Main image of article Web Development Degree: Do You Need One?

The software development world is divisible into multiple subcategories. Web development is one of the most popular, and it requires a particular set of skills to do effectively, including extensive knowledge of front-end and back-end development. Which skills do you need, and should you think about acquiring a degree in web development in order to land a job?

What is web development?

Web development includes building and maintaining code for the front end (i.e., the browser and anything else the end-user sees) as well as the back end (i.e., the servers that power the web experience). The browser includes an entire software development platform within which software can run; such software is written in JavaScript and requires full programming skills.

The back end is typically a server running its own software that communicates with the front-end infrastructure. With a bank website, for instance, the browser will let you perform a search of your transactions; the browser will send the search request to the back-end server. That server, in turn, will likely look up matching data in a database that’s running on yet another machine, and send that information back to the browser.

The web developer creates the software that runs in the browser, the back end, and possibly even the database.

What skills do you need for web development?

Although a web application might feel like a single program, in reality it features multiple programs all working together.

Developing in the front end requires skills such as:

  • HTML/CSS: This is the language used for describing the design, which refers to the layout and overall appearance of the application, such as fonts, colors, spacing, and so on.
  • JavaScript: This is the native language the browser understands.
  • TypeScript: JavaScript isn’t the easiest language to program in; in response to demand for something a bit easier that’s compatible with JavaScript, Microsoft has created a language called TypeScript. TypeScript code is then converted to JavaScript, which ultimately runs in the browser.
  • Frameworks such as React, Angular, and Vue: Although the browser includes all the features necessary to create entire user interfaces, doing so can be cumbersome. Frameworks simplify this process by handling the hard work, allowing you to write less code.
  • A strong understanding of usability: Applications running in the browser need to be easy to use, make sense to the user, and have some level of intuitiveness to them.

Although a “full stack” approach to software development puts a lot of focus on the front end and back end, there’s a “third tier”: the database. Most web developers handle this part, as well. As such, a web developer must be proficient in various database technologies including:

  • SQL: This is a language for manipulating large amounts of data by making connections between them. For example, a database might hold information (called a table) about users, and then in a separate table information about orders. Each order would be related to a specific order. SQL simplifies the process of reading and writing this kind of data.
  • Relational database servers: This is the software that runs the SQL language and stores the data. The big names in this arena are SQL Server, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Oracle Database.
  • Non-relational or “NoSQL” databases: This is another type of database that doesn’t use SQL and instead relies on alternative ways to store data. MongoDB is by far the most common one, at least right now. Other possibilities are CouchDB, and AWS’s DynamoDB.

The above skills relate specifically to the front end, back end, and database. But there are other skills you’ll need to learn, including:

  • Git/GitHub: This software enables version control, which keeps track of what changes you’ve created in your software. GitHub is a hosted form of Git whereby you can then collaborate with other members of your software development team.
  • Cloud Development: This is a massive topic, so let’s be a bit more specific. Typically, the back-end of your application will run on a server hosted in the cloud. One way is where you create a virtual server that looks and feels like a regular PC. This technology is usually known simply as “compute.” Another is “serverless,” whereby you don’t allocate a virtual server, and instead rely on existing servers in the cloud. Your code runs briefly on available resources and stops when it’s finished, only to restart when it’s needed again.
  • Containers: This is like a “mini virtual server” that packages your software and an operating system together, allowing for a cloud server to quickly spin up your app with minimal resources.
  • Testing: Every line of your code needs to be thoroughly tested before it goes live. There are many tools for testing your software, depending on the language you choose.

Finally, vital to web development, and nearly every career on the planet, are “soft skills.” These are non-technical skills. There are many, but communication and teamwork are probably the most important.

What kinds of degrees are available for web development?

The most common program for web development is computer science; from there you can get a bachelor’s, master’s, and even a Ph.D. Most likely you would want to start with a bachelors and wait until you have experience before getting a master’s. Master’s degrees tend to be highly specific, and there are relatively limited cases where it will give you an edge in terms of securing a job.

A computer science degree will teach you the foundations of software development, regardless of specialization. You’ll learn topics like the basics of programming, algorithms, data structures, database design, computer architecture, and higher-level aspects of software engineering. Additionally, most computer science programs also include web development, with both back-end and front-end components. You’ll also learn several programming languages.

For the most part, a typical bachelor’s degree in computer science is a well-rounded program that will get your foot in the door for any specialization, including web development.

Do you need a degree for a web development job?

The short answer is “no.” Given the demand for tech professionals (and the historically low tech unemployment rate), more organizations than ever are willing to overlook the lack of a degree if you can prove you have the technical chops to do the job. Just make sure your resume, application materials, and potential job interview answers all put your skills in the best possible light.

If you don’t want to get a degree, there are other options for getting your foot in the door with web development. Many companies want to see that you know the skills, regardless of whether you have a degree. Here are some options:

Self-taught. Many people have been successful with this approach: Google, read blogs and articles, watch YouTube videos, and read official documentation for the topic you’re learning. The catch is you’ll need to make sure you cover all the above skills, or find a coach who can guide you. It’s incredibly easy to become isolated and not even know you’re skipping important topics. So be vigilant on discovering what topics are important.

Bootcamps: Bootcamps have become popular over the past decade. These are programs that are typically three to six months and teach you specifically the skills you need, without the extracurricular courses a university requires, such as world history and such. With the rising cost of higher education, often resulting in massive student loans, bootcamps have become a good option for people who want to minimize their debt. The catch is bootcamps are intense. They move quickly and you need to keep up. But many people like this because they finish the program in a fraction of the time of a bachelor’s program.

Self-directed university courses: Some universities let you take the regular degree courses without working towards a degree. Many have strict entry requirements; for example, some require that you live in the same state as the university, and even then it’s often up to the whims of the professors on whether to allow you into the course. Nevertheless, this is an option, and it can even go along with the self-taught approach—Coursera has a selection of university-powered courses you can take in a number of tech disciplines including web development, often on your own time.

Regardless of your approach to learning the material, perhaps the most important pro tip is to practice, practice, practice. Work on your web development every day. Try to learn something new every day. As each day passes, you will improve as you master the skills needed to enter this exciting career.