5 essential skills every web developer should have

Web development continues to be one of the hottest industries around, and it’s not about to change anytime soon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of web developers is projected to grow 27 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

With that in mind, we thought we’d put together a list of essential skills that every web developer should have. Knowing what to improve is the starting point to achieving greatness, so we hope you find some useful information in this post.

Let’s go!

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1. Constantly learning and improving

In a fast moving industry like ours, staying on top of your game means you never stop learning. Technologies change just as fast as trends, and what’s common practise now might already be outdated in a few years. If you want to become a great web developer, you have to stay ahead of the curve. That means learning about new technologies and programming languages and also keeping an eye on what customers want (and need) in order to stay satisfied.

In a recent survey of over 2,000 Java developers, 53% admitted to being “technology sheep” that only adapt new things once they have been accepted by the industry as standard. 44% described themselves as “early adopters” that already upgrade OSX versions before they are stable. It’s pretty clear which fraction is more likely to stay ahead of their competitors. And it’s not the 3% of so-called “immutables” that consider all change bad and “don’t have time for change” because they are “too busy doing real work”.

Another reason to keep learning is to stay ahead of your user base. Or, as author Rick Cook puts it: “Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the universe is winning.”

2. Keeping up to date with the industry

To stay up to date with the industry, a great idea is to follow blogs like Smashing Magazine, Sitepoint, Hacker News and of course our very own blog (although it looks like you’re doing alright there already). Visiting expos and conferences is also a great idea since you can network and walk away with many new ideas and insights. A good personal goal would be to visit at least one tech conference each year to keep things fresh and step out of your daily routine. If you need some help deciding which shows to visit this year, check out our post about 16 conferences in 2017 that no developer wants to miss.

3. Being able to manage time and prioritize

Working in web development can be extremely stressful and chaotic at times. Projects keep stacking up and deadlines are always just around the corner. To stay efficient (and sane), it’s vital to manage your time as best as possible. This is something that many developers struggle with, simply because they never took a step back to improve their time management skills. Here are some quick actionable tips on how you can become more organized and avoid deadlines creeping up on you:

  • Make a to-do list and prioritize to put the most urgent and important tasks on top. Sometimes, the other stuff will just have to wait.
  • Check your list first thing every morning and make a quick plan for the day. Even though things won’t always go according to that plan, you will becoming much more efficient by having it in the first place.
  • Set reminders for important tasks and project steps that you want to get finished at certain times during the day or week. Ignore everything else if needed to make sure you meet your own mini deadlines.
  • Use the 80/20 rule and try to find daily activities that eat away too much of your time without producing enough results. You might be surprised at how much time you’re spending every day doing things that take way too long for what you get out in return.
  • Communicate with your boss or clients as soon as possible if you feel like you won’t make a deadline. It’s not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world either. The sooner you let them know about it, the sooner they can prepare.

“La Forge: I told the Captain I would have this diagnostic done in an hour.

Scotty: And how long will it really take you?

La Forge: An hour!

Scotty: Oh, you didn’t tell him how long it would really take, did you?

La Forge: Of course I did.

Scotty: Oh, laddie, you have a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.”

Relics (Star Trek), Commander La Forge and Captain Montgomery Scott

4. Understanding UX

One attribute of any truly great developer is that they not only have an excellent grasp of the technical side of their business, but also of the design and client-oriented aspect. To develop great apps and software, you have to understand how your clients and customers will use the end product. Swiss computer scientist and programmer Niklaus Wirth put it this way: “Clearly, programming courses should teach methods of design and construction, and the selected examples should be such that a gradual development can be nicely demonstrated.”

Before you start working on a new project, take the time and really think about the design and how it will be used by consumers. Through this step you will often develop ideas that can significantly improve the product design itself.

Another important point is to stay up to date with design trends. The best way to do this is to spend some time every day reading articles on one of the countless amazing web design blogs out there. If you can’t find the time and just want a quick overview of what’s going on right now, just check out our top 10 web design trends for 2017.

5. Communicating well with others

Communication is important in every job, and perhaps even more so in web development. The needs of designers, developers, clients and customers have to be perfectly aligned in order to create an outstanding product. This means that communication is a big part of every web developer’s job and should always be treated with a high sense of priority.

Amplifying the need for good communication skills is the fact that coding is something that is very hard to grasp for non-developers. You have to be able to make other people understand technical problems, which is something that can be pretty tough. As a way of improving your communication skills, a great idea is to have regular talks with people you know outside of the office and try to make them understand what you’re working on. Yes, chances are they will be bored, but that’s also the challenge here: if you can tell your friends about your new project without putting them to sleep, you can do the same with your next potential client. And you will greatly increase communication with your boss and your design team as well.

It really doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working as a web developer, there is always room for improvement. Sometimes all you need is some motivation to look at what you’re doing and make up your mind to improve something, and you can reap big benefits down the line. We hope you were able to get some inspiration from this post and that it helps you become a better developer.

Can you think of any essential skills for web developers that are missing in this list? Let us know in the comments!

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