Web development is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., fueled by the popularity of social media and the growing importance of website design and accessibility to businesses in all sectors. According to Data USA, American companies and organizations currently employ over 170,000 web developers. Professionals with web development degrees and certificates enjoy ample career opportunities with design firms, higher education institutions, advertising companies, and human resource services.
Students who want to pursue web developer careers should begin the research and planning process well before graduation. Colleges and universities operate career centers that help learners find internships and jobs. Counselors also help candidates craft engaging resumes/CVs and practice for interviews.
This guide provides extensive information on academic degree levels and program types within web development. Students gain insight on a variety of web developer careers, including projected growth, entry requirements, and occupational factors like location and industry. The guide ends with a list of professional resources.
Skills Gained in a Web Development Program
Students enroll in web development programs to gain core skills like object-oriented programming, database design, and digital analytics. By engaging in academic training, candidates also learn to think critically, communicate effectively, and work collaboratively in diverse teams. These transferable soft skills not only help candidates with job entry but also assist them in making future career changes. On top of college degrees, web developers routinely earn general and vendor-specific certificates to demonstrate skill expertise and experience.
- Technical Communication
- Web developers excel in explaining difficult concepts and complex methods to nonexpert audiences. As a cornerstone of their academic preparation, students cultivate technical communication skills for oral, written, and online forms. They learn to create reader-centered documents by applying audience analysis and usability-testing practices. Candidates also examine the visual aspects of communication with respect to formatting and visually appealing design.
- Computer Programming
- Because web developer careers center on coding, scripting, and network configuration, students must gain strong computer programming skills. Through classroom discussion and laboratory training, candidates learn about basic data types, program style and formatting, and self-documenting code. They apply accumulated skills to design and implement programming solutions, like statements and control structures.
- Website Design and Development
- Through multiple course levels, students learn the primary ideology, software tools, and techniques used in modern web creation. Candidates develop skills in basic website design using HTML and CSS. They plan websites by using a wireframe and factoring in accessibility principles and user experience. Students also learn to enhance websites by incorporating text formatting, colors, images, graphics, and multimedia.
- Another fundamental topic for web developers, cybersecurity entails the protection of personal computers, websites, and networks using firewalls and account controls. Students learn to identify potential security risks and develop strategies to combat those risks. They also implement file-backup techniques and write detailed incident response reports. Advanced topics include wireless network security, cloud security, and ethical hacking.
- Project Management
- Web development students work through the entire project cycle. They learn to gather requirements by speaking with clients to determine the use/purpose of the website and their computing environment. Learners delve into project planning, using wireframe architecture to establish website design and layout, followed by development and testing. Project management also covers product launch. This is a key skill for all web developers, especially professionals who want to occupy senior leadership and freelance positions.
Why Pursue a Career in Web Development?
The evolution of global digital technology (particularly mobile devices) helps drive web development; companies increasingly need sites that fit different screen sizes, support various operating systems, and engage diverse audiences. E-commerce also contributes to the growth of web developer careers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, online retail purchases increased by 14.4% between 2015 and 2016. This number translates to a revenue growth of nearly $49 billion.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 15% occupational expansion for web developers from 2016 to 2026, which will add approximately 24,400 jobs. This increase surpasses the projected growth of general computer careers by 2% and all other occupations by 8%. Within the web development industry, you can work as a front-end developer, focusing on site design and layout as well as user applications (like a retail checkout tool). Alternatively, you may pursue a career in back-end construction, which concerns coding, writing markup, and other technical aspects.
By earning a relevant college degree, you are also prepared to work as a UX designer, SEO specialist, web content manager, or a video game developer. The multiplicity of web developer careers means that you need to gain specialized skills if you want to advance. For example, through the Google Developer Certification programs, you can gain credentials in areas like mobile web development and cloud engineering.
Cody Swann founded Gunner Technology in 2010 as a single-man operation. In less than a decade, the U.S.-based company has grown into one of the nation's highest-rated software development firms based on revenue per employee. As CEO, Cody prefers to operate "from the trenches," often serving as project manager or developer on some of Gunner Technology's many projects.
Cody has developed software for established companies including Disney, Major League Baseball, ABC, and BuzzMedia and has partnered with entrepreneurs to launch innovative projects. Before founding Gunner Technology, he worked as a manager and developer for ESPN, where he led the development of ESPN's Sports Scoreboard and GameCasts and oversaw all aspects of MyESPN, ESPN's social network, and ESPN Fan Profiles.
- What kind of work do most web development graduates do?
It greatly depends on where they are hired and what their skill level is. I've hired new grads who are senior level in terms of expertise because they've been working on web development projects since they were 11. That's really what you're looking for; however, new graduates with only the skills they learned in school can expect to do a lot of bug fixes at a larger company and pair programming at a smaller company or startup.
