How to Become a Web Developer and Start a Programming Career in 2021

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Now more than ever is a great time to begin a career as a developer.

According to U.S. News, web developer is the 8th-best tech career to have, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects web developer employment to grow 8% over the next decade.

What makes web development stand out is its resilience in a shrinking COVID-19 job market. Aside from commerce, the demand for developers in areas like online banking and remote education is increasing as those industries continue to expand and evolve to meet today's needs.

Thus it’s crystal clear that becoming a web developer in 2021 is a smart choice both for now and in the future. Let’s get into what developers do and how to get started in this industry.

Key article takeaways:

  • Web development is one of the most promising careers to pursue, and is a very safe option in an evolving economy.

  • Essential skills are JavaScript, HTML/CSS, and often other languages C++, Swift, or Python. Soft skills are also important.

  • Web development offers high salaries, flexibility, and versatility. But there's a lot expected of you.

  • Learning web dev skills can lead you down many different career paths, including back-end and full-stack development.

  • Teaching yourself or attending college courses are fine options for learning, but coding bootcamps can often be the practical choice.

  • Web development is well worth pursuing.

A man sits at his desk

What do web developers do?

Web developers — also know as programmers, coders, or engineers — use front-end computer languages to build websites, applications, or apps. In addition to building websites and apps, coders are also used to update existing programs per client or employer specifications. Coding helps clients with front-end and back-end development to drive their websites, programs, or apps.

These programs utilize languages like JavaScript, C++, Swift, HTMl/CSS, and others. In short, web developers create the visual representation of the World Wide Web. Now that you know what web developers do, the next step is to identify the skills needed to start a career as a web developer. 

What skills do you need to be a web developer?

To begin a lucrative career and get your first programming job, you need to learn a few programming languages (more about this below). The industry is expanding and changing, so it’s important to have a passion for coding.

Yes, you do probably need to know JavaScript, HTML/CSS, and other languages, but soft skills like communication, teamwork, project management, and time management are all important.

Any developer worth his or her salt stays learning, keeping on top of current trends, languages, and processes. That’s why any coding course or program worth its salt teaches students how to learn in addition to teaching students specific languages and skills. Good developers are always growing.

What coding languages do you need to know to become a web developer or programmer?

There are several languages to choose from when learning to become a web developer or programmer, so it’s probably a good idea to review them. The different coding languages below detail which category they fit into as well as what they are primarily used for. For an even deeper dive into your language options, read "What Programming Language Should I Learn?"

JavaScript

JavaScript popularity by year according to pull request percentages on GitHub. JavaScript is trending slightly downward, though is the most popular language on GitHub at around 19.5% of pulls.

JavaScript is the most popular language among web developers and is an essential skill for almost any job function. Of the over 1.5 billion websites in the world, JavaScript is used on over 95% of them. It is a versatile language often used on the server-side.  A vast majority of devices run on JavaScript, too, including iPhones, Android, Apple OSX, Microsoft Windows, and smart TVs. 

It’s not the hardest language in the world to learn, but it’s often people’s first language, so can take a little getting used to. If you’d like to dabble in JavaScript, Flatiron offers a free introductory JavaScript course. Codeacademy also has a good intro course.

Typical JavaScript roles: Software engineer, front-end developer, full-stack developer // JavaScript developer salary: $107k per year on ZipRecruiter. The average salary for entry-level JavaScript devs is closer to $71k.

The chart above shows the relative popularity based on how many GitHub pulls are made per year for that language. This chart and all the charts below are based on data from GitHut 2.0, created by littleark.

Python

Pythons popularity by year according to pull request percentages on GitHub. Python is trending even, at around 16% of all GitHub pulls.

Python is a popular programming language that is easy to learn and use. This program is used in a variety of fields including scientific computing, data science, and machine learning. It is also used to develop 2D imaging and 3D animation packages like Blender, Inkscape, and Autodesk. Typically it is used in backend coding.

Like JavaScript, Python is not a terribly hard language to learn.

Typical Python roles: Back-end developer, full-stack developer, data analyst, data scientist // Python developer average salary: $112k per year on ZipRecruiter. The average salary for entry-level Python developers is closer to $82k.

Ruby

Ruby's popularity by year according to pull request percentages on GitHub. Ruby is trending downward, and has around 6% of all GitHub pulls.

Ruby is a popular scripting language used for web development and has a friendly and helpful community. It is a good language to learn because of its association with great tech companies. Ruby on Rails is a web application framework. 

There are mixed opinions on whether or not Ruby is a good language to start with.

Typical Ruby roles: Software engineer, back-end developer // Ruby developer salary: $99k per year on ZipRecruiter. Even entry-level salaries are around $98k on ZipRecruiter.

