So, You Want to Be a… Web Developer – mishpacha.com

 
What will I be doing all day?
A web developer builds and maintains websites, and is an expert in software programs, web applications, and web programming languages. A web developer will plan the layout of a website based on the client’s needs, making it as visually appealing and user-friendly as possible; program the code that makes the website work; and test and update it to ensure it functions.
What kind of training do I need?
There is no required degree or license to become a web developer. Some web developers receive a bachelor’s degree in web development or computer science, while others may take a 12-week course. Still others are self-taught, learning through online forums and experience.
Do I have the personality for it?
A good web developer is creative, patient, a good communicator and team worker, a problem-solver, and able to independently self-educate to keep up to date with the constantly evolving industry.
What kind of career options do I have?
A web developer may either work as an employee at a company’s tech department or as a freelancer. Different types of web developers include:
Front-End Developer — A front-end developer codes the front end of a website, implementing the website’s design and creating an interface that is user-friendly and easy to navigate.
Back-End Developer — A back-end developer builds the technology that enables all of the front-end components of the website to work.
Full-Stack Developer — The full-stack developer is in charge of the big picture, looking at all of the elements that go into the web development process, and determining best strategy and practices.
JavaScript Developer — This kind of developer works with JavaScript, a programming language that is universally supported across web browsers, allowing these developers to both create and alter websites, both at the front and back ends.
What can I expect to make?
A web developer typically earns $80,000 to $120,000, although salaries can climb to $250,000 and more. The field is a growing one, with a high earning potential.
 
 
My Typical Day at Work
Our company has expertise in both creating online digital marketing presences and building custom digital products. We’re a full-scale digital agency, which means we help companies strategize, design, and develop their web presence or tech product. We manage and develop the complex systems our clients need to run their business or start-up product efficiently and effectively.
While I started off in the profession doing all the web development work myself, today I manage a team of 52 employees with a collective talent expertise in all of the different aspects of the website and systems development process. Our team specializes in all aspects of what it takes to deliver robust projects, from product ownership, strategy, documentation, management, design, and development. Our dev teams include specialists in front-end development (building the design and user experience), back-end development, and quality assurance (QA). I base my business model on the concept that true excellence happens when you have the right people working in the right jobs, so that each can focus on what they do best.
When a new client comes to us, we start by doing a full review of their company and strategizing what tech systems they need to build in order to improve their operations and advance their business. We assign a project owner to their case, whose job is to effectively become a part of the client’s team, working for them to ensure the entire process runs smoothly. And we choose our specialty staff for each aspect of the digital systems development, according to their customized needs — starting with a digital web strategist.
As CEO of the company, my own responsibilities involve developing client relationships, ensuring smooth operations, managing employees, and working on business growth and innovation.
How I Chose the Profession
As a child, I was always interested in technology and understanding how things work, particularly the visual aspects. I was fascinated by Adobe Flash, and the concept of creating slides and animations. Soon after I got married, I took a course to learn how to create Flash ads. My first client was a nonprofit, and the banner I made brought in more clients.
From there, I decided to try building an entire website. I taught myself coding and programming languages by taking online courses. My brother, who owns a marketing company, began referring some of his clients to me. Eventually, I realized that if I wanted to grow my business, I would need to take on another developer to free up some of my own time for business growth. I found a freelance web developer who happened to live overseas, and we worked on several projects together. This worked out so nicely that I hired another freelancer soon after. I realized that I liked strategizing and overseeing the big picture of web development and preferred hiring others to do the tedious programming work. That’s how my company was born. With time, I came to realize what it takes to build a high-level agency, and set my vision for our current enterprise-level operation.
What I Love Most about the Field
The fact that we build something that didn’t exist before. A web developer is literally a creator. I also find the problem-solving aspect of the field exciting.
What I Find Most Challenging about the Field
Many people are very uneducated about technology and are not aware of what their company’s tech or online presence needs truly are. They’ll often come in expecting a quick-fix process — they think that we’ll simply write up the code and hand them a fully functioning website tomorrow. I find it’s worth it to invest the time at the beginning of the relationship to educate the client about what the process entails. It saves a lot of heartache later on.
Something I Wish People Knew About Web Developers
Being a web developer takes a tremendous amount of skill, creativity, and patience. It’s not easy to learn and to use a coding language. Users tend to take the ease of using a website or software system for granted, but in reality, web developers are highly knowledgeable professionals who deserve a lot of respect. That being said, even the most senior developer will only be as good as the management team that supports him.
How I’ve Seen the Field Change Over the Years
When I was starting out 15 years ago, tech was not as widespread; now, it’s an inseparable part of our lives. The demand for websites and other digital technology is huge. For example, we recently developed an internal custom CRM (Customer Relationship Management system) for a real estate company; they had their own internal paperwork process, and we built a digitized system out of it. Thanks to their new system, their agents have now tripled their efficiency.
Another factor driving the increased demand is the explosive growth of the start-up world; there are lots of people out there coming up with great ideas for digital products, who need the right team to help them build it.
My Advice for People Starting Out
Focus on finding a niche in the field that you enjoy and develop your skills with the goal of eventually becoming an expert in that particular area. This is how you can become really successful in the field. For example, find the programming language that you know best and learn everything you can to become an expert in only that particular language.
Also, I recommend focusing only on development and hiring someone else to help you do everything else, especially QA. Instead of spending a lot of your time on finding and debugging yourself, through trial and error, you’ll be able to devote that time to focus on building your own development skills.
 
