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May 16th, 2021

Can I Teach Myself Web Development?

It’s a question that circulates very often across the various web development communities:

“Can I teach myself web development?”

The answer is yes. Yes, you certainly can.

Strictly speaking, you don’t need a formal education or paid courses. But you’ll definitely need two things to succeed on your path to becoming a self-taught web developer:

  • persistence
  • some passion to learn

There are a lot of purely self-taught developers out there, and teaching yourself web development can be a very rewarding undertaking!

The bad news

With that said, self-directed learning is definitely not for everyone. 

You’ll need to be highly motivated and interested in your subject, or you’ll surely run out of steam in the long run.

For a lot of people, sustaining motivation and putting in a concerted effort over time is the main hurdle.

For those people, maybe a more structured approach could actually work better. Having peers around you to share knowledge and encouragement with can certainly go a long way! Pursuing a web development course, either online or in person, could be a great option in this case.

However, for those of us that are drawn to the purely self-taught path, there is good news.

The good news

There is a wealth of information out there. An endless amount of (free) tutorials in almost any niche, with FreeCodeCamp being one of the most popular resources. In short, web development meshes extremely well with self-taught learning.

With a focused mindset and efficient utilization of these assets, you can definitely become a highly capable developer.

Can anyone learn web development?

This is an interesting question. Mainly because web development is a fairly broad field, with lots of different aspects within.

But also because it depends (almost entirely) on the motivations of the (potential) developer.

In short, if you’re motivated and dedicated — you can almost certainly learn web development on your own. It all comes down to how interested and passionate you are about this craft.

If you’re not particularly interested, and your motivations are elsewhere — it may be hard to commit to improving and progressing your skill-set.

To summarize, if you enjoy web development, and enjoy picking up the skills required — there are no reason why you can’t achieve your goals and learn web development yourself!

How to teach yourself web development

Here are some tips and considerations that should prove quite useful in your quest to teach yourself web development:

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Gaining skills and expertise in any area takes time. Remind yourself of your goal — to teach yourself web development, and become a professional web developer. Remind yourself of this often. There will be challenges along the way, succeeding in any field will require you to overcome these challenges.

Becoming super-focused and dedicating 12 hours a day for 2 weeks is a good way to burn yourself out, though, and potentially give up in your pursuit before ever reaching your goal.

This is to be avoided. Instead, pace yourself and try to learn in easily-digestible chunks, whilst steadily growing your skill-set over a sustained period of time. 

Have some patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and as such – your web development repertoire won’t be, either!

Keep your finger on the pulse

To pursue a subject for a sustained period of time, it goes without saying that you’ll need some sort of interest in that subject to begin with.

With that said, it’s critically important to keep up to date with what is going on in and around the industry.

If there is a promising new framework being released, for example – it’s a good idea to have at least a passing familiarity of this.

Our industry moves very quickly, your knowledge and skill-set should attempt to move along with it.

Know when and where to find help

We all get stuck sometimes. When teaching yourself web development, you’ll most likely get stuck a lot. You’ll need to know when to turn to others. 

Utilizing the gamut of free resources out there is an important skill in and of itself. It’s not always easy to efficiently seek out the answers you require!

Knowing how to effectively seek help is a skill in itself!

Why isn’t my function working? Why is this variable undefined? Sites like StackOverflow are a great starting point, but you should be aware of the other resources at your disposal, too. 

Some people learn much better via video. There are a wealth of high-quality, professional channels out there on YouTube. Don’t forget to subscribe to your favourite creators!

It’s a great way to support our community whilst also learning and picking up new skills along the way.

Have achievable goals that look good on your CV/resume

Setting goals is really important for a number of reasons, this certainly isn’t unique to our field.

Firstly, you’ll have some structure – this helps to retain focus and provide a sense of direction.

Secondly, achieving your goal will typically reward you with some sort of tangible achievement or product. 

This is especially important if you’re looking for your first role within the industry.

You’ll need to demonstrate to potential employers why they should hire you. In this regard, killing two birds with one stone (learning while creating a real project) makes a lot of sense.

If you’re struggling to come up with ideas of things to build in this regard, feel free to check out my article on full-stack project ideas.