SQL 

SQL (Standard Query Language) is a standard language for sorting, manipulating, and retrieving data in databases. SQL is critical for sifting through massive quantities of data to answer specific business questions. For example, how many users have signed up for a specific feature of a mobile app. 

Typical SQL: Back-end developer // SQL developer salary: $93k per year on ZipRecruiter

Swift

Swift's popularity by year according to pull request percentages on GitHub. Swift is trending downward, and has around .6% of all GitHub pulls.

Swift is a relatively new programming language used to develop iOS and macOS applications. It is optimized for performance and built from the ground up to match the realities of modern iOS development.

Typical roles: iOs developer // iOS developer salary: $103k on ZipRecruiter

HTML & CSS

HTML and CSS are essential for learning web development and are the building blocks for websites. They are very often the first languages any web developer learns, and are absolutely essential for any web developer at any level.

Typical HTML & CSS roles: Front-end developer // Front-end developer salary: $95k per year on ZipRecruiter

Go

Go's popularity by year according to pull request percentages on GitHub. Go's is trending upward, and has around 9% of all GitHub pulls.

Go is a low-level language that is ideal for systems programming. It is a compiled language that runs close to the metal and is open source.

It is relatively new and gaining popularity, is easy to learn, and has a modern syntax. It is used for many Google applications and by many large IT companies.  It is also used by data scientists. 

Typical roles: Data scientist // Go developer salary: $110k per year on ZipRecruiter

C/C++

C and C++'s popularity by year according to pull request percentages on GitHub. C and C++ are trending even, and have around 10% of all GitHub pulls.

C is the root of many programming languages. C and C++ are widely used in computer science and programming. C++ is simply an enhanced version of C. Developers proficient in C and C++ can make sue of compilers for a variety of platforms making applications developed in these languages largely transportable.

C/C++ are advantageous to learn early because they make learning other languages easier.

Typical C/C++ roles: Mobile developer // C developer salary: $101k per year on ZipRecruiter

Thumbs up vs. thumbs down

Breaking down the pros and cons of being a programmer

Pro: Flexibility

Coding jobs are in high demand, so developer jobs often have great perks and work-life balance. The coding lifestyle fits very well with working remotely, so often coders are given the choice or the options to work on their own time — though this can of course vary by company and role. 

Pro: High salaries

Computer programming is an extremely lucrative career. Software development is the #2 best career, the #2 STEM career, and the #1 technology career to have according to U.S. News. Better yet, the top two jobs on Indeed’s list of best jobs for 2020 both involved programming jobs — Software Architect was number 1 and Full Stack Developer at number 2. 

Pro: Career versatility

Being a coder means you’ll usually have a spot in almost any company, especially as different industries and disciplines are quickly evolving to a new world during (and after) COVID-19. As the demand for automation and phone-based services expands, so do the demand for development jobs. This is the direction many companies are going in, so the demand for developers and web developers will follow suit.

Pro: Demand

As we touched upon above, demand for programmers, engineers, and web developers is only projected to grow and grow and grow. The employment of web developers and designers is projected to grow 8% from 2019 to 2029.

Relatedly, software developer employment is projected to grow by 22% from 2019 to 2029.

Pro: You can make cool things

We’ve all come across websites that have some incredible “wow” factors. Web developers are responsible for creating some of the best experiences we have online, from the prettiest sites to the most functional ones.You can be the person who helps create that. 

Con: Turnover

Programming and development is a fast-paced industry, as we mentioned earlier. And there are a lot of benefits to that. But just how being in demand and having the opportunity to switch jobs often because of that demand, changing jobs often isn’t for everyone. Developers generally tend to switch jobs more often than other roles, and that could seem taxing to people who don’t want so much change.

Con: Startups galore

Many of the companies that have the highest need for developers are startups. And with startups comes more of the aforementioned change. Venture-backed, high-growth startups have many different outcomes, both good and bad. Often, developers bear the brunt of this.

Con: New languages

Developers are always expected to be learning. Languages and processes are always changing, and while that is often exciting, there is often a lot expected of developers. 

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What jobs other than web developer can you get if you learn to code?

There are a variety of in-demand jobs you can get by learning to code. Many people take the leap go down many paths in their first web development job depending on their goals and ambitions. Consider what type of role you see yourself in when you decide which languages you want to pursue and which courses or bootcamps you might consider attending. The most popular development jobs are outlined below.  

Software Engineer

Software engineers build computer systems, apps, and databases. The umbrella term — software engineering — is the main focus of Flatiron School’s flagship software engineering course.

The national average salary for software engineers is $100k, according to ZipRecruiter.  

