So you’re thinking about entering the wild world of web development? Congratulations! It’s a great time to get started, even if you don’t come from a computer science background. After I interviewed several web developers, I realized I kept hearing similar things from each of them. Some of their statements confirmed my suspicions about what this industry is all about, and some of them surprised me a little, which is why I’m presenting this list as the “not-so-hidden secrets” about working in web development.
1. Titles don’t matter.
Every web developer I spoke with told me the same thing—no one has an official title. Titles just aren’t that important in their departments or even their companies.
What this means for you is that when you’re looking for a job, you don’t really need to look for any fancy-pants titles. Just stick to simple things like “web developer” and you’ll be golden.
This also means that the structure of many engineering or web development teams is relatively flat. Just remember, as Micah Jaffe, CTO of FairLoan Financial, reminds us in his interview, a flat structure doesn’t mean you can dispense with respect and courtesy to your coworkers.
2. Degrees don’t matter, either.
Sure, if you majored in computer science and got some impressive skillz as a result, that’s super. But if you have the determination and the stick-to-itiveness to teach yourself how to code, that’s more important than any degree.
Mike Feineman, lead developer at social media agency Room 214 says, “Self-taught programmers have a better drive, and are passionate learners. In other words, exactly the kind of people I want on my team.” So go out there and get coding!
3. You shouldn’t spend too much time on your cover letter, because it will probably just be ignored anyway.
Yep, it’s fair to say that a lot of the traditional wisdom about jobs (spending tons of time crafting a perfect cover letter, yada yada…) just doesn’t apply for developers. People who review applications for developers told me that they would only briefly glance at a cover letter, if at all. If you’d like to hear more about what those recruiters had to say, check out my interviews with a lead developer and CTO.
So what does matter when you’re applying for a dev job? Your work! Be prepared to show off the projects that you’ve taken on (also, be sure to get involved in lots of awesome projects). Link to your GitHub account, your personal website, and any other live examples of your work. This is worlds more important than anything you can explain in a few paragraphs.
When you’re just getting started, follow Jennifer Gilbert’s advice to find an organization (like maybe a non-profit whose mission is important to you) and offer to help them out for free. You’ll get experience and something to put on your résumé, and they’ll get an awesome new website. Everybody wins! To hear more from Jennifer (who taught herself to code and made the switch from editor to software engineer), read our interview with her here.
4. You need to love building things, and be okay with them falling apart.
Part of the fun of being a developer is that you get to create something. But an important part of the creative process is learning how to build things more efficiently, which means sometimes you make mistakes and things fall apart. That’s going to happen from time to time, so just make sure that you’re okay with it.
Sam Nichols, a mobile developer at SmugMug, puts it this way: “Build a table, build a computer, build a water gun, build a beer bong, build things that will take a week and build things that need to be done in 40 minutes before the party. Making stuff is what this field is all about and getting experience building things, especially with others, especially when it breaks and fails along the way can help with perspective and resiliency.” You can train yourself by building actual physical things, by building websites, or both. Just don’t let the fear of failure hold you back.
5. If you’re a woman, it might kind of suck sometimes. But you should stick with it!
In the LinkedIn article “Women In Tech Face Many Challenges – But There Is Hope,” Vivek Wadwha looks into the numbers of why women are underrepresented in this industry. Also, check out this VentureBeat article “Let’s talk about ‘women in tech’: Silicon Valley still has a gender problem” to find out what it’s like for some women who work as developers in Silicon Valley. Yeah, some of them had bad experiences with macho culture and not gaining respect from their coworkers, but they’re passionate about their jobs, excited about tech, and ready to make a change. Why not be a part of that change yourself?
Homework time! Identify five to ten organizations whose websites you think could use a little spiffing up. Send them an email and see if they’d be willing to let you build them something pretty.
P.S. Have you discovered any other secrets—hidden or not so hidden—about the world of web development? What would you add to our list?