Enjoy yourself

This is the most important one. You should enjoy the creative process of picking up a new skill. Web development is an ever-evolving field, and you’ll likely never stop learning throughout your career.

New frameworks and tools are developed (what seems like) each and every day; it’s extremely fast-paced in this regard. To stay ahead of the curve, you’ll need to pick up new skills frequently and relish this process.

The “never stop learning” mindset is crucial here. Learning should be fun and satisfying. If you employ this mentality, you’ll have a good shot at thriving within the industry.

Once you feel your skill-set is up to scratch, you can begin to think about stepping into the professional world.

Get some real world experience

This is often the most difficult part, and a stumbling block for many self-taught developers.

Working alone in your room (or office) can be a great way to “study”, and pick up new skills. But it’s crucial to be able to apply these skills to real world problems. Without this, you’ll always be building hobby projects for yourself!

Self doubt can be crippling, but it is a hurdle that must be overcome

Gaining real world experience initially takes some confidence. Both in your abilities as a web developer, but also in your ability to reach out to potential clients. It’s normal to doubt yourself at this point, but that is something that must be overcome.

As a general rule of thumb, I’d expect to work for free for your first few projects. Are there any charities in your local area that need a website or a website rebuild?

You may need to think creatively about the best way to garner your first taste of real world experience.

With the knowledge you’ll have gained from persistent and focused practice and study, and a touch of real world experience, you’re all set to take your first steps into employment.

For more specific information on this very topic, please check out my article How Do I Get Experience As A Web Developer?

The self-taught web developer’s typical journey

I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “typical” journey for the self-taught web developer. However, I think my own path probably resembles that of many other.

My own path

I had absolutely no knowledge of how websites worked or how they were built, but I had some enthusiasm to learn.

I started out with JavaScript. The basic stuff – building slideshows and simple games. JavaScript seemed like the most accessible option at the time. It was simply a case of opening a text editor and a browser, and playing around.

Nothing else to muddy the waters so to speak; I could just focus on the fundamentals.

When teaching yourself web development, this is a key point. It’s not about building flashy or complex projects right out of the gate — rather, it’s about gaining a solid grasp of the fundamentals. These are your building blocks moving forward. You don’t want to develop bad habits early on!

Couple learning web development with learning web design if that’s appealing to you!

I also enjoyed the design aspect of our craft, so I focused on building up a small portfolio of website designs and templates in unison.

I did some volunteer work – simple websites with PHP (WordPress) for some charities in the area.

Picking up PHP along with WordPress exposed me to the full-stack aspect. I realized at this point I enjoyed working on the backend as well as the frontend, and I even liked designing websites and templates and coming up with my own themes. So becoming a full stack developer (as opposed to specializing right away) felt like a natural fit for me.

If you enjoy being in control of (almost) all aspects of the project, from beginning to end, this would be a great fit for you, also.

At this point, I also felt fairly employable — so I took to job-seeking.

Seeking employment after teaching yourself web development

It didn’t take long to find a job at a local agency.

They seemed keen on hiring someone who could essentially build bespoke websites from scratch from beginning to end. Not only that, the enthusiasm and initiative of a self-taught developer is often appealing to hirers. 

seeking employment as self-taught web developer
Seeking employment will require some confidence and belief in your abilities

Despite working on simple brochure websites initially, working at the agency was a great introduction to the industry, and a great learning curve in general.

I eventually moved across to Laravel (a PHP framework) and the complexity of the work gradually ramped up over time. I also started to work with Vue on the frontend at this point.

From here I’d essentially had my start in the industry, and after a while I realized I wanted to move on – into app development (working specifically with Android initially, and then React Native).

I work remotely on serverless projects now, utilizing React, node and Java for the most part.

The rest, as they say, is history.

In summary

I hope this article was a useful resource, and that you have some context now on how to teach yourself web development — and the rewards (as well as the pitfalls) that this route can offer.

Teaching yourself web development is most definitely a viable route. Self-directed learning isn’t for everyone; but with some enthusiasm and dedication it can be a very rewarding path.

If you’ve just started to teach yourself web development — here are some other articles and resources that may be of interest:

And remember to check back often for more!

Thanks for reading!

Have any questions? Ping me over at @justacodingblog
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