In a digital world where e-commerce is king, and your online presence can make or break a business, having a slick, stylish and beautifully functional website should be at top of every entrepreneur’s wish list.
A well-designed website is essential for reaching a larger audience and generating (and retaining) a solid customer base.
Every website you visit, whether it’s a large-scale fashion site where you’re looking for that new hero piece or a small food blog that you love to check for any delicious-looking recipe ideas (that you know full well you’ll never attempt to make), will have been created by a web developer.
Recent research shows that global internet users now spend almost seven hours per day online, using the internet across a variety of devices, and developers are responsible for the creation and functionality of these platforms where we wile away so much of our time.
Web development is all about understanding and utilising the programming that makes it functional. A web developer works by building the usability, interactivity, and structure of the site, in line with the vision of a web designer, and the requirements of the site’s owner.
A web developer must understand the user’s needs, to ensure the internal structure of the site is used to make the experience as easy and enjoyable as possible for the user.
There are over 1.7 billion websites in the world, meaning competition is unbelievably fierce. If a user visits your website and it’s not functioning in the way they expect, or it’s just generally hard to use, they’re heading elsewhere, and you’ve just lost a customer — and potential revenue. On the flip side, there are over 4.7 billion global internet users — more than half the world’s population — so you do have a chance to redeem yourself.
When you realise that everything you use on the internet, from social media platforms, apps, online shopping sites, and even the simplest web pages, has been built – and is maintained by – a developer, you’ll get an understanding of quite how important they are in the current online-focused climate.
Coding is a bit of a buzzword these days, but do you know what it actually means? Coding refers to writing code for servers using programming languages. They’re referred to as languages because they include grammatical rules and vocabulary for communicating with computers. Pretty cool right?
They also include special commands, abbreviations, and punctuation that can only be read by devices and programs.
All software is written in at least one coding language, but languages vary based on platform, operating system, and style. Most languages fall into one of two categories: front-end and back-end, and along with full-stack, they make up the three different types of developers working in the industry today.
Back end, front end, and full stack web development are three separate career paths that require different skills and requirements. Let’s look at their key differences in a little more depth.
Everything you’re seeing on this website right now was made possible by one of our skilled front-end developers. A talented designer created the graphics and logo, a photographer took the pictures, and a content writer (that’s me!) wrote the text, but a front-end developer collected and assembled all of those pieces, translated them into the most suitable coding language, and built the experience (we hope) you’re enjoying with each page.
The front end of a website is the part that the user sees and interacts with, whether that’s while shopping, searching for information, or one of the many thousands of other ways we now use websites in our day-to-day lives.
Everything that you see when you’re navigating around the internet, from fonts, colour schemes and animation to dropdown menus, buttons and sliders, is a combination of programming languages being controlled by your computer’s browser. A front-end developer is responsible for all of these immediately visible features that are available to the user and will spend their time enhancing the site’s appearance, usability and functionality.
It is the front-end developer's job to listen to the vision and design concept from the client and implement it through code. They’re integral to the look and feel of the website, and a crucial aspect of creating a positive user experience. Be careful not to confuse front-end web development with web design, a different area entirely. Learn more here about The Role of a Web Designer.
Although Front-End Developers don’t design websites, they are the link between design and technology that can turn an idea into an interactive web page.
On top of all of this, they are responsible for ensuring that a website looks good on all devices e.g. phones, computer screens, and tablets — an important consideration when 90% of global internet users use a mobile device to explore online.
If you’re still confused, think of it like this — a front-end developer is in charge of the interior design and overall aesthetic of a house that’s been built —brick by brick — by a back-end developer. Office banter about which type of developer is supreme is common, but one cannot function successfully without the other.
Tom, a Web Developer in the MadeByShape studio
The back end of a website consists of a server, an application, and a database. A back-end developer builds and maintains the technology that powers these components which, together, enable the user-facing side of the website to exist and function.
Back-end development covers all server-side web application logic and integration, like writing APIs (application programming interfaces), creating libraries, and working with system components. They are responsible for building the code that allows a database and an application to communicate with one another.
Back-end developers essentially build and maintain everything that makes up a website that you can’t see. Think of it as a stage show. The front-end is the performers on stage, whereas behind the curtain you’ll find the back-end — the director, the set designer, the costume department etc. —the part of the production you’ll never see, but that makes everything you’re enjoying possible.
They’re the foundation builders of the website, and without their skills, the site will fail to meet its audience’s demand and interest — regardless of its appearance – destroying the point of having a website in the first place.
Back-end developers work with front-end developers to create solutions that offer enhanced user interaction and satisfaction and to ensure that all code is responsive and functional within the application design.
Regular testing to ensure everything is working correctly is another key task for any back-end developer, and they will also spend time creating access points for anyone else who may need to manage the site’s content. This can include other developers, designers, and the site's owner.
