Charting Your Path in Web Development - Core Technologies for Web Development - Getting a Web Development Job For Dummies (2015)

Getting a Web Development Job For Dummies (2015)

Part II. Core Technologies for Web Development


webextras.eps Check out for background on the rocky introduction of CSS to web development.

In this part …

· Choose technologies to build your career

· Understand how the Internet and web grew

· Learn how static web pages work

· See why database-driven web pages are now routine

Chapter 5. Charting Your Path in Web Development

In This Chapter

arrow Finding out what makes a web development career a good one

arrow Seeing how Utah teaches web development

arrow Finding out how 1990s websites can help you today

arrow Discovering what can do for your career

There are a million ways to become a web developer, and all of them are equally valid; “whatever works” is a maxim of web development, and of much else in life.

However, there’s a curve connecting the ways in which you might become a web developer to how many good or bad things happen in your web development career. More, and more solid, preparation makes more good things more likely to happen. Less, and less solid, preparation makes good things less likely to happen.

This chapter explains how to chart your path in web development — how to get as many different plus points on your side as possible, and how to steer around the areas where you might have a weakness, or at least not have a strength.

Use this chapter to get yourself started, and then watch and learn in your own career. There are many niches of skill, talent, and expertise in web development. As you add knowledge of such niches to your own background, keep a careful eye on who is well-regarded among your colleagues and who isn’t. Watch what the “stars” do and emulate it — in your own, genuine, positive way, not just to tick boxes. You’ll watch your impact, and your career, grow as you do.

Distinguishing between Good and Bad Web Development Careers

So what is a “good” web development career versus a “bad” one?

That’s actually a hard question to answer. The whole field of web development is constantly changing — the names of the boxes we try to put people into, the size and shape of these boxes, and what it takes to be well-regarded in them don’t stay the same for long.

For instance, a few years ago, people might have said, “That web designer who knows all the latest HTML 2.0 tricks, is expert in Internet Explorer and Firefox, and is starting to learn CSS is really on the cutting edge.”

Today, to express a similarly positive opinion, people might say, “That visual designer who knows how to replace Flash video with HTML5 video, is expert in design for personal computers, tablets, and smartphones, and just wrote a textbook on CSS template libraries is really on the cutting edge.”

In Table 5-1, we list some aspects of what is usually considered a good web development career versus a less satisfying one. Feel free to take issue with our list, and to add your own plus and minus points. In web development, you can design your future just as you design a website — and you can experience the same uncertainty and randomness in how things will really turn out for both as well!

tip.eps Several of the points that appear in Table 5-1 involve other people, and this is problematic. You can’t completely control what other people think or say, no matter how good a job you do. But you are the only one who will benefit from others’ good opinion of your work, or suffer from a poor opinion. So play the “meta” game — don’t just do good work; sell it to your colleagues and bosses.

And if your colleagues and bosses are too slow, benighted, jealous, or insecure to recognize your good work? Sorry, their problem is your problem. You either need to find ways to get your colleagues and bosses on board with your contributions, or move to a new organization where people will understand and support what you’re trying to do.

Table 5-1 Good and Bad Career Points in Web Development

“Good” Career Points

“Bad” Career Points

Well-regarded by current colleagues

Poorly regarded by current colleagues

Boss understands and supports your work

Boss doesn’t understand your work and doesn’t support you

You feel like you get a lot of good work done in a day

You feel like you’re not fully productive

You accumulate experience with new technologies as you work

You keep using the same old technologies over and over in your work

You find time to learn and practice with new technologies and tools outside of work

You don’t learn and practice with new technologies and tools outside of work

You can show people your accomplishments in public-facing work or summarize it in easy-to-understand numbers

You can’t show people your accomplishments in public-facing work or summarize it in easy-to-understand numbers

You achieve internal recognition – meetings, newsletters, congratulatory emails, and other feedback about your contribution

You don’t get internal recognition for your contributions

You achieve external recognition — get positive attention or leadership in an external professional group relevant to your work, speak at a meeting or conference, and so on

You don’t achieve external recognition

You accumulate both agency and in-house organizational experience as you progress

You feel stuck in a boring job in a non-web development organization — or you feel like you’ve been on the agency side too long and no longer understand the client’s point of view

Your salary increases as you go on

Your salary stays the same or regresses as you go on

You hold jobs for two or three years and then move on, and at least somewhat up, even if the new job is in the same organization

You hold jobs for less than two years, or more than four, without moving either on or up

Exploring Utah’s Take on Web Development

The state of Utah has its own take on web development. That state actually administers a course, Web Development 1, that seeks to teach the basics of web development.

