How to Become a Web Developer: 7 Essential Skills | Harvard Extension School (2024)

In our digital age, organizations rely on technology to support everything from product development to customer service. As technology advances, career opportunities in information technology (IT) will continue to grow.

Pursuing a career path in IT can be exciting — and lucrative. Professionals with strong technical skills are in high demand, and many job opportunities offer high salaries. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for IT occupations is higher than the median wage for all other occupations.

Web development and web app development are popular career options for IT professionals. Web developer jobs are expected to grow by 16 percent by 2032 — much faster than jobs in other industries. Between higher salaries and job security, the future looks bright for professionals with web application development skills.

What Is Web Application Development?

While they sound similar, web application development is a subset of web development and requires additional technical skills.

Web developers build web pages, which are primarily static and display information that users can consume. Web application developers build web applications, which are dynamic and interactive. Web applications have functionality that enables a user to perform tasks.

For example, a bank has a website that displays information about its products and services. A web developer created the website and maintains it using basic coding languages like HTML and CSS.

The bank also has an online banking application, where customers access their accounts, transfer money, and pay bills. The bank customer signs in to access their account and manage their tasks. A web application developer created this application using more advanced programming languages like React or PHP.

What is the Web Application Development Process?

Web application development typically involves a seven-step process that entails the following eight phases:

  1. Identify the purpose. Website applications solve problems. The first step in developing a web application is to identify the problem that your application will solve.
  2. Conduct research. Next, research the needs of potential users. You may also research and assess other applications that offer similar solutions.
  3. Define the functionality. This step is about defining what the application will do. Document how the user will interact with the application and what features it will have.
  4. Sketch the design and workflow. Think about how users will progress through your application to solve their problem. Map their journey from beginning to end and try. Be sure to anticipate all the different scenarios a user could expect or choose.
  5. Build the application. After the prototype has been approved, you’ll begin coding the front and back end of the application, including the integrating databases needed to support the application.
  6. Develop a prototype. Next, create a prototype that includes basic functionality. This step helps you and stakeholders visualize the product and making decisions about design and functionality before you develop the app.
  7. Test and validate. Before pushing the application out in a live environment, you want to make sure the features and functionality work properly. If you are building an application for a corporation, testing can happen with other IT team members or with employees in a testing environment. If you are building an application on your own, you can recruit peers and other professionals in your network to test the functionality.
  8. Deploy the application. Once you have tested the functionality, the application can be pushed into a live environment.
Front end web development certificate
Back end web development certificate

7 Web Application Development Skills Needed for Success

If you’re considering a career in web development or web application development, here are seven essential web developer skills you need to be successful.

Front-End Web Development

The front end of a website or application is what the user sees. It must be user friendly, functional, accessible, and visually appealing. Front-end web development encompasses the visual and interactive aspects of a website or web application.

Front-end developers write code in languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to style layouts, structure content, and create interactive elements like forms. They apply web design principles to ensure the user interface is intuitive, aesthetically pleasing, and responsive across various devices and screen sizes.


Web developers and web application developers embrace the best practices of user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design — important aspects of the website or application’s front end.

UI includes all of the interactive features on a website or application — the different screens, buttons, icons, and other visual elements the user interacts with. UX encompasses the overall experience a user has with the website or application.

You can’t achieve good UX without a good UI, but you can have good UI and a bad UX. For example, a web application may look great (good UI), but if the application loads slowly or it takes too many screens to get to a needed action (UX), then people aren’t going to use it.

Back-End Web Development

The back end of the website or app encompasses everything that users don’t see. It is the mechanics — the code — that makes the front end work properly. The back end also includes the databases that collect and connect data captured in an application.

Back-end development relies on programming languages like Java, Python, and PHP. Developers also need to be skilled at connecting their server-side code to the internet so users can access the application.

Version Control

It’s important to document any changes to the code on either the front end or back end so that developers can easily revert to earlier versions in case problems arise. This is done through version control systems such as GitHub, which provides features for branching, merging, and rollback. This allows developers to manage complex codebases and ensure stability.

Security & Data Protection

Corporations need to fortify their systems and data against cyberattacks, with most taking the “it’s not if, but when” approach to developing a cybersecurity and resiliency plan.

Web developers must apply security measures to mitigate risks like data breaches, unauthorized access, and malware. This includes building two-factor authentication into an app’s design and maintaining an offline data backup that can be used to restore an app in case of a breach.

API Development

Knowledge of application program interface (API) is critical for developers who are creating web applications. API helps different software elements communicate with each other. For example, an online banking app tracks daily account activity, which is pushed to the user’s mobile device. The mobile device “talks” to the online banking app to deliver the information to you via an API.

Testing and Troubleshooting

Web developers use problem solving skills and are committed to testing and debugging their applications to ensure optimal functionality, performance, security, and device and browser compatibility. You’ll need to implement a testing process to identify bugs in the testing environment before code is pushed to production.

Begin Your Journey in Web Application Development

If you are ready to start or advance your career developing websites or applications, enroll in Harvard Extension School’s Web Application Development Microcertificate, where you will gain the fundamental skills needed to create and maintain modern web applications.

