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My Advice to Beginner Devs

brianemilius profile image Brian Emilius Originally published at brianemilius.com ・3 min read

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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.

Doesn't matter how you did it

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.

Have a pet project

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.

Build a portfolio

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.

Even senior devs struggle

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.

Keep up-to-date

Web development is an industry that works both super fast and super slow. So slow it sometimes seems like you are watching paint dry.

What do I mean by this? The World Wide Web has existed for over 30 years now. A lot has happened, but then again, we still use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for a lot of it. This is the slow-evolving core (and this is a good thing!).

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.

Know your motivation

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.

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Brian Emilius


I teach college web development classes in Denmark and I have been messing around on the Internet since the WWW became a thing. I love simple solutions and humour!


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Good take on web in general and I totally get the following:

I can get so frustrated over a problem that I am ready to quit

I sometimes feel like this:


Haha, I feel this!

I try very hard to get my students to understand that failures and hitting a brick wall is just an opportunity to learn and become better. It's a hard truth to accept though.


I applaud your effort but most of them will probably experience burnout eventually, regardless of your advice. Hitting a brick wall is actualy quite good if you know how to handle it. Propper handling will increase experience and knowledge of what works and what doesn't. The other side of the coin is probably best described by the animated gif I posted before; that kind of result should of course be avoided.

I am no stranger to breaking keyboards and damaging screens, unfortunately. πŸ™„


Great Guide Man, especially the part of being curious, this is what i have seen by helping others, that people who tend to fiddle and experiment more have a greater tendency to progress faster. I always tell them anything if you break that is software can just be restored, so dont worry.

Building a portfolio, really true, its hard once you in a starting stage what to do, i always say, trying helping people or helping Non-profits achieve what they want with your expertise, thats a great way to interact and build a portfolio.


Thank you, Muhammad πŸ‘‹

Maybe I should make a list of pet project and starter portfolio ideas next 😁


Perfect Dude, let me know when they are ready, i`d love to work with you on it.


every time I make something by coding, I always have a whisper in my brain, like, "I'm not smart, I'm not creative, my thinking speed is slow, there are better ways than you do, but you can't think up to that point, and your code a mess ". sometimes that makes me pessimistic about being able to work in a company ...

thank's it make me feel better..


I can definitely relate to this - and I've been doing this for 25 years.
We call it the "Imposter Syndrome" and I think it's something we all struggle with at one time or another.

There are a lot of great articles here on dev.to about dealing with it πŸ‘


yes... right.. and this one is very helped me... thanks...

I'm glad you found it helpful πŸ˜„


The title says "Beginner Devs" but I feel like this is excellent advice for anyone in the industry.

I'd also add that your portfolio can count as a "pet project", I've always found myself trying out new stuff on my own site.

Really sound advice though, +1 for this especially:

Go for a walk to clear your head.


Thank you, Charlie πŸ‘‹

I do the exact same thing with my own website. At the moment I am diving into React and my website is my playground for it!


There's a subtle detail you missed because maybe you give it by granted but I see it every day around developers.

Make it work, yes as fast as you can even. Nonetheless, the developer has to understand what's going on. If not it's worthless.


Oh, I absolutely agree.

You have to know what you're doing and why. I think what I am trying to say is that there are many solutions to a problem. If you found one of them; Great! In time you will learn to do the same thing a dozen different ways, but as a beginner, this should not be the focus.


For me it really helped to start go for a walk 1-3 times(5-15min) a day just to get away from my monitors and the problem I've been stuck at for hours.

Doesn't matter if a few team mates join me for the walk or if I just drift into the wonderful world of music. This always give me a new perspective on the problem or atleast a new hint on where to keep digging


A side bonus is the exersice πŸ˜„


This was brilliant and succinct! Well written Brian.


Thank you, Mohammed πŸ‘‹