The look and feel of the site is very 1990s, and most of the detailed, in-depth content is hosted in PDFs. Most modern websites put important content in web pages and use PDFs only for pieces which are targeted for printed distribution.

tip.eps As an aside, PDFs are great for reproducing printed pieces and making them available for downloading and printing, but they are awful for hosting important content on your website. It’s your job as a web designer to put important information into regular web pages that people can search using Google; that they can forward links to; and so on. Don’t take the easy way out and put key site information in PDFs.

The fascinating thing about this course is the fact that it’s addressed to high schoolers, grades 10-12, but it covers so much of what you need to know to have a lifelong career as a web developer. Check out the course’s home page, as shown in Figure 5-1, to learn more.


Figure 5-1: A Web Development I high school course from the state of Utah.

Many sites with key information for web developers were developed in the mid-1990s, when the web was new and people were actively exploring how to get the most out of it. The iconic World Wide Web (W3C) consortium website, which contains all the key information about web standards plus discussion, was developed during this time. Visit to go back to the founding days for most of the standards we use all the time in web development.

The Utah course divides web development learning into standards — goals for students to reach — objectives, which are specific sub-goals within the standards; and indicators, or proof points that the objectives are being met. The PDF that has this supporting information is shown in Figure 5-2.You can find it at


Figure 5-2: The state of Utah site has created standards for web development learning.

If you don’t know the information in the Utah curriculum, you should learn it! Much of the information is available on Wikipedia,, and through web searches. Other skills described in the curriculum come with a moderate amount of practice, as you’ll do on your portfolio site and on web development projects.

How a 1990s website can help you

Don’t let the look and feel of a website stop you from taking advantage of the information in it.

As a web development professional, you’ll develop a very critical eye for websites. That’s because you’re looking at your own websites, and the sites of colleagues and even competitors, with that same critical eye. In development, project reviews, and competitive analysis, you’ll be looking at your own and others’ websites with a view to identifying modern designs, sensible font choices, a balanced use of text, graphics, and multimedia, and more.

However, much of the most interesting information about web design was published when the web was new, in the early 1990s. Or, the information is up-to-date, but it’s in a website whose design has not been finalized since the web was new.

For instance, the website for the World Wide Web committee, famously housed at, was developed in the 1990s. It contains vital information for any web developer.

Don’t let an old page look or site design put you off from finding information you need. Be super-critical of pages that need to be the latest and greatest. But be supportive, as well, of pages that know what they need to do and get it done.

Here are the standards — the top-level goals — for this course, along with a summary of the objectives:

· Standard 1, Internet Standards & Fundamentals: “Students will understand the basic principles of how the Internet is constructed, how it functions, and how it is used.” Objectives include knowing how to access the Internet, understanding its history and underlying support structure, how domains and IP addresses work, and the use of protocols such as http, https, ftp, and tcp/ip. Copyright and acceptable use of copyrighted materials are also included.

· Standard 2, Fundamentals of HTML5: “Students will demonstrate creation of ‘well formed’ web pages.” For this standard, students code a basic web page, give files appropriate names and put them in an appropriate structure, use HTML elements and attributes, and use meta tags, image maps, forms, iframes, and HTML editing software.

tip.eps Some of the tools mentioned in this curriculum, such as meta tags and iframes, are less used today than they were several years ago. However, “old school” web developers will bring them up in conversation, and “old school” websites that you’re maintaining or updating will have them, so it’s good to know what they are and how they’re used.

· Standard 3, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS): “Students will format web pages using CSS.” This includes using background, font, and border attributes in a website; using inline, internal, and external styles and style sheets; using selectors; and implementing page layouts.

