How Do I Get Experience As A Web Developer?
Following on my from my article: Can I Teach Myself Web Development? — I’d like to delve into a bit more detail on this topic in particular.
Gaining real-world experience as a web developer.
Putting together a fantastic portfolio, as well as being fairly skilled in your craft, are fantastic prerequisites. Obtaining relevant real-world web development experience may give you the edge (and the confidence) you need to land your first job in the industry, however.
Let’s go into more detail.
Why do I need real-world experience?
Gaining the knowledge and the ability to work as a web developer is often only the first step towards breaking into the industry. The “real” world does offer a lot of additional challenges outside of having the ability to actually write robust code.
These kind of challenges are often overlooked!
Soft skills are very important, not just in our industry but also throughout life in general. Some of these soft skills include:
- basic people skills in general
- the ability to communicate effectively with others, and translate your ideas and thoughts for less technical personnel where required
- time keeping and general professionalism
Real-world experience will help foster these skills and give you more confidence moving forward.
Your ability as a web developer should still be your number one priority. However, having (at least some of) the soft skills outlined above will definitely provide a huge benefit. Both initially, and throughout your career as a whole.
What level of ability do I need?
Simply put, you’ll want to be well equipped to deal with the types of project you’re looking to commit to. This can be tricky to gauge, initially. You’ll likely be working for free to start out, on short projects, purely to dip your toes in to the water.
As it’s hard to really understand where your skill-set actually is when applied to “real” projects, you should be open and honest with your (potential) client regarding your abilities.
As a rule of thumb when finding web development projects to work on, start as small and as simple as possible. Focus on delivering robust and timely results.
Remember, when working on projects for other people — there may often be a degree of uncertainty, or the requirement to change things. You should factor this in from the beginning as a potential bump in the road, so to speak.
Once you have a degree of real-world experience, you can better gauge your abilities and more easily identify your comfort level when seeking web development projects in the future.
Where can I find experience?
There are a few different avenues to explore in this regard. You may need to get creative to secure your first web development project, but here are a few of the more common approaches:
Do some freelance work
Thought often competitive by nature, it is still possible to find work on these sites as a relative beginner. It’ll take some persistence, though. As stated above, it’s advisable to start small and simple and to gradually build up once you’re comfortable with delivering results.
Many developers rely on sites like these ones to earn their living long-term. For those just wanting to dip their toes in the water, however, this can still be a viable route to getting that vital first piece of real-world experience.
Approach local businesses
This one is fairly dependent on your location. Approaching companies in your local area could be a good option, dependent on the type and scale of the businesses in your immediate area.
Maybe you know of a local company that lacks any sort of web presence, and you think they’d benefit from having a simple website? These types of people would be ideal to approach in this scenario.
A small brochure site isn’t necessarily a huge commitment to deliver, even for the beginner, so it’s a relatively safe project to undertake.
Not everybody understands the importance or impact of having a website and being clearly visible online. For these people, you can deliver a lot of value with relatively little effort as a web developer — especially if you have some basic SEO knowledge to compliment this.
Volunteer for a charity or other organisation online
There are many resources out there that you can use to find volunteer projects to contribute towards, be it for a charity organisation or otherwise.
RemoteHub has a volunteering section, for example.
At the time of writing, there are projects on RemoteHub that would suit WordPress developers, full stack developers as well as SEO experts.
A site such as this one could be the ideal place to look when seeking out opportunities within the industry.
What do I do if I can’t get experience?
You’ll likely have numerous knockbacks throughout your career, particularly when first starting out.
If you’re struggling to break into the industry and struggling to get your first taste of real-world experience, don’t worry. As with a lot of things, you’ll need to be persistent.
Take an objective stance and ask yourself “why?”
Sometimes, you need to just step back and objectively look at your own CV/résumé. Look at your portfolio, consider your approach. Remember that web development is a fiercely competitive field. There will likely be a lot of other developers out there in your exact position.
Maybe you’re just having some bad luck, and need to keep on trying. Or maybe there is a weakness that you need to work on. Or it could be a combination of both. Either way, you’ll need to objectively analyse that in order to move forward.
What do I do once I have some real-world experience?
The next natural step would be either to seek employment, or to start looking for paying clients.
Again, both of these routes would require these three things:
- a strong portfolio
If you have a decent set of soft skills and enjoy interacting with other people, then that’s even better.
Your portfolio and your ability to demonstrate your knowledge is the most important thing, however. This is where your focus should inevitably rest.
With a strong portfolio as well as some experience (unpaid or otherwise) — you’ll be giving yourself the best chance possible to break into the industry.