Guide to College Majors in Web Development
What is Web Development?
The phenomenal growth of the World Wide Web since its development in the early 1990s has changed society in many ways. With Internet use penetrating the average household, a new set of career choices has sprung up to meet consumer demand. Web development is an occupation that exists only because of the enormous success of the Internet.
While the Internet was first created to exchange information, the development of the World Wide Web and its multifaceted capabilities has led to an entirely new marketplace. Electronic commerce, better known as e-commerce, grows every year. Most major retail businesses conduct transactions online, and nearly every business has some sort of online presence.
Business Web sites are not limited to retail sales. Even organizations that do not sell or process transactions via the Internet still need an Internet presence to distribute information. Colleges, charities, and even rock stars' fan clubs make extensive use of the Internet. Even young children have learned to use search engines to research their favorite topics.
Someone created all those Web sites that people visit. Modern Web publishing software allows an average person to create a Web page and get it online. Business sites are more complicated. The best Web sites are carefully organized so that Web surfers can easily navigate their way around to find exactly what they want. That doesn't just happen. A skilled designer or Web developer usually is the one responsible for creating that Web site.
Although many use the terms Web developer and Web designer interchangeably, there are differences. Whereas most people with a little creativity and a good software program can design a Web page, "developing" a Web site demands a much higher degree of understanding computers, software, programs, systems, and human behavior.
Web development involves:
- Creating dynamic content for a site,
- Programming its special features,
- Selecting and setting up the proper software,
- Assessing the organization's hosting needs, and
- Making sure the entire process runs smoothly.
Whether development includes designing the pages depends upon the individual job description. Any organization that wants more than a simple Web page with a name and basic information, such as interactive features, video, or audio, needs a Web developer. When purchases are being conducted online or other sensitive information is exchanged, a certain degree of security is required as well.
What Does a Web Developer Do?
A decade ago, a person with a little computer expertise and some HTML skills might be considered a Web developer simply because few people had better backgrounds. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Web development has come a long way since then. Web development has become a profession with standards. More expertise than ever is needed to succeed.
Web developers produce sites and systems on the World Wide Web for organizations. The sites might be purely for information sites, but they are based on Web information systems that combine analysis, design, and authoring with multimedia development and traditional computing skills, particularly programming and using databases.
A Web developer, or Internet developer, is often responsible for site design, creation and day-to-day operation. Again, the job title might differ from company to company. Many companies contract with consultants or freelancers rather than train staff to create an entire site. They might use an on-site staff to keep the site operating and to update it periodically. Other companies might hire a Web developer to create the site and maintain it once it is in operation.
Work in entry-level Web development can include:
- Gathering relevant content and information from key company personnel;
- Developing the Web design concept and page organization;
- Presenting the site for approval or refinement from company personnel;
- Designing, building, and testing Web pages and links; and
- Updating contents and maintaining the site.
Developers who design sites from the initial concept must gather data to identify client needs and turn the data into functional and technical specifications for a Web site. This can include selecting programming languages and writing the code. Developers can recommend Web hardware and software, evaluate Web technologies, and develop standards for the site.
The responsibilities or required skills for a Web developer can be divided into three categories. Design skills involve content development, graphics and layout, and security. Technical skills are needed to write code, develop databases, and implement testing. Management skills are used to evaluate the hardware and software systems, train other designers and developers, coordinate with other company personnel, and provide customer service.
Web developers have to evaluate the needs of the individual or company for whom they are creating a site. They assist in planning an Internet strategy that allows those goals to be achieved. A Web developer first must talk with Web site owners and users to understand what the Web site owners want their Web site to look like and to do.
Web sites can consist of intranets, which are confined to internal employees, and extranets, which include groups of external users. Developers must design a site that allows specific users to have appropriate access. They have to develop, assess, and communicate security policies and standards among these constituencies.
Once the needs and desires have been assessed, the developer might create a storyboard to help the Web site owner understand what the site will look like. These storyboards are collections of sketches, much like the tools that movie and television directors use to plot one scene's transition to the next. The Web storyboard simulates transitions between pages showing how the user will move through the site and to make sure the pages flow logically. If the storyboard is approved, then the building of the site can begin.