To make the server, application, and database communicate with each other successfully, back-end developers use server-side languages including Python, PHP, Ruby, Java, and .Net to build an application, and tools like MySQL and Oracle to find, save, or change data and serve it back to the user in front-end code.
Last but far, far from least are full-stack developers. Imagine a diagram of the duties that front-end developers handle and the duties that back-end developers handle. The duties of a full-stack developer would be the part where the two diagrams are combined.
Full-stack developers are proficient at working with the back end — or server side — of the application as well as the front end, or client side. They tend to have skills in a wide variety of coding niches, including everything from databases to UI/UX management, to do their job well. They must also have a full understanding of and fluency in all of the most-used front-end and back-end coding languages.
The word stack is referring to the range of different applications that are communicating with one another and all of the different programs that are working together to take a request from a user’s browser and all the APIs and servers and databases that are talking to one another to respond to that request. Full-stack developers are knowledgeable in the whole ‘stack’ —the entire process from start to finish — and how to make it all function effectively, while looking good in the process.
A full-stack developer will have a full understanding of how all of these separate pieces work together, and they will essentially create the communication that exists between those two sides to ensure a website works as it should. In short, they will know how each layer of the ‘stack’ functions, and most importantly be able to manipulate any component to ensure the desired result.
Since their primary responsibility is to develop complex software applications from scratch, they must know how to structure the code, categorize the files, structure the data in databases, and perform the necessary tasks to achieve the desired result regarding functionality and appearance. They’re the wizards of web development and are fully immersed in the real heart of web architecture.
None of the online-based experiences that we enjoy, from ordering an uber, spending an inordinate amount of money on Amazon, to ordering your favourite takeaway on Deliveroo, would be possible without programming languages.
These languages are so important because they define the grammar, relationship, and semantics that allow developers to effectively communicate with machines.
Budding developers may wonder which programming language is best to learn, but unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple. There is no ‘best’ programming language, as it will all depend on the task at hand. Not all programming languages are designed the same and that’s why they are not equally good for everything.
But all is not lost. Depending on the job role, be it front-end, back-end, or full-stack development, there are a handful of universally used and respected languages and libraries that you can expect to utilise.
Now grab yourself a coffee (or two), because we’re about to take a deep dive into the world of programming languages.
While an average developer doesn’t need to know how to use all the above, typically an understanding of one front-end language, one back-end language, and one database management system will set them in good stead. The programming languages used for a specific website or application will change from sector to sector, and project to project.
The programming language landscape is constantly changing, and while having a solid knowledge of the main players is advisable, any developer worth their salt will also keep an eye on any new languages being introduced. A knowledgeable and adaptable developer will be most sought after in the job market.
It sounds incredibly daunting doesn’t it, but it needn’t be, and a significant number of successful developers are self-taught and learnt how to code using online tutorials and boot camps, never stepping foot in a traditional classroom.
To learn more read our article What qualifications do you need to be a web developer?
A role in web development can look vastly different depending on your work situation, as you may work for a large company or agency, a small start-up, or even as a freelancer taking on specific projects for individual clients.
It’s worth noting that typical day-to-day tasks will differ depending on if you’re a front-end, back-end, or a full-stack developer.
While we know no two web developers’ days will be the same, typical responsibilities may include:
While schedules and deadlines will apply to designated projects, a large part of a web developer’s job will be tackling and fixing any problems as they arise. A love of problem-solving, a keen eye for detail and natural agility for jumping between tasks is a real bonus for anyone hoping to excel in this industry.
The UK is Europe’s leading destination for starting and growing digital businesses, and new data shows the UK has overtaken China for investment in tech start-ups.
We are already home to a huge number of tech businesses, and have more tech ’unicorns’ (start-up businesses valued at $1 billion or more) than any other European country.
The demand for people with high-level digital skills is greater than the supply of suitably qualified employees, and the gap is growing. The World Economic Forum, in their Future of Jobs report, estimates that between 2018-2023 emerging technologies will generate 133 million new jobs.
With developer roles ranking as the third most in-demand profession in the tech world, it is one of the most attractive areas for anyone looking to launch their career in a burgeoning industry.
If you find yourself in the web development industry, typical career progression will look something like the below:
Now not all progression will be as linear, it’s an industry with many opportunities for diversification…but you get the idea.
Salary-wise, the area is nothing to be scoffed at. Entry-level positions typically start at £30,000 per year - well above the national average. Mid-level roles can expect to take home around £40,000 per year, experienced lead developers can make upwards of £55,000 per year, and Technical Directors can expect to earn over £75,000 a year.
Taking on a role as a web developer is no doubt an attractive prospect for many. It’s without question an exciting, future-proof industry and no two days on the job are the same.