules.
Back-end web developers have a number of programming languages at their fingertips. However, the web largely uses the following four languages to run back-end operations:
Python combines object-oriented, structured, and functional programming types. It’s considered to be relatively easy to learn and to code in. It’s platform independent and includes several different libraries, eliminating the need to code from scratch for many applications.
Besides proficiency in programming languages, mastery of the Agile software development process may be one of the most important skills for web developers.
The goal of Agile-based software development is to quickly develop and release a minimal viable product (MVP). Then, in later stages, a development team adds features based on user behavior. The advantage of Agile over the typical top-down software development process called Waterfall is that it allows a team to constantly add or adjust features based on user feedback.
Certain Agile features have become synonymous with Agile.
- Scrum. Scrum is based on a rugby scrum, in which players all push forward in the same direction, a metaphor for software development under Agile. Scrum masters and Scrum owners manage the teams, which include developers, quality assurance and usability managers, and other stakeholders.
- Sprints. Sprints are two-week periods of intensive coding. The goal is to deliver software frequently, so it can be assessed and revamped.
- Kanban. A form of “just in time” production, Kanban is a way to manage the software development workflow.
Commitment to Learning
Change happens fast in the software development field. Programming languages evolve, and new technologies require new skills. To move forward in the web developer career path, individuals must commit to always learning. This means taking courses, participating in coding hackathons and sprints, and joining communities such as GitHub.
Interpersonal, or “Soft,” Skills
Communication. Teamwork. Curiosity. Attention to detail. All of these so-called soft skills are highly valued by employers. Hiring managers will ask specific behavioral questions that point to these attributes. Soft skills are essential for those interested in taking on management roles. Project managers must have time management, delegation, and progress-reporting capabilities to ensure that projects don’t go off the rails. Department managers must have leadership, empathy, and communication capabilities to be effective team managers.
As with learning to code, web developers can learn these skills as well, through practice and study.
How to Become a Web Developer
People from all backgrounds learn to become web developers. Some may have a degree in computer programming; others have an education in an entirely different field. Technical aptitude, creativity, and curiosity are some of the attributes needed to enter this profession. For people who are interested in how to become a web developer, it may be helpful to follow this process:
- Create a portfolio. It’s important to be able to show your work. A portfolio website is an excellent way to display your skills.
- Join a community. Whether this is GitHub, Women Who Code, StackOverflow, or another coding community, meet your peers.
- Create a resume and profile. Write a one- to two-page resume and create a LinkedIn or other profile.
- Prepare for technical interviews. Technical interviews are different from other job interviews. They include coding tests and questions about technical knowledge. Software developers change jobs often, so becoming good at technical interviews is part of any successful career in web development.
Web Developer Career Paths
Web developers who move into back-end or full stack roles build on this foundation with more complex languages and responsibilities. Their technical knowledge includes Java, PHP, and C#, as well as database languages such as SQL.
As developers become more technically experienced, their job responsibilities — and salaries — also grow.
Entry-Level Web Developer
Junior web developers start out writing small blocks of code. They may also maintain an existing system, fix bugs, and handle similar responsibilities. As entry-level developers gain more experience, they begin to code new features.
Mid-Level Web Developer
Further along in the career path, mid-level web developers have a few more years of experience. They are responsible for more complex projects, and may take leadership roles, including managing teams and Agile processes. At this level, web developers are expected to be up to date on more technical concepts. Many will have added back-end responsibilities, becoming valuable as full stack developers.
Senior-Level Web Developer
A senior web developer’s responsibilities include project development and people management. Senior web developers lead programming teams and departments. They mentor junior staff and establish best practices. They may also be part of the strategic leadership team and bring their knowledge to bear on topics such as information technology resources and cybersecurity. These roles are often management positions that require more soft skills (communication, leadership, strategic thinking) than technical knowledge.
Web Developer Salary and Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of jobs for web developers is expected to grow 13% between 2020 and 2030, much faster than average. The median annual pay for experienced web developers was $77,200 as of 2020, according to the BLS. Years of experience, specific skills, and geographic location all impact an individual’s compensation.
According to salary research site Payscale, web developers with the following skills often saw a premium in their compensation:
- Front-end developers. Front-end developers who had skills in programming languages Django, Linux, Design, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) could see salary boosts between 34% and 56%.
- Back-end developers. Skills in Microservices, PostgreSQL, and AWS boosted salaries between 25% and 35%.
- Full stack developers. Skills in software programming language platforms Scala, Java/J2EE, and Kubernetes increased salaries between 19% and 26%.
These in-demand skills indicate the fast-paced world of web development. They also illustrate the need for web developers to commit to expanding their technical knowledge and experience as an ongoing part of their careers. As technology changes, in-demand skills will also change.
This is one of the leading reasons why software developers change jobs as often as they do: The average time developers spend at a job is two years, according to technology website Developer Pitstop. Developers often move to gain new skills that enable them to earn a higher salary.
According to Payscale, typical salaries for mid-level developers include the following:
- Mid-level web developer (front end). The median annual salary with five to nine years of experience was about $87,000 as of May 2022.
- Mid-level web developer (back end). The median annual salary with five to nine years of experience was about $95,000 as of May 2022.
- Mid-level web developer (full stack). The median annual salary with five to nine years of experience was about $94,000 as of May 2022.
Salaries for senior-level web developers depend on the size of the company, the responsibilities of the individual, and the goals for the position. According to Payscale:
- Senior-level web developer (front end). The median annual salary with over 10 years of experience was about $90,000 as of May 2022.
- Senior-level web developer (back end). The median annual salary with over 10 years of experience was about $130,000 as of May 2022.
- Senior-level web developer (full stack). The median annual salary with over 10 years of experience was about $105,000 as of May 2022.
Begin Your Coding Journey with Revature
Whether you have a computer degree or are changing careers, explore what Revature has to offer, and get started on your career path today.
Technology Career Paths: Outlook, Path, and FAQ
Full Stack Software Engineer Job Description and Career Paths
Software Developer Careers: Outlook, Definition, Paths
Computer Programmer Career Path: Outlook, Definition, Paths