- What is so valuable about earning a degree in this field right now?
Right now, it's a golden ticket. I have a BS degree in journalism, an MA in mass communication, and an MBA. But my career has been writing web development software. That said, I got in it 20 years ago. I'm not sure anyone would even give me a look without a technical degree these days, which is unfortunate because most of what is good to know in web development comes from hands-on experience, not a classroom.
- Can graduates of web development programs find careers all over the country?
Easily. Any company worth its salt will allow developers to work remotely.
- What did your career trajectory look like after you graduated? How did you end up in your current position?
After I got my MA in mass communication, I was hired by ESPN as a web developer, where I climbed the ladder for eight years into management. I left ESPN to start Gunner Technology (a web development company) in 2010 and I've been the CEO ever since.
- Why did you decide to start your own company? Is this a common career path of web development graduates?
I started my own company because I hated the politics and bureaucracy of large companies and I wanted to be in complete control of my own successes and failures. Gunner is obviously a service-oriented company, but a lot of web developers do end up co-founding startups in the industry, albeit more oriented to product than service.
- What are the pros and cons of working in the industry?
The biggest pro is that you're always learning and new advancements are always being made. If you're bored as a web developer, you're doing something wrong. The biggest con is that we're a very entitled industry. Everyone thinks they're the best at what they do and deserve what they haven't earned.
- What advice would you give to web development graduates just starting their job search?
Have code samples in a Github repository, be prepared to handwrite code on a whiteboard during interviews, and look for a place with a strong mentoring program (you probably won't end your career where you start, so you want to learn as much as possible).
How to Become a Web Developer
Earn Your Degree
Degree requirements for web developer careers vary greatly based on your role and an employer's policy. Technology companies increasingly hire candidates without college credentials in an effort to recruit new talent and address substantial diversity issues within the industry. For example, the IBM New Collar initiative trains students in programming skills through an apprenticeship, leading to paid positions with the company and its partners.
However, opportunities like that are scarce. The majority of web developers begin their professional endeavors by earning a bachelor's degree. Academic programs offer comprehensive training in HTML programming, languages like SGL and Python, and multimedia publishing tools. You first apply your skills by completing classroom projects and later gain additional hands-on experience through internships and externships. Obtaining college credentials also enables you to access professional credentialing programs, like certifications from the Project Management Institute.
On top of campus-based degree tracks, colleges and universities increasingly operate online academic programs. Distance education comes with flexible scheduling and low tuition prices that often disregard residency status. Powered by course management platforms like Blackboard and conferencing software, online learning prepares you for remote web developer careers by building your integrative communication, time management, and collaboration skills.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Become a Web Developer?
The time it takes to gain employment differs based on your individual web development career path. As previously mentioned, you can find entry-level work with an associate degree or even a high school diploma. However, most candidates choose to complete bachelor's programs, which provide comprehensive academic training and opportunities for hands-on skill development through internships and other practicums.
You must complete at least 120 credits to earn baccalaureate credentials, a process that typically takes four years. However, colleges and universities are increasingly operating accelerated online tracks that enable you to graduate in as little as two years. These intensive programs require full-time commitment, as students take eight-week classes year-round.
An academic program's format also impacts completion time. Most schools allow you to individually pace your coursework, taking as few or as many classes per term as you want, within reason. However, certain institutions operate cohort learning systems, which require you to advance through the curriculum at the same rate as your peers. This program structure fosters collaboration but can slow down graduation.
Concentrations Available for Web Development Majors
- Graphic Design
- A popular concentration for future web designers and front-end developers, graphic design trains students to produce clear, evocative visual communication. Candidates learn to use fundamental software like Adobe Creative Cloud in web design and multimedia production. They take classes like digital typography, history of illustration and graphic design, and 3D design fundamentals.
- Database Administration
- This concentration provides the skills students need to design, implement, and maintain databases, including those accessed by web applications. Coursework includes data modeling and administrative methods using Oracle. Candidates also learn to conduct data and network security analyses. In addition to web developer careers, a database administration concentration enables students to pursue roles as computer support specialists and business intelligence analysts.
- Mobile Application Development
- Students learn to design and create browser-based and packaged applications using specialized frameworks and programming languages. They examine cross-platform application development and third-party native extensions. The concentration also prepares students to market and distribute their products through app stores. Common core topics comprise enterprise architecture, usability design for websites, and web development with PHP.
- User Experience (UX) Design
- UX design trains students to create and assess technology-based user experiences. Classes include human-computer interaction, designing technology for social impact, and rapid prototyping. Candidates also delve into software engineering and analytics-driven game design. Although this concentration is useful for all web developer careers, it especially benefits professionals working in the marketing, advertising, and e-commerce industries.
