There is one golden rule to finding a career in web development: get experience.
Web development can be a rewarding career choice, although getting your foot in the door is not always easy, especially in the current climate. As a result of the weakened economy, it could be said that less opportunities have been available to people hoping to get into web development. Companies now require personnel that can hit the ground running, and that are well seasoned with web technologies, even for a junior role.
So, just how do you get the experience, if you don't have experience?
Once you’re comfortable with this, then start to experiment with the hardcore stuff – server side languages. Choose a language and learn the basics, don’t be afraid to try more than one – as you may find you like one better than another. Money is often a factor when starting out, which I believe is partially why people choose to go down the PHP route, being an open source technology. You can setup a web server on your own computer, utilising server side programming and databases without spending a single penny.
Learning about the web is not a quick process, as there really is just so much to learn. You will get as much out of it as you put into it. You may work at a fish and chip shop during the day, but in the evening / weekends, this is your learning time. There are so many free resources online that you really have no excuse.
A word of warning: self teaching is fantastic (I am a self taught web developer), but be careful as it is not hard to teach yourself bad practices. For this reason, it’s really useful if you do placements or are in reach of academics which may be able to guide you down the correct path. This point may become clearer when you find that your website has been hacked by the Iranian cyber army.
Build up your portfolio.
Fictional projects are a start, but you cannot beat experience on a real website with real clients. Do you have an uncle that runs a business, but has a crappy website – or worse doesn't have one at all? There's your opportunity. Find a local charity and offer to build them a free website. There are opportunities all around you, you just need to be proactive to find them.
At the age of sixteen, I approached a niche music fan site (which had a terrible website) and said I would rebuild their website from scratch for free in return for PPC advertising space – they agreed and I’ve been getting paid ever since. Just be creative, no one said you can’t get paid in the process.
If you do a good job, expect word to spread and clients will come to you. This is the ideal time to start charging.
Get a work placement.
If you do a degree which has the option of a sandwich year – take it. This could well be the key to you finding a job once you finish university. Generally, during this period, you will be expected to work for peanuts. During my placement, I earnt £12,000 – not a great deal of money, but at the time I had restrictions to a specific location so I was quite happy just to get a placement at all. This was also at the peak of the credit crunch, so placements weren't exactly in abundance.
I must stress that if you are going to work for peanuts, you better make the most of it – ask questions and take every opportunity you get to gain knowledge. Work your back side off because the glowing reference they will give you at the end of it will hopefully set you up for the start of a successful career in web development.
If you aren't doing a degree, you may find it harder to get longer placements (such as a full year), but it is important that you do some form of internship. Not only to gain valuable insight as to how digital agencies work, but to also build contacts. If you impress with your work ethic, who knows, you might be lucky enough to land a job through your placement alone.
<ol start="4"> <li> <p align="LEFT"> <strong>Become a web developer in mind and in spirit</strong>. </p><figure id="attachment_45" style="width: 395px" class="wp-caption aligncenter"> <img class="size-full wp-image-45" title="Typical web developer" src="/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/web-developer.jpg" alt="Typical web developer" width="395" height="304" srcset="/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/web-developer.jpg 395w, /wp-content/uploads/2011/10/web-developer-300x230.jpg 300w" sizes="(max-width: 395px) 100vw, 395px" /><figcaption class="wp-caption-text">A typical web developer. On a good day.</figcaption></figure> <p align="LEFT"> No, I'm not some kind of hippie, but if you are going to make it in web development, I genuinely believe you have to have a passion for it. So, get involved. Start reading blogs, join online discussions, <a title="You'll need this." href="http://stackoverflow.com/">answer questions</a> and just generally become a part of it. When I started my placement, it didn't really feel like a “job” as I enjoyed web development so much. Perhaps you have to work in an awful job first to truly appreciate this feeling. </p> </li> <li> <p align="LEFT"> <strong>Go the extra mile.</strong> </p><figure id="attachment_46" style="width: 425px" class="wp-caption aligncenter"> <img class="size-full wp-image-46" title="Web developer bootcamp" src="/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/extra-mile.jpg" alt="Web developer bootcamp" width="425" height="282" srcset="/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/extra-mile.jpg 425w, /wp-content/uploads/2011/10/extra-mile-300x199.jpg 300w" sizes="(max-width: 425px) 100vw, 425px" /><figcaption class="wp-caption-text">“YOU CALL THAT A WEBSITE, PRIVATE?! MY GREAT GRANDMA COULD MAKE A BETTER WEBSITE, AND SHE'S 102, AND SHE'S GOT NO ARMS AFTER THAT TRAMPOLINING ACCIDENT IN '78!! GET DOWN AND GIVE ME FIFTY!!!”</figcaption></figure> <p align="LEFT"> You have to understand it from the perspective of an employer. What value can you give them? We've got someone here that has minimal experience, expects a job but what will we get in return for their salary? Perhaps you can offer something that the rest of the developers don't have. </p> <p> May be you've developed a prototype widget/game using HTML5/CSS3, or you've tinkered around with some mobile technology. Doing something like this will not only demonstrate that you have the desire to learn and keep ahead of the competition, but that you may actually have a skill that is immediately desirable by the hiring party. </p> <p> If you're doing a degree/diploma, do the <em>very best </em>that you can. The efforts demonstrated in your academic life may suggest how far your efforts will go in your working life (rightly or wrongly).</li> </ol> <p align="LEFT"> In theory, by following the above principles, you should be well onto achieving your first full web development role. Although don't forget, there is nothing to hold you back from becoming a freelancer, and being self employed may even suit your circumstances better. </p> <p> <strong>Resources</strong> </p> <ul> <li> <a href="http://www.eatsleepsearch.com/2011/07/17/how-to-land-a-graduate-job-in-seo/">How to land a graduate job in SEO & Digital Marketing</a> - A great article for an industry not too far from this one. </li> <li> <a title="Salary Calculator" href="http://www.mysalarycalculator.co.uk">My Salary Calculator</a> - Be sure you understand how much your salary is worth after tax has been taken off. </li> </ul>