My Typical Day at Work
I work at Infobase, which is the leading cloud-based educational solutions provider that integrates content, tools and technology to deliver interactive learning experiences. I used to commute from Monsey into Manhattan, but since the Covid pandemic began, I’ve been working remotely.
A typical day starts out with what is called a “stand up” meeting (called that because everyone is supposed to stand so that the meeting stays short), where I review with my team what I’ll be tackling that day, as well as any problems that might be blocking me from working on a task. After that initial meeting, on any given day I might do one or all of the following:
How I Chose the Profession
My sister is a computer programmer, and when I started college, she suggested I’d enjoy computer programming. Given my penchant for spending hours working on computer graphics, I already knew that something computer-based would be a good fit. Once I started computer science courses, I quickly realized that I enjoy programming (and that my design skills weren’t good enough for me to be a graphic designer.) At Touro, I got a very solid training in computer programming from the ground up.
How I Chose My Specialty
Programmers work with everything from the computers embedded in cars to smartphone apps and beyond, so web development itself is a specialty within the programming field. My first job as an intern was as a web developer, and since I enjoyed it, I stuck to web development. I gravitate toward what is known as the “front end” of web development, which means working with the appearance and user experience of a website, because I enjoy trying to make a website intuitive and easy to use.
What I Love Most about the Field
I love the experience of building something with code: planning how it will work, organizing it into logical sections, writing the code, and then watching a new feature come to life. I find it satisfying, exciting, and magical.
I appreciate that I work in an intellectually demanding field, and interact with a lot of very smart people.
What I Find Most Challenging about the Field
Estimating how long it will take me to complete a task.
In particular, debugging can be very tedious and frustrating. Sometimes it takes hours or even days of going through code line by line to find the problem. When bugs affect critical aspects of a site, there’s a lot of pressure to find and fix them ASAP. (When Slack, Facebook, and WhatsApp all went down recently, I kept thinking about those programmers who had to find and fix the problem with the whole world waiting!) However, on the flip side, actually finding the bug and fixing it is extremely rewarding.
Because this is a field that demands a lot of brain power and creativity, it can be very hard to get anything done when I’m tired or feeling brain-fogged. I’ve had days where I stared at my computer and couldn’t even figure out where to start on a problem.
I’ll Never Forget When
There’s another frum web developer at Infobase who’s also named Devorah and people routinely mix us up (particularly since we work remotely, so many people have not actually met us in person). We’ve gotten invited to each other’s meetings, been sent Slack messages meant for each other, and have had people confused as to who works on what. The name isn’t common in the secular world and we get comments such as, “What are the odds of two people with your name working in the same company?!”
Something I Wish People Knew About Web Developers
That it’s not necessary to be good at math to be a web developer. I never use anything beyond very basic math. (I did have to take advanced math — calculus — in college, but that’s probably not a requirement everywhere.)
What you do need to be good at? Googling! The answer to how to do something is usually somewhere on the many online programming sites, and being able to search precisely and accurately to find it is critical. I sometimes tell people that I Google for a living.
How I’ve Seen the Field Change Over the Years
I think it’s more common now than it used to be for people to enter the field via a coding bootcamp rather than with a computer science degree. Also, remote work is much more readily available than it used to be, and Covid made this trend even stronger.
Today, there are more frum women entering this field than when I started out; my computer science class in Touro had a core group of five women, and the class after me only had two women.
My Advice for People Starting Out
Make sure you actually like programming; don’t just go into it because it’s a good, well-paying job. Programming can be painstaking and difficult, and you need to really enjoy it to be able to work at it day in and day out.
Also, realize that it can be hard to find part-time work as a corporate web developer. There is often a lot of flexibility in terms of when work gets done — many places won’t mind if someone takes off an hour or two during the day and makes it up at night — but working full time is very often required. While it’s possible to find part-time jobs, they’re not as easy to find as in some other fields.
 