- Growing concerns about global terrorism and online attacks fuel the demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals. This concentration prepares students to work as information security analysts and senior web developers. Candidates take classes like cryptographic systems, computer forensics, and information assurance and security. Students also learn ethical hacking practices, which prepare them for certification programs from organizations like the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants.
What Can You Do With a Web Development Degree?
The web developer careers available to professionals greatly depend on their level of educational attainment. Due to the competitive nature of the web development industry, job-seekers can find it difficult to land a position without a college education. Design firms and tech companies rarely hire applicants who lack an accredited technical degree.
Bachelor's programs in web development provide efficient and career-relevant training, with options for campus-based learning and online education. Candidates who already possess baccalaureate credentials in another field can enroll in web development certification programs to gain relevant skills needed for career entry. Additionally, higher education institutions often offer professional development services, including internship programs with industry partners.
Web development career paths vary based on a professional's role and the industry. They may specialize in front-end design or back-end development. Professionals can also pursue careers in game development, mobile applications, and search engine optimization. Additional career options exist in technical writing, IT sales, information systems management, and business analytics.
Associate Degree in Web Development
Associate programs in web development total at least 60 credits, which traditional students complete in two years. Full-time candidates can hasten graduation by enrolling in accelerated online tracks, which typically take 12-18 months. Community and technical colleges feature accessible admission processes that do not necessitate standardized test scores or, in many cases, application fees.
Associate students take classes in visual media, interaction design, and object-oriented programming. They build foundational skills in front- and back-end development. Depending on the program, learners may also delve into topics like advanced CSS and .NET software design and development. Many students begin their college career with an associate track, taking advantage of the low tuition, before transferring into a bachelor's completion program.
- Technical Support Engineers
These professionals work in a variety of industries, including web development, healthcare, and telecommunications. Technical support engineers answer phone calls and emails concerning their company's products and services. They also help customers troubleshoot problems and perform updates on their computer systems. As part of their administrative work, support engineers file claims and maintain reports.
- Web Designers
Web designers possess masterful computer programming, coding, and graphic design skills. They apply these competencies to conceptualize and build websites that engage users and consumers. Working with clients, designers produce multimedia web promotions that strengthen a company's brand requirements. Some web designers also maintain the daily operations of websites.
Bachelor's Degree in Web Development
Unlike associate students, bachelor's candidates can individualize their degree plans through guided and open electives. Concentration and minor options offer additional opportunities for personalization. Degree candidates typically round out their training by engaging in a boot camp-style development project, in which they use the entire web stack.
- UX Designers
These professionals work to improve the accessibility and effectiveness of software and hardware from a user's perspective. They collaborate with developers, programmers, engineers, and project managers to determine product goals. UX designers build wireframes, test prototypes, and conduct focus groups, making modifications to products as necessary. Like other web developers, UX designers are typically proficient in Adobe Suite, HTML, CAD, and CSS.
- Liquid error: internal Front-End Developers
Front-end developers deal with the client-side design and functions of a website or application. They work with graphic designers and UX specialists to ensure that the product is visually appealing and easy to use. Front-end developers also make sure that the website presents information in a relevant manner. Furthermore, these professionals translate websites and applications across browsers, platforms, and devices.
- Web Designers and Developers
Master's Degree in Web Development
Master's programs in web development require students to complete at least 30 credits, which generally takes two years. Some schools offer accelerated online tracks that enable distance learners to obtain their credentials in as little as one year. Similarly, certain institutions deliver dual-degree programs, allowing dedicated students to simultaneously earn their bachelor's and master's in five years.
Degree candidates take core classes in website construction and optimization, technical communication, and interface design. They also develop the necessary teamwork, project management, and informatics research skills to work as senior developers, software engineers, and IT managers. Furthermore, a master's curriculum better prepares students for Adobe certification and Microsoft credentialing programs.
- Senior Web Developers
In addition to performing full stack development services, senior web developers oversee design teams and train junior staff members. These organizational leaders work for single manufacturers and cross-industry consulting firms. Senior developers identify system and user requirements for new websites and applications. They prioritize projects, maintain deadlines, and coordinate team members.
- Software Programmers
Also known as computer programmers and coders, these professionals create software using programming languages like Python, Java, Assembly, and C++. They work with computer analysts to create UML blueprints of computer programs. Programmers often work in teams to tackle complex and large projects. They can occupy generalist positions or pursue specialized occupations in fields like video gaming and financial technology.
Where Can I Work as a Web Development Graduate?
