I have been messing around on the World Wide Web since it was a thing. Today I teach Web Developer classes at college. Here is my advice for beginning web developers.
Don't spend too much time fussing over your solution to a problem. If it works, you did it right.
It doesn't really matter how you made your solution work. What matters is that it does work. In time you will learn to identify smarter or faster solutions. Or how to follow best-practice for your language or framework.
But for now, make it work.
When you learn new things it can be a tremendous benefit to test your knowledge on a project that you care about.
The Internet is full of Hello, World! and To-do app examples. These are all great and will teach you the basics of what you can do with a language or tool.
You have to apply your knowledge to something you are passionate about. This will help you internalise new learning. And it's a way to move past tutorials. Pet projects are perfect for this.
Yesterday is a great time to get started building your portfolio. A good portfolio should show your skills.
Don't have any real-life cases to display? Don't worry; make some up:
- Finish that pet project of yours and put it in the portfolio.
- Display a few of your tutorial apps (but not too many).
- Call up a local sports club and ask if they need some free web-work done.
- Offer free SEO or accessibility audits to some local non-profit organisations.
Now, I know it's a bit of a slippery slope to offer your work for free. I am not suggesting you should "trade hours for exposure". But these few free jobs can get your portfolio up and running. You will earn some real-world experience which can give you real leads.
Part of being a developer, any kind of program development, is problem-solving. You might say we make a living off finding solutions to problems.
Problems can be... well, problematic. I've been doing this for 25 years. Sometimes I think web developers are a masochistic breed.
I can get so frustrated over a problem that I am ready to quit. But over the years I have learned several problem-solving tricks.
- Break your problem into smaller parts.
- Learn to use debugging tools.
- Ask for help (for real!).
- Use pseudo-code.
- Use flow-charts.
- Go for a walk to clear your head.
- Work on something else for a while.
Web development is an industry that works both super fast and super slow. So slow it sometimes seems like you are watching paint dry.
Then there are server-side languages, frameworks, libraries, design systems and so on. These evolve at a break-neck pace. New things emerge almost every day. Some of these things grow to be common-place tools, others die.
But keep up with the industry.
- Listen to podcasts.
- Subscribe to a few mailing lists and newsletters.
- Follow industry leaders and first-movers on social media.
- Be curious.
It doesn't matter why you are a web developer. It pays your rent or it is your life's passion to make awesome web apps, build and be creative. Whatever your motivation is, don't lose sight of it.
What helps you in your journey as a web developer? Do you have any advice to pass on to the next generation? Leave your comments below. You never know, your advice might help someone.