Full Steam Ahead: Back on the Web Developer Path – Part 1

Tales of a Web Designer-Developer and Graphic Artist

Black train with smoke coming out of smokestack and steam from the sides.

I’m back on the web dev path – with a renewed sense of direction and inspiration.

This may seem strange to say considering that I’ve been employed full-time as a junior and now “regular” web developer for almost a year now with a local SEO/Digital Marketing company. But it’s like my eyes were finally opened and I’d like to share what helped me have such an epiphany and what I see for myself going forward.

First though, let’s go back in time and set the scene.

The Confusion

When I first started (restarted) my web design/development path back in fall of 2015, I encountered a vagueness about terms like, “front-end”, “back-end”, “web designer”, “web developer” and the like. Eventually front vs. back end became pretty clear, but there was still this misunderstanding on my part about what the difference between a web developer and web designer – or even what being a “front-end web developer” really entailed.

Time passed, and then at some point, I thought I had a decent  understanding of what a web developer was.  So eventually when I got pretty good at building websites and started looking for a job in the web field, I avoided searching for terms that included “developer” – since I didn’t consider myself that. In my mind development equaled programmer and building more than just simple websites with my HTML, CSS, and elementary jQuery/Javascript skills (besides graphic design/layout skills).

Yet, I still had trouble finding anything that I qualified for (in my mind) because they all required knowledge of technologies and languages that I had little to no experience with (e.g. React, Angular, Git, Java) – or they required years of experience with stuff I did know.

Turns out, part of my problem was looking in the wrong place (Craigslist) and not understanding what types of jobs there were out there for a guy like me. Another part of the problem is that the course I was enrolled with at Portland Community College (PCC) didn’t really discuss what sort of career paths I could focus on, and I think it was really geared towards becoming a freelancer (which is fine) or the thought that I would need to get a 4-year degree in computer science in order to be employed as a “developer”. 

Eventually I decided to look for something on Indeed, and found the awesome job that I’m currently at. I actually had the skills it required and was fortunate enough to get what I consider my “dream-job” designing and building websites.

Big Lesson Learned:  Avoid Craigslist – check Indeed instead. 

The Epiphany / The Revelation

A couple weeks ago, a co-worker unintentionally inspired me to start listening to some podcasts. I stumbled across the ShopTalk Show with Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert. I fell in love with it instantly. Sure a lot of the terminology and concepts flew right over my head, but I soon began to see the outline of the larger web development world. (I also started building a list of terms to research/topics to learn about.)

In particular there was a series of episodes entitled “How to Think Like a Front End Developer with…” that taught me that the confusion I had, wasn’t wrong. “Web Developer” was and is a term that can vary in meaning and cause a sense of frustration. 

But the big moment was in hearing about an article that Chris Coyier wrote following that series called “The Great Divide”. I read it immediately after hearing about it in one of the podcasts and then I finally understood. 

As Chris put it, JAVASCRIPT DUN GOT BIG.

Besides finally learning what these “jargon” like Node, React, Vue, NPM, etc. stood for during my daily podcast listens, this article helped me to see that Web Development is greatly centered around JavaScript and related technologies. Well, at least it’s a huge part of it nowadays. My classes at PCC didn’t emphasize this…I think that was something that could’ve really been improved (too late now, they’re shutting down the whole Computer Application Systems (CAS) program Web Dev & Design included). Maybe this should have just been something I should have taken more initiative to figure out on my own? Yeah. For sure. But it would’ve been great if it came up in the required class discussions.

Moving on…

I also learned:

  • There are basically two sides of the front-end developer coin:
    1. HTML/CSS + UX/UI + Accessibility + Graphic Design + Speed Optimization, + etc.
    2. JavaScript Developers – making websites and apps that use it heavily. This involves knowing and using various JS libraries and frameworks. It involves really knowing how to program in JavaScript.

Okay, I lied. There’s probably a bunch of other coins and sides of each coin – for example: WordPress developers who actually write complete themes and plugins. I’d probably group them along with number 2 (above) though.

So…

What Took You So Long?

Well, “duh”, you might say. Sure, I could’ve learned this much earlier by going to a meetup, or just taking more of an interest/initiative in discovering the cause of my confusion and just learning more on my own. I kind of touched on that earlier.

But with being a dad, working full time, dealing with LIFE etc. the time and motivation just wasn’t there – (plus I thought I already kinda knew). I was just taking a class or two at a time and trying to slowly pursue this goal of being a web developer. But now with these amazing, inspiring podcasts – well, I could listen and learn while driving to the grocery store, while doing the dishes, etc.

I had done the very same thing in learning Spanish, and while (currently) learning Japanese, of course I could do the same and learn more about the Web Development World!

With that, let me end this (Part 1) with just a big THANK YOU to podcasts in general and to the ShopTalk show specifically, and in Part 2 I’ll continue with what this all means for me going forward.

Until next time,

Uri