The creative side is followed by the technical side. Web developers establish the tools and software required to produce and operate the Web environment. A variety of software is needed to construct the site. A simple site might incorporate easy-to-use software such as FrontPage or Dreamweaver. More complicated sites are likely to be built from scratch using HTML in conjunction with other computer programming languages, such as Java or Visual Basic.
The variety of programs and applications seems endless, but the Web developer needs to remain up-to-date on the latest versions of common publishing tools. They must understand which applications work best with a particular system, or which is more likely to produce the desired expectations of the Web site owner. They test applications and sites to make sure that users can navigate easily while getting their transactions completed securely. Good Web developers encourage feedback to make adjustments and improvements as needed.
Management skills are a third necessity for the Web developer. Although he or she might spend considerable time in front of a computer, the Web developer must interact with others in the company. This can include training people within that company to work with the system, or even selling company officials on the idea once it has been created. It can involve market research and consultations with management and various experts.
Sometimes the job requirements might extend to customer service. In these circumstances, developers must take feedback from Web site users, provide information, and update the site as needed. It is helpful to have some understanding of e-commerce to be better prepared for the business goals of a Web site and to understand the importance of solid customer relations.
Entry-level Web developers might be called upon to perform most or all the above duties. However, professionals that work for larger companies are more likely to have additional personnel who either assist with the duties or are assigned specific duties outright. In any case, each of these skill sets will be useful in succeeding as a Web developer.
Career Education in Web Development
Web development combines a large dose of creativity with a large background in technical knowledge. Although much of what one needs to know as a Web developer can be gathered in college classes, preparation in high school can help. Some high schools might be better equipped to handle the creative end than the technical end.
Consider some combination of computer science and graphic design classes. Courses in art, photography, desktop publishing and others that emphasize composition will be useful to anyone who wants to create imaginative and practical Web pages. Even schools that do not have strong computer science programs may have classes that allow students to develop their creative sides.
If computer science is an option for high school students, the more classes the better. Although computers and computers programs are constantly evolving, an understanding of the basics of computers will provide students with a solid foundation to adapt to whatever the computer world throws their way. Basic courses in physics or engineering are also helpful in developing an analytical attitude toward solving problems.
Is an Advanced Degree Needed to Work in Web Development?
In the early days of the World Wide Web, many professional Web developers landed jobs without much formal training. When skilled developers were scarce, companies turned to candidates who could demonstrate significant skill, even though they had not completed formal training. In today's more competitive employment landscape, companies prefer to recruit degree holders that can bring a broader personal perspective to their work.
A bachelor's degree should be sufficient to land employment as a Web developer. A person with a bachelor's degree in another field but a certificate or associate degree in Web development would also be an attractive candidate for the average employer. An advanced degree is not necessary, but some companies prefer an advanced degree for candidates who hope to move into management.
Most college programs will provide the student with a background in the basic operating systems, database languages, and applications that are most common in the industry. It is up to the student, however, to remain current in those technologies.
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Web Development?
Most larger firms prefer to hire job seekers with several years of experience in Web development. A college graduate might expect to move into a smaller company and perform a variety of Web development and design tasks. The good news is that even entry-level jobs pay above the national average for recent college grads. Early placement in smaller companies provides invaluable experience in learning new systems and dealing with people.
While there is still a demand for top Web developers, the field is a little more competitive than a few years ago, back before colleges began offering degrees or specialty programs in Web development. A graduate might expect to spend a few years as an "apprentice" with smaller companies before making a move to a larger company.
Meanwhile, students should try to gain every advantage they can. While in college, be sure to take advantage of internships or part-time jobs. Each computer system differs to some degree and provides the student another opportunity to learn. Even volunteering for nonprofit firms or developing Web sites on your own creates a chance to show potential employers your capabilities.
Employers in virtually all industries need Web developers. Every Web site needs a developer to maintain or improve it. Therefore, opportunities are plentiful, although not all staffers will have the title of "Web developer." People have applied different terms to the position and might even have mixed and matched some of the requirements. A person with a good grounding in the principles of Web development has the potential to succeed in a variety of areas.
