18 min read

The Role of a Web Developer

Tom Role of a Web Developer
Updated on 22 Sept 2022


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.

If you’re curious to learn more about the world of web design take a look at our article The Process Behind Building a Website to get into the real nitty gritty of website creation.

Types of Web Developers

In the simplest way it can be described, web developers use coding languages to build websites. These languages include HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Python — but we’ll learn more about them later.

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.

To carry out their jobs effectively and successfully, front-end developers must be adept at using, or even be fluent in, a number of the main programming languages including HTML, CSS, Javascript and React.

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.

Shape April 2022 HR 219

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.

Programming languages

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.


  • HTML: The most common and extensively used front-end language, HTML (short for Hyper Text Markup language), is the industry standard and the building block for creating websites, web pages, and web applications. HTML is the structure of the page and will consist of a series of different elements to show the intended architecture. Without it, the browser wouldn’t know how to display the content correctly. Along with the creation of content and layout of the webpage, HTML tags can also be used to add visuals onto a page for the benefit of the viewer e.g., imagery and graphics. An example of HTML would be <H> The Role of a Web Developer </H>. This lets the browser know that the text is the title and presents it as such.
  • CSS: Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS for short, is a popular design language used to control the look of a website. It sets the fonts, colours, background and even the layout of every page, making them presentable and in line with the web designer’s brief. It is used for stating how documents are offered to site users in terms of layout and style. A ‘document’ generally refers to a text file structure utilizing a markup language such as HTML. It is known for being low maintenance, and a real time saver, as CSS code, only has to be written once, and the same sheet can be used across multiple HTML pages. It’s notoriously easy to maintain, and developers can easily make sitewide changes, with all web pages being automatically updated.
  • Javascript: JavaScript is a text-based programming language used to manage the behaviour of a webpage. It’s primarily a front-end language, but in recent years has been utilised by back-end developers. As you can imagine it’s a real favourite in the full-stack world. Where HTML and CSS are languages that give structure and style to web pages, JavaScript gives web pages interactive elements that engage a user such as showing or hiding information, displaying animations, playing audio or video on a web page and much more. It is the most common coding language in use today around the world as most web browsers utilize it. It’s a great option for beginners and once you learn the basics you can practice and play with it almost straight away.
  • React: React is a JavaScript library that aims to simplify the development of visual interfaces. Libraries in programming languages are collections of prewritten code that users can use to optimize tasks. It was developed at Facebook and released in 2013, and it drives some of the most widely used apps, powering Facebook and Instagram among countless other applications. It is currently one of the most widely used JavaScript libraries in front-end development and is a great option for full-stack development. It allows web developers to simplify site functionality using small and isolated pieces of code called components. A React component can be anything in your web application like a button, search bar, or label. It is famously efficient and flexible, as it can be used on a vast variety of platforms to build quality user interfaces.
  • Vue: While technically not a language, Vue is the most versatile framework currently available for JavaScript. With Vue, you get more functionality and access to modern JavaScript techniques, and like any framework, it adds structure to your front end so that your website is more organised and is easier to extend as it grows. It's flexible, lightweight, and the easiest framework to understand for programmers and non-programmers alike. If a developer knows HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, then Vue is reasonably straightforward to pick up. While known as being beginner-friendly, it’s also a full, rich framework that will happily meet the needs of the most advanced web developer.


  • Python: Python is an object-oriented (based on data) programming language. It is considered a scripting language and is often used for building websites and creating dynamic web content, task automation, and data analysis. It’s a general-purpose language, meaning it can be used to create a variety of different programs and isn't specialised for any specific problems. It comes with several sophisticated libraries that contain a large quantity of pre-written code. As a result, engineers don't have to write code from scratch, which reduces development time. It also has an undeniably good reputation, as some of the biggest organisations in the world implement it in some form. NASA, Google, Netflix, Spotify, and countless more all use the language to help power their services.
  • Ruby: Ruby is a popular, general-purpose, back-end scripting language that supports procedural, functional, and object-oriented programming. A scripting language doesn’t talk directly to hardware, but instead is written to a text file, analysed by a (computer-based) interpreter, and turned into code. Ruby is especially good for building desktop applications, static websites, data processing services, and even automation tools. Like Python, one of its main advantages is time efficiency and it offers a variety of tools focused on increasing developer’s productivity that in turn speeds up the web development process. It’s widely used, and comparatively easy to learn, making it a good choice for beginners.
  • PHP: PHP is a well-known back-end programming language that was launched in 1997. It was among the first server-side languages that could be embedded into HTML, making it easier to add functionality to web pages without needing to call external files for data. As a veteran scripting language that is widely used, it now has a large and loyal community base to support it. There are endless free tutorials, FAQs, and tips online to help new PHP developers, and it’s open source (free) even when used commercially, making it easy to access and ultimately learn. One of the major benefits of PHP is that it is platform-independent, meaning it can be used on Mac OS, Windows, and Linux and supports most web browsers.
  • Java: Java is another advanced programming language heavily used for backend web development. It’s widely used for developing large-scale web applications along with the development of android applications, desktop applications, scientific applications, and more. It’s known as multi-threaded, meaning it can be helpful when you need to execute a program in less time by running different operations in parallel. Java is the language of choice in the machine learning industry and is already being used for everything from Netflix (for predicting what you'll watch next) to Alexa and Siri (for voice recognition).

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?

Daily Tasks of 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:

  • Discussing client’s requirements and proposed solutions
  • Collaborating with other colleagues, such as web designers, content creators, copywriters, and graphic designers.
  • Testing web applications and websites and troubleshooting any identified issues.
  • Modifying and updating websites according to a company or client’s specifications.
  • Writing and reviewing clean, maintainable code.
  • Integrating multimedia content onto a site
  • Implementing new designs
  • Conducting UI tests to optimise performance
  • Managing and uploading website content
  • Ensuring websites are user-friendly
  • Building the layout of websites, as well as frameworks used to deliver the content that will be displayed.

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.

Web Developer Career Path

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:

  • Apprentice/Junior: At this stage, you’re here to learn, and will spend most of your time learning from more senior members of the development team. Now’s the time to make like a sponge and soak up all of that juicy web dev knowledge!
  • Mid Weight Developer: You should be comfortable in your abilities at this point and confident taking on more challenging web builds. You’ll still collaborate with a team to ensure a successful result.
  • Senior Developer: Challenging web builds should now be a piece of cake, and you’ll often take on any overflow the lead developer may have while advising mid-weight and junior developers when required.
  • Lead Developer: You’ll now be expected to do everything a senior developer can do, and more. You’ll frequently liaise with the technical director and delegate any problems up or down the chain. You’ll help less experienced members of the team, and often lead morning standup — where colleagues will update on status reports of their work. At this stage, you should be comfortable with the full scop web architecture.
  • Technical Director/Head of Development: This is it, you made it, you’re king of the world! All technical decisions will now be run by you and you’re now in control of scheduling, forecasting, budgets, equipment, hiring and firing, salaries and more.

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.

Hello, I'm Natasia, and I'm a content writer for Shape.