Ten Red-Hot Roles for Web Developers - The Part of Tens - Getting a Web Development Job For Dummies (2015)

Getting a Web Development Job For Dummies (2015)

Part V. The Part of Tens

Chapter 21. Ten Red-Hot Roles for Web Developers

Web developer jobs are nothing if not flexible. It’s great to know which roles are hot. Not only is it fun — like following races in politics or sports — but you can aim your own career in the direction of any hot job that attracts you. What could be more of a blast?

Some of the roles listed here, such as visual designer, include jobs for entry-level people straight out of school or a training program. Others, such as art director, require years of experience. If you’re just starting out, and one of these high-level roles appeals to you, use it as a target as you add skills and gain experience.

The following roles are listed in no particular order, based only on our flexible and varying ideas of what “red-hot” might mean to us and to you.

Visual Designer

This is one of the most common jobs in the web development world. How can it also be one of the hottest?

Well, the traditional title for this role is graphic designer. The two terms are often used interchangeably. However, used properly, the term visual designer means something somewhat different. It emphasizes the effect of your designs and assumes that your designs can travel with integrity across platforms: not only all sorts of electronic devices, but print, billboards, T-shirts, and a whole wide and wild range of destinations.

If an employer differentiates between graphic designers and visual designers, or hires visual designers and artists but not graphic designers, it is making a statement — a statement that partly means “we’re up to date” and that partly shows that it gets the difference. So, visual designer is a hot web development career and should continue to be for quite a while.

SQL Web Developer

This is a “hard” developer job, in a way. As an SQL web developer, you create databases, write code to interact with them, and work with others on most of the web-specific parts of the job.

What makes this accessible is that SQL database programming is, for many people, not as complex or confusing as “real” programming in languages like C++ or even Python. Yes, table joins can be confusing, but a lot of the rest of it is not that hard for people who can handle, say, introductory-level calculus or statistics.

This is a growing job category with a lot of promise. Eventually, there might be more focus on grid databases and advanced development and runtime environments like Hadoop. But an SQL database will be the standard for a great many websites for a long time to come. This is a great role to consider from many spots in the world of web development.

Interaction Designer

An interaction designer is a specialized relative of the user experience, or UX, developer. Interaction designers get down into the nitty-gritty of what makes people click and what helps them get tasks accomplished.

Human-factors work, which is the overall world you have to spend time in to succeed as an interaction designer, is just plain cool. From jet-fighter cockpits to video-game interfaces to e-commerce click-to-buy front ends, really understanding what makes humans tick under different kinds of pressures is just plain fun.

This is also one of the “hardest” — that is, most technical and most metrics-driven — jobs that a person with “soft” skills like graphic or visual design can hope to get into without learning programming. The metrics focus means you can show your value, which means you can justify a hefty paycheck. (And for your colleagues, too, if you’re generous.)

So consider interaction design as a career choice if you like the idea of making a real and measureable difference.

Mobile Developer

Most traditional web development jobs have an analog in the world of mobile development. It’s a short journey from web development to mobile development — so short that mobile development can be considered as a subset of the web development world.

Mobile development is intensely competitive, and you have to make your point and make your users happy in a much smaller screen space than on a personal computer screen. Many people, however, consider these kinds of constraints fun and rewarding.

The only thing you need to do to get into mobile development is get a role on a development team that ships something on mobile, hopefully something that’s moderately successful. And you’re off to the races.

You can even jump-start this career by creating your own app, using one of many toolkits out there of the “just add water” variety, such as Sencha Touch (visit www.sencha.com). The app you develop can be a real app, intended for sale or free distribution through an app store, or just something for your portfolio. This accomplishment should be enough to get onto a commercial web development team and move your new career forward from there.

Art Director

What fun! Being an art director for the web is probably about as much fun for being an art director in print, or for commercials, or any other area. That is to say, a lot.

As an art director, you get to think big about how design and all the other elements of the website experience work together to help customers, reinforce your brand, and support clients’ or users’ goals.

You can approach becoming an art director from just about any position on the design side of the web development careers spectrum.

tip.eps One suggestion, both to help you get the job, and to help you enjoy it more if you do get it: Consider getting your PhD, from as demanding and reputable a university as you can manage. In this case, getting the PhD after you’ve been working in web development for a while might be especially advantageous, as your real-world experience and your academic work can feed off each other. (Also, solid work experience is likely to help you qualify for a better doctoral program than you might otherwise be able to get into.)

