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LKidKyle1985's avatar

Best path to Web Development?

Asked by LKidKyle1985 (6550 points ) April 21st, 2012

Hi fluther, was hoping you could give some advice. I’m interested in getting into web development, but I am not sure what the best path is for my situation.

I have a bachelors degree in Political Science, so fairly unrelated… And for the last couple of years since graduating I’ve worked at a bank. So, no real background in what I want to switch to.

My question is, whats the best way for me to jump tracks and get into web development? I’ve heard a lot of advice but everyone has a slightly different opinion. Some say if I just teach myself I should be able to find the work I want (but also the pay?) Others say if I want a steady career in it, getting a degree of some type (even an associate) is the way to go. And if I did go back to school, where would I go? The local community college? The expensive, but hands on University (Devry) or the traditional 4 year and my alumni (Ohio State).

My goal is to switch quickly (within a year or two) and increase my income of course.

One last thing, some of my friends who are into the networking side of tech say I shouldn’t waste my time on web development lol so if anyone has a good supporting our counter argument for that feel free to add it! Thanks everyone!

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8 Answers

gorillapaws's avatar

Coding CSS and HTML is pretty easy. You can buy a book and teach yourself over the weekend. The design aspects are much harder, require developing an “eye” for good design, good user interaction, information organization. If you’re interested in coding dynamic sites and web apps, you’re going to want to go in a more computer-science/software-engineering direction. The languages you’ll be using for that are javascript and others, with Python being an excellent choice to start with.

There are some great CS courses available for free from iTunes University, and teaching yourself is quite doable. I taught myself Objective-C and Cocoa programming over the past few years in my spare time which are used for creating Mac software (iPhone, iPad too, but that’s not really my thing). The biggest thing employers are looking for is competence. You could have a magna cum laude from Harvard, and write shit code and you’re not going to get a very good job, likewise if you could be self-taught, and have contributed to lots of open-source projects with an impressive portfolio of work, and you’ll be fighting off the job offers.

1 good coder can be worth more than an army of bad ones. The way to get good is to constantly be coding, constantly be teaching yourself new languages and techniques, exposing yourself to lots of different code, reading books, and producing code that gets used by others.

I know more about the programming side than I do the web design side. Those skills may simply be “talent based” or are teachable. I have no idea what the benefits are of self-teaching design vs. community college, vs. a Devry vs. a 4-year school.

tom_g's avatar

@LKidKyle1985: “some of my friends who are into the networking side of tech say I shouldn’t waste my time on web development”

In my experience, there is some tension/friction between software developers and network admins. This is a complete stereotype, but it goes like this: software developers/engineers are the intellectuals, network admin/hardware types are the blue collar auto mechanics of the 21st century. Network admins think software developers look down on network admins, and software developers don’t deny it.

Anyway, web development is a very broad description, but this isn’t going away. It appears that analysts are predicting some of the strongest growth in this area. So, you’re stuck trying to get in – and picking a focus/technology.

If you are interested in coding, you’ll find that you can teach yourself. But there is the question of how you’ll actually get a job without experience or a degree. Back in the day, the route was…

support -> development

You could take a job in support, gather the domain knowledge, then apply for an internal jr. development position because you had learned to code on your own and knew the domain and software. Then, once you were in you no longer had any problems getting another development job.

So, the short answer is…I don’t know what your best path is. But whatever it is, you should be able to code before you start looking for a job. Or maybe the support-to-development path is still there.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

@gorillapaws Those are some great points and that was my general feeling on the issue, thanks for confirming it. I think you also make a good point about writing code well. So if I do go back to school for it I don’t think I will be dropping a ton of cash on classes, just something to put on a resume and speed up my learning process.
@tom_g yeah I figured as much about the networking vs. developer stereotype, but I could never get my networking friends to fess up to that… haha

ETpro's avatar

Like @gorillapaws, I’m self taught. Like you, @LKidKyle1985 my major was far afield from Web Development; Chemistry, to be exact. Of course there was no WWW when I was in college, no Internet, and only a handful of mainframe computers in the nation. I learned a bit of COBOL on William & Mary’s mainframe.

I got into Web design in 1993, using NaviSoft to build a website for an electronics consulting firm I had founded in 1985. One by one, business friends found my site and asked me how I got it. Pretty soon, I was booking more work building websites for others than in electronics, as the offshoring of the US manufacturing base was in full swing at that point. So I started studying more, and practicing drawing with computer graphics editors.

In 1997, someone with a local small business contacted me, and wanted help setting up a Yahoo! Store. I went to work on that, and had to learn Yahoo’s proprietary RTML query language. I eventually did so many Yahoo! Store designs I was drafted into the company’s Small Business Partner network and am now a bona-fide Yahoo! Store Developer Network member.

To manage that, I need skills in HTML and XHTML, XML, CSS, Photoshop and image editing software, photography and lighting, RTML programming, JavaScript, WordPress, PHP, Perl and MySQL. You’re not really a Web Developer until you can comfortably use and industrial strength Text Editor to write valid XHTML and CSS code to XHTML 1.0 Strict specifications. You need to be able to spot garbage code at a glance, because since the Panda update, the Google bot can spot it and penalizes it.

What I know of each of the alphabet soup above I have learned by self study with some of it from books but much from Web based tutorials and just decompiling what I see on the Web that I think is cool. If you decide to take it up, I wish you the best. I find it a very rewarding mix of tech and art; and those are both passions with me.

gorillapaws's avatar

@LKidKyle1985 what area are you most interested in? Are you interested in the design aspects? or more interested in the nuts and bolts of programming, with less attention to aesthetics?

@tom_g “But there is the question of how you’ll actually get a job without experience or a degree”

From the self-taught programmers I know that managed to find work, many of them were contributors to open-source projects. This is a great way to perfect your skills, learn how to work as part of a programming team, build a portfolio for prospective employers to look at, all while making the world a better place by sharing your code and solving problems that other people have.

janbb's avatar

Mobile app development is what is hottest right now in the computer field. You might want to think about getting some training in that and the being a free-lance app developer for Apple or Android. If you do that for a while, you can parlay it into a paying job.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

@ETpro Thanks for the insight where you came from and how you got into web development, def very interesting.

@gorillapaws Good question, the design aspect interests me mostly because it seems easier and is a more attainable short term goal, however the nuts and bolts is where the interesting stuff actually happens and I’d say that is something I def want to get into.

ETpro's avatar

@LKidKyle1985 You’re welcome. And if those are your likes, I think you;ll find it a rewarding career.

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