 Front-end Web Developer

Front-end web developers make websites with form and function. Typical skills needed are the ability to work with HTML, CSS, and  JavaScript to build websites and how they are displayed on web browsers. These developers work hand in hand with graphic designers and back-end developers to create functional and aesthetically pleasing web pages.

The national average salary for a front-end developer is $80k on ZipRecruiter.

Back-End Web Developer

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Back-end developers work in the background pulling information from a database and relaying it to a web user. They use PHP, JavaScript, Ruby, Python, or SQL to complete their tasks. Backend development focuses on data use these coding languages to pull information from a database and relay it back to the user.

The national average salary for a back-end developer is $84k, according to ZipRecruiter.

Full-Stack Developer

Full-stack developers are typically not masters of all web development languages, but rather know enough to create a functional website or troubleshoot an issue on the back-end of the site. Startups, medium-sized companies, and huge tech companies all need full-stack developers.

The national average salary for a full-stack developer is $103k, according to ZipRecruiter.

Want more information on the differences between front-end development, back-end development, and full-stack development? Learn more about the differences here

Mobile Developer

Mobile developers can create and publish iOS apps and Android apps by learning Swift. There is considerable room for growth in this particular field as there is a high demand for apps as well as the increased use of smartphones and similar devices.

The national average salary for a mobile developer is $105k, according to ZipRecruiter. 

UI/UX Designer

UI/UX designers use code in their day-to-day job to focus on overall user experience when it comes to apps. They focus on user interface, user experience, and sometimes graphic design. Coding is not a requirement to become a designer but is often needed in day-to-day work.

The national average salary for a UX/UI designer is $99k, according to ZipRecruiter.

Product Manager

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Product managers work with teams of developers and coders to act as the voice of the customer, understanding what they need and want, and working to build solutions. They benefit from understanding code and the functions of specific languages, which lets them better manage and address the needs of their various teams.

They don’t need to be seasoned coders themselves, but not knowing how what goes into a product can impede project management and troubleshooting processes, and keep a product manager from truly reconciling the customers’ needs with the product team’s resources.

The national average salary for a product manager is $108k, according to ZipRecruiter. 

Database Developer

Database developers are responsible for the maintenance and development of databases. These employees can also work as Database Administrators, where they maintain the storage of information and make sure it is accessible to those who need it.

The national average salary for database developers is $95k, according to ZipRecruiter. 

DevOps Professional 

DevOps is a combination of development and operations. It helps companies to innovate and stay competitive. In business, it is typically a team of professional coders and operations staff.

The national average salary for DevOp is $107k, according to ZipRecruiter.

Data Analyst

If you learn the languages you need to become a developer but realize you love data and numbers, then becoming a data analyst might make sense for you.

Data analysts are one of the most in-demand positions in the realm of coding and computer science. They have a varied skill set that combines software engineering, coding, statistical analytics, and data visualization to tell stories and discover insights from big data.

They typically use Python, SQL, R, and Java to develop algorithms and build models that can be used to discover new problems and even predict consumer behavior.


Flatiron School offers several courses that will train you in the fundamentals of a language using real tools and examples.

Our Coding Bootcamp Prep can be a great way to see if you want to become a software engineer. We also have introductory courses for JavaScript and Ruby


Data analysis job is a different kind of experience than the roles above and utilizes different essential skills, but there is some overlap.

The national average salary for data analysts $68k, according to ZipRecruiter.

A woman on her computer, sitting on a green couch

How to get started toward your career in web development

 Having a career in coding does not necessarily mean one needs a computer science degree, and instead means they have dedication and patience — the years of experience come later.

Step 1. To get started, take some introductory courses to see if you have a passion for coding. Having a passion for coding is the single more important thing to get started in your coding career. 

Step 2. Figure out what you’re interested in. There are several different types of developers, all of which have their unique benefits and draws. 

Step 3. Learn the skills you want to learn and stay diligent. Computer science courses and coding bootcamps can be hard. They’re a lot of learning in a short amount of time, but once you’re done, it’s an extraordinarily rewarding feeling. 

You can learn from professionals through a coding bootcamp, by teaching yourself, or by getting a degree in Computer Science. 

Step 4. It's recommended you build your online brand. Build out a good LinkedIn profile. Write about what you know, and create things like websites and apps and showcase them in your portfolio. From there, begin your job hunt. Once you being the job interview process, make sure you practice for your interviews extensively beforehand. Learn more about how to perform an effective job search

How do you learn how to code?

To get your job in coding you must first, well, learn to code. Coding bootcamps are the best bet for getting into coding. These bootcamps are a middle ground between self-study and college degrees. They are more expensive and time-intensive, but they offer more support and motivation.