My Typical Day at Work
Our company, atar&co., offers website design and development services as well as maintenance and retainers for clients who want ongoing support. We also offer cloud hosting (for WordPress websites) and maintain our own servers to ensure that our clients’ websites perform well. As the company owners, our responsibilities are to help put together a team of professionals for collaborating on a specific project, build the websites, delegate work, walk clients through the process, prepare contracts, and conduct meetings and consultations with leads.
At the beginning of each month, my partner and I sit down and plan our goals and projects for that month. Each week, we meet to map out our work for that week. We divide our work into large tasks (like building new websites) and smaller tasks (for clients that need website updates or new features on their websites).
I usually split my day into three parts. The first third is for answering emails, posting on LinkedIn (which is a powerful networking tool in our industry), working on small tasks, and assigning jobs or reviewing delegated work.
Next, I work on the biggest tasks: building the core of the websites and creating the layouts and functionalities. During this time, I pause my inbox and generally don’t answer calls to maximize focus and productivity.
In the final third of the day, I review drafts with clients, collaborate with other professionals, schedule calls with prospective clients, prepare contracts, read my emails, and assign tasks for the following day.
Some evenings, I have phone meetings with clients or work on small tasks.
How I Chose the Profession
I started looking into careers just when the big Internet boom was happening in the frum world, and everyone started realizing that they needed an online presence and digital marketing.
Since I had a natural affinity for computers, I decided to go into the web development field.
I first trained in Maalot in Israel, where they had a fantastic curriculum and instructors. I enjoyed it immensely, and knew I wanted to pursue this more. So when I got back to the States, I continued training in Touro College.
After I moved to Lakewood, I started working in Duvys Media. I got a lot of hands-on experience in web development and I also learned a lot about the frum world’s web needs. I have a lot of appreciation for the experience that I gained there.
While at this job, I took a course in app development and I eventually left the job to strike it out on my own. I teamed up with Elisheva Furman, whom I met while learning app development, and we developed a few native apps, including a dispatching app for Chaveirim of Central Jersey still in use today. During that time, we were approached by several clients to create websites and after doing a few projects we realized that web design and development held more of an appeal for us. That, combined with the large demand, made us eventually decide to go in that direction.
How I Chose My Specialty
Over the years, I’ve worked in different areas of coding and programming including databases, custom portals, custom coding, and native apps for Android and Apple. But in atar&co. we chose to focus exclusively on website design and development (including all customizations and website integrations).
I enjoy the aspect of putting together pieces, of coordinating between all of the professionals involved in creating a website — the graphic designer, copywriter, photographer, marketer, etc. — and using creativity and problem-solving and communication to build an amazing product. The fact that we collaborate with a variety of professionals, each with their own individual style, means that we’re able to build a customized team for each client.
While we have clients in many different industries, we niche in e-commerce using the Shopify platform. We’ve spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of Shopify; there are lots of integrations and functionalities available out there, and we spent a significant amount of time researching them (technology is always evolving, and there’s always a lot to learn!).
What I Love Most about the Field
We love helping people improve their business with a highly functional website customized to their needs and are always so gratified when we hear that their business is flourishing as a result.
What I Find Most Challenging about the Field
It’s a top priority for me to constantly keep myself educated about the latest innovations and updates in the field. Finding the time to do that, while simultaneously running the business and meeting project deadlines, can be challenging but, of course, super rewarding.
I’ll Never Forget When
A few years ago, a colleague contacted us for a website for a new organization called Thank You Hashem. We were so impressed by this inspiring movement that we decided to do it pro bono. Baruch Hashem, we’ve watched it grow into the massive movement it is today, and are so proud to have the zechus to continually be involved in this amazing cause.
Something I Wish People Knew About Web Developers
Web developers aren’t lone tech geeks who don’t need to speak to other human beings; there’s a lot of communication skills and teamwork involved in this profession.
How I’ve Seen the Field Change Over the Years
The main difference I’ve seen is the growing popularity and sophistication of frameworks and third-party apps that seamlessly integrate with websites.
Mailchimp is a great example of this. It’s a very strong email marketing tool — the software is integrated directly into the website and collects all of the email addresses of visitors who sign up for email marketing, as opposed to the old method of manually collecting emails. There are literally thousands of third-party apps and software that can be integrated directly into websites and save significant time and manpower. (Think inventory systems, appointments, bookings, forms, and payment processing.)
My Advice for People Starting Out
When you start working, your main goal should be to gain experience. All of your schooling won’t help until you actually sit down and do the work.
It’s also very important to accustom yourself to self-teaching: The technology world is constantly evolving and you will come across different scenarios that require different solutions, so it’s crucial that you learn how to use web search tools to troubleshoot and resolve unfamiliar issues.  Lastly, never be scared to reach out to other web developers for help or to share your own advice and expertise. We’re all in it together and there’s enough work for everyone; the frum world is very gracious with one another, and we’re so blessed to be a part of it.
 
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 920)
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