Web developer career paths cut across multiple industries, with opportunities available based on your college degree level, relevant experience, and certification/licensure. BLS data reveals that the highest level of employment for these professionals exists in the computer systems design industry. Technical consulting services, business management organizations, and advertising and public relations firms also employ great numbers of web developers. Surprisingly, the highest-paying web development positions exist within rental and leasing services, where these professionals earn an average annual salary of $98,720. Software publishers earn the second-highest mean wage at $94,120 per year.
Luckily for web developers, industry certificates and vendor licenses are seldom state-specific. This transferability enables you to work across state lines through on-site positions or remote employment. However, location does impact employment opportunities and pay potential.
Unsurprisingly, BLS data shows that California employs the highest numbers of web developers, followed by New York, Texas, and Florida. These professionals stand to earn the highest wages when working in Washington state. Virginia, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey also boast exceptional average salaries.
Among metropolitan areas, New York City displays the highest employment level, while Seattle houses the highest concentration of web developers. You should strongly factor in quality of life when deciding where to work and reside. Remember that nonmetropolitan areas like southwest Montana and northeastern Wisconsin offer ample IT career opportunities and a relatively low cost of living.
Below, explore some common industries for web developers.
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services
This large industry includes IT companies providing computer systems design, custom programming, and facilities management services. Professionals can pursue a wide array of web developer careers within this industry, including UX design, front-end development, and software programming.
Average Salary: $75,230
- Other Information Services
This diverse industry encompasses data storage and retrieval services, information supply groups, online libraries, and SEO firms. Web designers and developers can also work with digital publishing and broadcasting organizations (like companies that create stock images or provide recorded information services).
Average Salary: $83,110
- Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
Consulting firms employ subject-matter experts who provide services to individual clients and entire corporations. Technical consultants analyze a company's IT culture, including its websites and applications. They provide feedback and help clients improve website accessibility and user traffic.
Average Salary: $71,670
- Management of Companies and Enterprises
This industry encompasses organizations that hold security and equity interests over partner companies, thereby influencing their management decisions. Here, web designers and developers occupy similar roles to consultants. They work with partner companies to standardize IT practices and improve website appeal and usability.
Average Salary: $83,480
- Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services
Advertising and PR companies design campaigns and materials that promote the image and objective of their clients. The industry also includes media firms that sell advertising space for print, TV, and online publications. Within this industry, web designers strongly focus on front-end development and client-side services.
Average Salary: $72,740
How Do You Find a Job in Web Development?
According to the 2018 Developer Hiring Landscape survey, the web design and development industry employs over 16% of software developers. Other primary industries for these professionals include information technology, software as a service, and financial technology. They can also find lucrative positions with consulting firms, retail/e-commerce companies, and healthcare organizations.
You should begin your job search early, so you can conduct in-depth research on major employers in your area. By giving yourself plenty of time, you may also better define your short- and long-term goals. This clarification enables you to create effective application materials and answer major interview questions, like, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" and "How would you fit into the company culture?"
As a web developer, you can bolster your employment prospects by engaging with professional organizations. The IEEE Computer Society delivers online courses and certification programs. The Association of Software Professionals and the Association for Women in Computing provide networking opportunities through national conferences and one-on-one mentoring events.
Professional Resources for Web Development Majors
AIGA is a prominent professional design organization that supports more than 25,000 members in 70 national chapters. The institute offers professional development opportunities that include leadership workshops and certificate courses. Members receive discounts for conferences, design competitions, health insurance, and web development products. AIGA also delivers job listings, diversity initiatives, and student resources.
Boasting over 100,000 members, ACM is the world's largest computing organization. The association connects professionals through regional chapters and international conferences. Members can also collaborate by joining any of the 37 special-interest groups. The ACM Learning Center provides professional development and continuing education resources. Professionals seek guidance and apply for jobs through the association's career center.
Established in 1996, IWA supports 300,000 members in 106 countries. The association establishes educational standards and operates certification programs. Professionals may gain credentials in areas like site design, server administration, e-commerce, and web development. IWA also offers online courses and job listings.
As an international organization, UXPA maintains 59 chapters worldwide. Professionals also collaborate through special-interest groups, online communities, and mentorship programs. In addition to a job bank, the association provides guidance for job-seekers and resources for hiring managers. UXPA also offers webinars, volunteer opportunities, and financial awards for students and practitioners.
Founded in 1996, WOW is a panindustry organization dedicated to supporting students, educators, and practicing web professionals. Through its academy program, WOW offers webinars, on-site skill development training, and continuing education opportunities. Professionals may gain certification in areas like e-commerce management, web animation, and mobile app development. The organization facilitates conferences, web design contests, and resources for job-seekers.