The entire purpose of a coding bootcamp is to get you job-ready as soon as possible without sacrificing education quality. In our opinion, coding bootcamps are worth it, especially if your goal is a new career.

What are the best coding bootcamps if you want to become a web developer?

We recommend one of the following bootcamps:

How do you tell if a bootcamp is right for you?

A bootcamp is a program that teaches you to code and teaches you the other skills you need to become a professional developer. Before you get into the program, it is important to pick the right bootcamp for you based on your goals, learning style, and expectations. You will want to look at the program's success rate and curriculum.

Also consider location and alumni network. Some teach online while some focus more on in-person experience (once it is safe to do so). Some might focus on one or two specific languages while others are more generalist, focusing on many different languages.

Find a bootcamp that teaches the languages that align with your goals and make sure they have Career Services. CareerKarma has a very extensive list ranking the best coding bootcamps.

A Flatiron School event

Will coding bootcamps get you a job?

Coding bootcamps can help you learn to code quickly but they are not guaranteed to get you a job. During your bootcamp research process, it is key to confirm that the bootcamp offers Career Services that will help you search and build an online presence after you graduate. 

Also research job placement rates for any bootcamp you consider. Any good bootcamp will be open about how many of their graduates find jobs and what their starting salaries are. For example, we at Flatiron School release annual jobs reports. Thinkful always does a great job reporting their outcomes.

Can you teach yourself to code? 

If a bootcamp isn't for you, there’s always the option to self-study. It is a cheaper and more flexible option, but it requires a lot of discipline to learn on your own. You must hold yourself accountable and also try and problem solves on your own when you get stuck.

Below are a few free introductory courses to start the learning process.

How long does it take to learn to code and become a web developer?

The time it takes to learn to code varies based on a learner's diligence. Coding bootcamps take as little as three months to as much as eight months. As mentioned earlier, coding is a lifelong journey, and it is important to have a passion to learn as new languages and popularities will change rapidly. 

A career in coding is not far off if you're willing to put in the time over the course of a few months.

I’ve learned to code but I have no experience, so how do I become a web developer?

If you learned to code, you need to prove it. There are a variety of ways to showcase your knowledge and understanding of coding. You can start by building your brand. Write blog posts about topics you're interested in or about projects you've completed. 

Build out your professional brand across LinkedIn, Twitter, GitHub, and your website. Build a strong job-search foundation and while searching to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Prepare for your interviews as there will be cultural, soft skill, and technical questions. 

Be sure to network in person and online to encourage more interviews and success from job applications. As mentioned earlier, all of this and more is covered in the Flatiron School job search workshop.

Is it worth doing coding freelancing when you're first starting out?

Gig jobs in coding are increasingly easier to get, though nothing is a given, of course.

The key to getting started in freelancing is to find a strong gig marketplace. From there, apply for the gig that fits your situation. Follow up — and never be discouraged. Job searches don’t work, and then one day they, well, do!

Use this experience to hone your craft and help propel you into a full-time coding job (if that is of course what your ultimate goal is). Some coders have lucrative careers done solely from freelance gigs and running their businesses. While freelancing, you can also pick up some soft skills to add to your résumé and be better prepared for interviews. Some soft skills you develop through your freelance work might include clear communication, conflict resolution, and time management.

Don’t know where to start with freelancing? Try getting involved with open-source projects. These projects consist of publicly available source code that anyone can modify. The ability to work with other coders of varying experience and collaboratively can help hone your skills even more.  

So, how do you become a web developer? The key takeaways:

Now more than ever, starting a career as a developer is accessible.

The tech industry continues to grow along with the increased demand for web developers. Learning the coding languages and tools necessary to become a web developer can be done at home or in person with coding bootcamps, free courses, and online universities.

Be sure to select a program that offers career services, so you know you’ll hit the job search running after graduation. We cannot stress the importance of that enough.

There are a variety of specific fields you can specialize in based on what coding language you learn – some of the most popular being JavaScript and HTML & CSS.

Once you learn to code, we recommended getting some experience by freelancing and building your professional brand. It can be as simple as blogging about topics you’re interested in or targeting coding nuances specifically.

For whatever route your potential coding career takes you, don't get discouraged during your application process and be open to learning new languages as technology and the creation of apps continue to evolve.

Good luck! And remember, web development is for anyone who is passionate and willing to put in the work. There's no such thing as an impostor.

Graph source: All code popularity charts are based on data from GitHut 2.0, which was created by littleark.

If you're considering enrolling in a coding bootcamp but are wondering about tution, read "How to Pay for a Coding Bootcamp," or visit our Tuition & Financing page.

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Katie Gillen

Writer

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