· Standard 4, Site Planning and Design: “Students will plan, design, implement, and maintain website(s).” This standard takes tasks up a level, requiring that students analyze the requirements for a project; plan site design and layout; create content for a site; and upload a site to the web and maintain it.

· Standard 5, Advanced Web Concepts: “Students will explore advanced web concepts.” In this course, advanced web concepts include using JavaScript, using newer HTML5 elements, which are widely used today, and understanding how databases, wikis, blogs, forums, and content management systems (CMSes) are used.

· Standard 6, Exploration & Preparation for Careers in Web Development: “Students will explore careers in web development and prepare a portfolio of projects created.” In this section, students identify web development jobs and their responsibilities and create an online portfolio.

There is a whole wide range of things to know for a web development career beyond the topics described here. However, you won’t go far wrong by starting with a curriculum like the one described here. After you have the basics, you can branch out into all the new and exciting things that web development has to offer.

tip.eps The curriculum described here was revised in mid-2013, but it hasn’t been brought totally up-to-date. That’s okay. Although it drives students crazy, education tends to trail the real world by a few years, which is especially apparent for fast-changing areas such as web design. Also, you really do need to know the old stuff — it’s the base for everything new, and will serve you well when maintaining and updating older sites.

Learning Web Development from is a fantastic training resource for web development, with strong roots in the past, but also relentlessly up-to-date. The topics in the Utah training described in the preceding section are kind of the boilerplate of web design. includes a lot of the spicy stuff, in an easy-to-grasp format. was founded in 1995, when web development was still quite new. specialized in niche, but important, topics such as using HTML and CSS with different browsers. It grew into a comprehensive site that costs $25 a month for a regular membership that gives you access to all its resources, as of this writing. offers certification in many topics — a very valuable resource in some instances because it proves you have gone the extra mile to really prepare yourself in a given area. Because is well-known and well-regarded, certifications from this site really mean something to employers and peers. (Even if employers aren’t familiar with initially, a little investigation into what the certification means will leave them impressed.)

tip.eps Many of you reading this book may be new to web development, and need a resource just for vocabulary and basic concepts. Or you may be one of those interesting people who know a lot about one area, such as CSS, but not related areas. In either case (that is, unless you’re already pretty well-versed) you need an introduction like the Utah training just to understand the topics well enough to know what to do on a more advanced training site like! has close to 2,000 training courses and covers all experience levels, with strong instructors and excellent multimedia quality. You can learn everything you need to know about most topics from (

warning.eps There is exactly one topic that is superlatively well-covered by information available on the web, and that’s web development. If you are determined, you can learn just about everything you need to know about web development by searching online. But you’ll waste a lot of time and take in a lot of useless and out-of-date information and approaches along with the good stuff. So seriously consider using structured resources for much of your learning, such as the Utah course shown here, or, and then using web searches to find specific tips and information in a hurry.

Figure 5-3 shows the web development home page of, which is really the core expertise of the site. Note that the page includes programming using languages such as PHP and MySQL as well as web development standards like HTML and CSS.

Reviewing some of the most popular topics on at this writing gives insights into where the mainstream of web development is today:

· HTML Essential Training: HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the core of web development, and it’s where’s popular courses begin.

· WordPress Essential Training: WordPress is a web development environment and content management system (CMS) that began life as a blogging tool. It’s very popular, and covers WordPress thoroughly.

· JavaScript Essential Training: JavaScript is the leading scripting language for bringing web pages to life, by a long shot. People often want training in it because they’re HTML and CSS jockeys who feel it’s a stretch to actually program, even in a simplified language like JavaScript, so this course is quite popular.

· PHP with MySQL Essential Training: PHP is a “real” programming language and MySQL is a standard for database access. So this course teaches people how to make more capable websites that interact with real data, making the site more powerful.

· Creating a Responsive Web Design: It’s not enough to know how to make things happen; you have to have a feeling for what you might want to do with all that power. This course helps you give users the most functionality with the least strain through your site.


Figure 5-3: is a well-organized training resource.