You’ll learn the basics of web programming and explore how to manage complex operations. The necessary skills you’ll learn include:

  • The basics of web programming using JavaScript
  • Building interactive web applications
  • Working with databases, APIs, and server-side programming
  • Understanding authentication, security deployment, and scaling
  • Using either the Jamstack architecture or Node.js to build complex web applications

Want to take it a step further? The Web Application Development microcertificate stacks into the Front End Web Development Graduate Certificate — allowing you to easily earn multiple credentials.

Explore all Harvard Extension School academic programs
How to Become a Web Developer: 7 Essential Skills | Harvard Extension School (2024)


How do I become a web developer step by step? ›

Steps to Become a Web Developer
  1. Earn Degree(s) An aspiring web developer must first complete an education to develop basic coding and programming skills. ...
  2. Pursue Internship(s) Landing a solid internship as a new web developer provides vital work experience. ...
  3. Build Your Portfolio. ...
  4. Earn Certification(s) ...
  5. Create Your Resume.

What education do you need to be a web developer? ›

A bachelor's degree in computer science or web development is the traditional path for aspiring web developers. While those with associate degrees can snag entry-level web developer positions, some employers prefer candidates with bachelor's degrees.

Can I be a web developer without a degree? ›

As we've said, you can jump right into the world of web development without the need to go to college. In fact, you can be pursuing professional web development positions in about 13 weeks with a coding bootcamp. And, Devmountain's Full-Time Web Development course can help get you there.

Can I learn web development in 3 months? ›

So, yes, you can become a qualified Web Developer in three months. However, finding employment as a Web Developer can take longer, and you'll want to keep building on your skills throughout the job search process. The more you know, the more attractive you become as a candidate.

Can I become a web developer by myself? ›

If there's one job that's easy to pick up with no prior experience or education at all, it's web development. You can get started right now, and in a few weeks or months of study and practice, you'll have a working understanding of how to develop a website. The trouble is knowing where exactly to start.

How quickly can I become a web developer? ›

Web development bootcamps typically take about 3-4 months to complete and teach HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Full-stack bootcamps may also teach SQL, Python, or other back-end coding languages. Coding bootcamps typically also cost less than a four-year degree program, but there is little financial aid available.

How do I become a web developer with no experience? ›

Some of the major steps one needs to take to become an entry-level web developer are listed here:
  1. Build a Portfolio Site.
  2. Do Freelance Projects.
  3. Put Your Code on Github.
  4. Contribute to an Open Source Project.
  5. Participate in a Hackathon.
  6. Network With Other Web Developers.
  7. Follow Industry News.
  8. Learn New, Relevant Skills.
Oct 5, 2023

Do you need a 4 year degree to be a web developer? ›

Web Developer Degree

A bachelor's degree in computer science has traditionally been the starting point for many aspiring Web Developers, with the most common minimum educational requirement, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, being an associate degree.

How much do web developers make without a degree? ›

No problem. Become a web developer. The job is growing quickly, offers a median salary around $30 an hour, or $62,500 a year, and does not necessarily require a bachelor's degree. That's because companies can't meet all the demand for workers.

Do self taught programmers get hired? ›

Absolutely yes. Self-taught programmers have succeeded in the tech industry. Notable examples include David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails, and Hadi Partovi, co-founder of

Can you become a web developer with just a certificate? ›

Many employers may not require web developers to hold a degree at all. Still, all web development jobs call for a specific skill set. Demonstrating expertise through previous projects, professional experience and reputable professional certificates can help you land a web developer job.

Is it hard to be a web developer? ›

How hard is it to become a web developer? Whether you're learning on your own or taking a bootcamp, becoming a web developer will take time, focus, and effort. However, it's not hard to learn to code—there's a whole world of resources and communities to help you.

Can I learn web development in 7 days? ›

Web development basics can be learned as quickly as three to six months, depending on your dedication and prior experience. Work and family obligations, self-doubt, and other life distractions can affect the length of your web development education, but it's important to keep pursuing your goals.

Is 40 too old to learn web development? ›

It's exciting to be part of something so dynamic, and it means that it's completely normal to be learning something new if you want to become a web developer at 30, become a web developer at 40 or even become a web developer at 50! We all are still learning!

What is the fastest way to learn web development? ›

Take a bootcamp or class: There's a lot to learn when it comes to web development. Enrolling in a coding bootcamp focused on web development can help you structure your learning over a condensed period of time so you can start building websites quickly.

How can a beginner learn web development? ›

How to become a web designer
  1. Understand the key concepts of visual design. Line. ...
  2. Learn HTML basics. ...
  3. Understand CSS. ...
  4. Learn the foundations of UX design. ...
  5. Familiarize yourself with UI design. ...
  6. Understand the basics of creating layouts. ...
  7. Learn about typography. ...
  8. Put your knowledge into action and build something.
Sep 12, 2022

Is it hard to become a web developer? ›

Thankfully, web development is not nearly as difficult as it might seem to non-programmers. Most people can learn web development fundamentals in a few months and land an entry-level job even if they had no experience beforehand.

How I became a web developer with no experience? ›

Set realistic goals, choose the right programming language, learn the basics of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, build projects, consider taking a course or boot camp, and build your portfolio and network. With these steps, you'll be well on your way to becoming a proficient web developer.


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