Then, after you get the art director position, you can teach and consult as well. What fun! If either of us, the authors, had any artistic talent at all, we’d be there.

Full Stack Developer

If we were on the software side of web development, we’d try hard to avoid getting sucked into non-web software development roles. Sure, they pay well, and you avoid all sorts of hassles, but you miss out on the direct interaction with real users and the rich project teams full of characters that are a feature of web development.

As a full stack developer, you can stay firmly in the web world. That’s because your expertise is making all aspects of web software, from front-end software such as JavaScript to back-end software such as C++ or Python, work together to make the whole site work smoothly. That means you have your fingers in just about every issue that makes modern websites interesting.

The key to becoming a full-stack developer is becoming good at all the different technologies that make up a software developer’s world in web development, without abandoning the range of technologies in favor of any one discipline (such as database programming) or technology (such as Python). You really do want to be a jack-of-all trades and a master of none. (If you focus enough on one technology to master it, you’re in danger of losing the breadth of vision implied by the term full stack developer.)

Product Manager

One of us (Smith) has been a product manager a couple of different times, once for web-savvy software — Apple’s QuickTime — and once for devices enabled by web connections, in-car GPS devices. It was a lot of fun both times.

A product manager is a kind of business unit manager for a product or service. In the web development world, you can move up to product manager — it’s usually considered a promotion because there’s a lot of responsibility — from any number of other spots. You just need to be good at your initial job and show some business savvy.

Product managers often have MBAs, so if you want this job, consider getting one of those. It’s a good career, but you won’t necessarily be in web development anymore; after you’re a product manager, you can end up managing all sorts of products.

Project Manager

Project managers make the trains run on time. Project managers typically work closely with product managers because they both want schedules met and features to work as promised.

Typically, a project manager has spreadsheets or Microsoft Project project plans for every part of a project, and does all he can to help make sure that the project meets the deadlines in the project plan.

This job is conceptually simple, but really, really hard. Web development professionals tend to be poor estimators, so rolling up these bad estimates into schedules produces unreliable results. Then, customers or clients tend to want changes as a project progresses, but no one wants to increase the budget or move the target date out.

Despite the job’s high degree of difficulty, project managers seem to enjoy their work. They enjoy it even more when they join a professional organization, such as the Project Management Institute, and get a professional certification, such as the PMP, or Project Management Professional certification.

To an even greater degree than a product manager, a project manager can be made from almost any professional on a web development team. If you want a different job on your current web development team — or if you want to get into web development, but lack the requisite talent or skills or experience — consider coming in as a project manager.

Program Manager

Despite the title, a program manager doesn’t necessarily write software. Instead, a program manager can be the boss of a group of product managers, the boss of a group of project managers, or the directly responsible individual, as Apple used to call it, responsible for all aspects of a project.

Program managers are often former product or project managers, but they can come from other spots too, and from outside web development as well. Useful qualifications to be a program manager include a technical bachelor’s degree, an MBA, and a PMP certification.

Program managers breathe pretty rarefied air, making big decisions and making big money while they do it. If you enjoy managing people and bearing a lot of responsibility, consider working your way toward the program manager role.


As the songwriter wrote, “Everything old is new again.” As a job title, webmaster has always kind of sucked. It was a generalist term used by those who didn’t really know what they were talking about, a kind of verbal Hail Mary pass uttered in hopes that someone would come along and “solve” the web for some hapless company.

However, webmaster today means two things, both of them great. The first meaning is for someone who will, well, “solve” the web for some hapless company. These days, when most business professionals “speak web” to a high degree, it can be a lot of fun to work in an environment where that’s not the norm. You can do a lot of fun, informal teaching about what the web can do for an organization these days.

The second meaning of webmaster is an arch, ironic use of the term by people who know that it’s vague and imprecise, but are looking to hire sharp web people without pigeonholing them too much. It can be really fun to work for a company that exhibits this degree of understanding of the current web and its own situation.

So don’t turn your nose up at the job title webmaster: Check it out. There might be an interesting situation behind it.