What Does a Web Developer Do? An Expert Explains

Cyrille Labesse, contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

Hello there! My name is Cyrille, and I’ve been working as a CareerFoundry Web Development mentor for several years now.

It’s my job to help aspiring web developers discover the beauty of learning to code as they become immersed in this strange and exciting world. One of the first questions I get asked is “What does a web developer do, actually?”, so it makes sense for me to start there.

In this guide, I’m going to first introduce the field of web development itself, then we’ll examine four major types of developer, as well as the average salaries for the field. After that, if you think this path could be for you, we’ll look at how you can learn coding.

If you’re interested in a particular sub-topic of the guide, simply click on the list below and you’ll jump right to it:

  1. What is web development?
  2. What does a web developer do?
  3. How much does a web developer make?
  4. How to become a web developer
  5. Next steps

Are you ready? Then let’s get into it!

1. What is web development exactly?

Essentially, web development is the process of building websites and applications for the internet using programming languages and technologies.

While some elements of it (such as coding with the language CSS) are concerned with styling the pages, mostly web development is to do with functionality.

However, when taking a look at the field of web development itself, it’s necessary to remember how broad it is. By understanding that that field is a mixed one, you’ll also start to see that what a web developer can do is also varied and depends on a broad range of factors.

These factors include:

  • Type of industry they work in
  • Size of the company
  • Size of the team they’re in
  • Nature of the projects they work on
  • Whether they are employed by a company or a freelance web developer

We’ll get onto the different types of development in the next section, but first we need to deal with some more terminology: web development vs software engineering.

Whether you’re referred to (or refer to yourself) a web developer or a software engineer can also depend on a lot. Similar to UX and UI designers have to deal with the two job titles being mixed and matched, although software engineers work closer to the hardware than developers, you can find similar job descriptions for both with either job title.

If you’d like to dive deeper into the differences (and similarities) between these two terms and associated job titles, check out our full guide to web development vs software engineering.

Now that we’ve got a better idea of the field they work in, let’s break down what a web developer does by the type of developer they are.

2. What does a web developer do?

Web developers are responsible for building a product that meets both the client’s needs and those of the customer or end user. They collaborate with stakeholders, clients and designers in order to understand the vision: How should the final website look and function?

A large part of web development also revolves around identifying and fixing bugs in order to constantly optimize and improve a website or system. Web developers are therefore keen problem-solvers, regularly coming up with solutions and workarounds to keep things running smoothly.

Of course, all web developers are proficient in certain programming languages. However, different developers will work with different languages depending on their specific job title and area of expertise.

If you want to see a breakdown of how these tasks play out in reality, we interviewed our pet coder Sam to get a glimpse into a day in the life of a web developer.

A comparison of the tasks of a frontend developer vs. backend developer vs. full-stack developer
What does a web developer do? A comparison of the tasks between developer roles

At a higher level, web developers can be broken down into three main types: frontend, backend, and full-stack. This infographic nicely compares what they do:

Now, to get a better grip on what does a web developer do, let’s zoom in a little on each type of coder, starting with the frontend:

What does a frontend developer do?

It’s the frontend developer’s job to code the front end of a website or application—the part of the website that the user sees and interacts with.

Put simply, anything that you yourself see and interact with on a website is a frontend developer’s responsibility. This includes the buttons, drop-down menus, and pop-ups on a page, as well as making sure that the page itself is mobile-responsive.

They take the backend data and turn it into something that is easily comprehensible, visually pleasing and fully functional for the everyday user. This is also known as the “client-side” of programming.

Let’s take a look at some of the tasks they’re expected to carry out:

Frontend developer tasks

The frontend developer implements the website’s layout, interactive and navigational elements such as buttons and scrollbars, images, content and internal links (links that navigate from one page to another within the same website).

Frontend web developers are also responsible for ensuring optimal display across different browsers and devices. They will code the website in such a way that makes it responsive or adaptive to various screen sizes, so that the user gets the same experience whether they’re visiting the website on mobile, desktop or tablet.

Frontend developers will also carry out usability tests and fix any bugs that arise. At the same time, they will consider SEO best practices, maintain software workflow management, and develop tools that enhance how the user interacts with a website in any browser.

Becoming a frontend web developer

For those looking to change careers into web development, starting by learning frontend development is often the best way in. This is because for most of us, a great way of understanding this element of programming is through the parts of websites we see and deal with in our day-to-day.

If you’d like to learn how to break into this exciting area, check out our step-by-step guide to becoming a frontend developer.

Frontend development is also the easiest way to make changes and build something you can see from the start. A perfect example of this is our free 5-day coding short course. In it, you’ll start immediately building and styling your own website using HTML/CSS and making it function using JavaScript.

You can get a sneak-peak in our first video tutorial, as web developer Abhishek takes you through the first stages:

What does a backend developer do?

Just as the frontend concerns everything on the client-side of the website, so a backend web developer deals with what’s going on “under the hood” of a website. Welcome to the server-side of web development.

If you’ve ever bought anything online, submitted information in a form, while you’ve been doing it on the frontend, you’ll need the backend to actually make things happen. If you want to know more about where the line is divided between the two, check out our full guide to frontend vs backend development.

A backend developer is therefore responsible for building and maintaining the technology needed to power the frontend, consisting of three parts: a server, an application, and a database. The code that backend developers create ensures that everything the frontend developer builds is fully functional, and it’s the backend developer’s job to make sure that the server, application, and database all communicate with each other.

So how do they do this? First, they use server-side languages such as PHP, Ruby, Python, and Java to build the application. Then they use tools like mySQL, MongoDB, and SQL Server to find, save or edit data and deliver it back to the user in frontend code. The server side is also known as the data layer, and, as the name suggests, being able to work with databases is a key component of being a backend web developer.