Career Options for Aspiring Webmasters, Web Programmers, Interface Designers, and More
The positions described here require the basic skills used in Web development. Some might be more relevant to an entry-level graduate, and others might require additional training or a few more years of on-the-job training.
Web administrators are often part of an executive team that is responsible for the overall development, maintenance, and monitoring of an organization's Web site. This is usually a job reserved for larger companies. This position involves the oversight of other personnel who attend to the day-to-day functions of a site. While the position requires extensive knowledge of Web technology and systems, it also requires management and leadership qualities. It is typically a senior leadership position for a person with impressive industry credentials.
Web designers are concerned primarily with the look and practicality of a page. They are people who understand visual communication and can use Web applications to create pages that contain information as text and graphics. While anyone with a software program can put together a Web page, a true Web designer creates a useful, attractive and effective Web page. They must know how to blend hypertext with the conventions and etiquette of the Web.
As the title might imply, a webmaster is responsible for the content, quality, and style of a Web site. The position develops and enforces the house style and sees to it that the Web architecture supports easy navigation by Web browsers. They establish liaisons with graphic artists and often serve as mediators between page designers and the system administrator. They find, create, and install tools to create Web content and check for consistency.
They must also ensure that applicable Web standards are met, so that hypertext served from the Web site will look good on most browsers. Webmasters might create Web pages, especially for smaller organizations, so he or she should have the same basic skills and knowledge of a Web page designer. However, the emphasis of the job usually tends more toward the maintenance, augmentation, and improvement of existing pages.
Web programmers convert the storyboard for the site into hypertext markup language (HTML), the programming that makes a Web page magically change from code to a visual page. This also might involve inserting images and selecting styles. The programmer also tests the pages to ensure that the buttons and other features of a page work as they are supposed to work.
Web Application Developer
Web application developers are most typically called upon to develop a project based upon a specific Web application, such as creating an interactive feature for a site. The application developer might be responsible for estimating the resources and technology needed for the project as well as designing, developing, testing, and maintaining the application.
Web Interface Designer
A Web interface designer is responsible for designing the user interface for a company's e-commerce applications or its marketing Web sites. The interface is the contact between the potential and the company. It is important to design an interface that works well with most Web browsers and is easily understood by the average customer. This person works with other officials to determine company and customer needs then design an interface and strategy that are best able to achieve the goals.
Web publishers perform many of the same functions of a desktop publisher online. This person might be responsible for designing pages through software applications such as Dreamweaver or FrontPage and is often responsible for a site's content, as well. Most often, this is an entry-level position for someone looking to move into Web development. It is also a career transition possibility for working professionals in other fields with basic Web page skills. It does not often require as much in-depth knowledge of Web architecture.
Web Server Developer
A Web server developer is responsible for analyzing, developing, and maintaining the Web system architecture. The position is more involved with the technical aspects of the Web system than with the page development. Qualified professionals must research technologies and develop the applications that will provide maximum efficiency for an organization's needs. He or she must work with internal officials or external clients to understand the requirements and then translate those requirements into hardware that serves the purpose.
Web technologists assist in managing the Internet and intranet infrastructure. This means making sure the technology used is running properly, but it also means making sure the technology is current and appropriate for realizing the organization's goals. The technologist might be involved in evaluating promising technologies and getting a system ready to function in the production environment. The technologist might also have to work with other projects that interact with the Web.
Did You Know?
A recent study has determined that 77 percent of large firms (more than 100 employees) own Web sites.
Web Development Career Trends
Web developers, like most computer specialists, are scattered throughout every segment of the U.S. economic scene. However, the greatest concentration is in retail business, especially market segments that rely on a strong online presence. These businesses require a great expertise in designing pages that are easily navigable for the customer.
Also, as in other computer-based careers, the job market is growing faster than the national average and is expected to continue for the next several years. Computer skills remain among the better-paying positions, especially for recent graduates. Top Web developers, who combine creativity with technical know-how, can command salaries high above the average computer professional.
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