Email Responses #4: Is Web Development Dead?

I recently got an email from a student who’s about to graduate with a degree in web development. They asked some really great questions, including “Is it still worth pursuing a job as a web developer?”

I am planning to be a freelance web designer/developer (less designer, more developer). So , my first question to you is – what do you think I should do, to spend some amount of time, after graduation, on my own at home building up my portfolio, or to do some internship (or find a job) to build up/strengthen my skills?

I think in the early days of a career, it’s generally helpful to work at a place to see how the entire web design/development process works. I had a lot of my expectations about how websites get made shattered once I started working my first jobs. There’s a lot to learn, and in those early days it’s especially helpful to have other people around who can guide you, introduce you to new concepts, technologies, and tools. Diving straight into freelance can work as well, but building a business, a client base, etc is tough work to do as you’re still getting your head around the mechanics of the craft of web development.

We had a guest speaker this quarter who said that web development is kind of dead. With all the platforms, tools now available you can build a decent website just by clicking on buttons, or dragging-and-dropping. So, my second question is – what do you think about this, will it be possible for such beginners as me to find a spot and make good living of it in the world on web development nowadays? Is this profession still in demand?

I roll my eyes at comments like “web development is dead”. It sounds like that speaker’s view of web development is pretty narrow and they’re painting with a really broad brush. I’ll say that, sure, sites like Squarespace and Wix allow people and small businesses to spin up simple websites pretty easily. So yeah, the market for canned, brochureware, static websites might be on the decline. But almost every company on earth is looking to grow digital teams to build stuff for web, mobile, and everything else that’s coming down the pipes. These companies are looking to solve very real, very complex, very specific problems that I don’t think can be easily replaced with a canned tool.

You can peruse these job boards to see what employers are looking for:

Learning web development can open doors to new technologies. Development will be around in some form or another for a long time. In 8 years’ time, you may be developing speech-based UIs, self-driving car technology, or whatever other crazy shit everyone is coming up with. It’s all still development, and you need to start somewhere. Presently, the web, mobile, and other emerging platforms require development services, and it’s what people are hiring for. These things of course will change in the future, but again you gotta start somewhere.

So, my third question is – how much time do you have just for life, not thinking about your job, hanging out with (non-developers) friends? In compare to  your time dedicated to you job, how much time do you have for yourself?

It’s always tough, and this is a challenge irrespective of what profession you end up choosing. In the early days of my career, I lived in New York City, which is notorious for working people to death. I learned about burnout the hard way. I now run my own business, which brings with it its own considerations and demands, but I’m in a much better place now regarding work/life balance. Most of the time, I work about 40-ish hours a week, and many of my friends who work as developers work similar hours. I think the Silicon Valley / NYC / American mentality of “YOU HAVE TO WORK CONSTANTLY IN ORDER TO DO GOOD THINGS” is a myth, and that mentality ultimately ends up being counter-productive.

All that said, it really helps to enjoy what you do; it feels less like work when you want to dedicate time to your craft. I think it’s great you’re thinking about that stuff now.

Fourth question – what tools and techniques do you use for building a web site?

I wrote a book that details what tools and techniques I tend to use. 🙂

Fifth question – What do you think about networking? Do you do it? Can success come from that direction or this concept is overestimated?

Networking is absolutely critical to success, but I think “networking” tends to be presented as putting on business casual, going to some cheesy seminars, and awkwardly standing around exchanging business cards. Networking is really just talking witht people, and there’s tons of ways to make that happen. Follow people you admire on Twitter, join conversations, get involved with the communities around the tools and technologies you care about, blog things, share things, go to local meetups, try to get to a conference or two if you can, etc. There are lots of ways to network in a way that doesn’t make you feel crazy awkward.

Sixth question – Whats the story of your success?

I’ve talked about my own story on a number of podcasts, so you can learn about my career trajectory there. I also just gave the commencement speech at my high school where I shared some of the things that went into getting me to where I’m at today. But my main advice is: work hard, don’t be an asshole, and share what you know.