Just like frontend developers, backend developers will liaise with the client or business owner in order to understand their needs and requirements. They’ll then deliver these in a number of ways depending on the specifics of the project.

Backend developer tasks

Typical tasks that backend developer would have to perform include:

  • creating, integrating and managing the database
  • building server-side software using backend frameworks
  • developing and deploying content management systems (for a blog, for example)
  • working with web server technologies, API integration and operating systems

If you ask them what does a web developer do, many will laugh a little and give you a one-word sarcastic answer: “Debugging.” Backend developers are no different in this regard—they’re responsible for testing and debugging any backend elements of a system or application.

If you want to discover more about working in this area of web development, check out our beginner’s guide to what a backend developer does.

What does a full-stack developer do?

A full-stack developer is someone who understands, and can work across, the “full stack” of technology: i.e. both the frontend and the backend.

Full stack developers are experts in every stage of the web development process, meaning they are well-equipped to get hands on, but can also guide on strategy and best practices.

These web developers are proficient in both frontend and backend languages and frameworks, as well as in server, network and hosting environments. Which technologies a full-stack developer will know often depends on the tech stack they specialize in, but for example one would have a strong command of HTML/CSS and JavaScript for the frontend, allied with the backend runtime environment Node.js.

Most full-stack developers have gathered many years of experience in a variety of different roles, giving them a solid grounding across the entire spectrum of web development. They’re also well-versed in both business logic and user experience.

Because of this skillset and ability across the field of programming it’s no surprise that full-stack developers are not only very well-paid, but also well-suited to working freelance.

If you’d like to learn even more about how they work and how to become one, check out our full guide to what a full-stack developer is exactly

What does a mobile developer do?

Last but not least, web developers and software engineers may also specialize in mobile app development, either for iOS or Android.

iOS developers build apps that run with the iOS operating system—the one used by Apple devices. iOS developers tend to be fluent in Swift, the programming language that Apple created specifically for their apps.

Android developers build apps that are compatible with all Android devices, such as Samsung smartphones. Java was the official programming language for Android, but has since been replaced by Kotlin, the relatively new kid on the block.

Learn more: Your guide to mobile app development tools

Two web developers plan work in a meeting room in a startup office.

4. How much does a web developer make?

There are many reasons why you can find “web developer” and related job titles near the top of most “Best jobs” lists (CNN money has it at #5 on its 2022 Best Jobs in America list).

Remote and flexible working options, being a recession-proof job…but the very healthy web developer salary you can earn is chief among them.

Now you’ve got an idea about how technical and complex at times what a web developer does, as well as the ever-present demand for coding skills in the global market, you can see why such a valued skillset is well compensated.

In the US at the moment, we’ve calculated that the average web developer salary is $76,586 USD, taking data from the job sites Glassdoor and Indeed. Taking into account that the average American salary was $55,640 per year according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (based on 52 weeks of work), that puts web developers 38% above the US average.

How much you can make as a web developer can depend on where in the world you’re working, which industry, how experienced you are, and with which technologies you use.

If you want to drill down more into the data, then our complete web developer salary guide will give you everything you need.

5. How to become a web developer: Quick guide

Now that you have the answers to what does a web developer do, do you like what you’ve seen so far?

Whether it’s the wide range of tasks and industries, the ample remote working and freelance opportunities, or the high salaries, thousands of people around the globe are starting their web development journey every single day.

So, how do you join them?

We have an in-depth 2023 guide to how to become a web developer that should answer all your burning questions, but we’ll also lay out the main steps briefly here.

Step 1: Try it out

First things first, you’ll first need to see if coding is enjoyable to you. If you’ve done a variety of beginner coding projects and are still not having any fun at all, then it’s possible that this element of web development isn’t for you.

Step 2: Discover your learning style

Next, you’ll need to figure out your own learning style. This step is constantly skipped over, and it can decide whether your coding journey is one of mountains or molehills.

If in the rest of your life you find that YouTube is your Google and you can easily learn from watching videos, make it a requirement that you look for a web developer learning pathway with lots of video tutorials.

If you realise that you need accountability and people to bounce questions off of, then consider a web development bootcamp or coding program with mentor and tutor support.

Remember that everyone has different learning styles, and no one is better than another—especially if it helps you learn coding and reach your goals.

Step 3: Get an education

After that, you need to pick an education program. As well as one that fits your learning style, don’t forget to assess other factors such as cost, time investment, career support, prerequisites, and so on.

Step 4: Start building your application materials

Once you’re finishing up your web development program, it’s time to start planning, populating, and polishing your developer portfolio.

At the same time it’s worth working on your GitHub profile and other socials, as well as tweaking your resume to reflect all of your newfound skills—as well as your pre-existing transferable ones, too!

Now you’re all set! The final steps after applying are reaching out to companies, practicing interview questions, and preparing for the recruiter screen.

6. Final thoughts

Well there you have it! Now the next time you’re at a party and bump into a coder, there’ll be no need to know what does a web developer do. In fact, you might even be already on the path to becoming one yourself!

Whether you want to take your career to the next level in your current job, or you’re curious to learn coding to change to a new field, web development is an excellent skillset to add to your professional toolbox.

With all that said, how do you decide if it’s for you? One great way is with our free 5-day web development short course. In it, you’ll build, design, and style your first website in the languages HTML/CSS and JavaScript.

It’s an easy and commitment-free way of deciding if this career choice growing in popularity could be for you after all.

If you’d like to learn more about coding and web development, check out these articles:

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