Help! I’m a Web Developer and it’s Hard

Web development seems to be the way to go now. With promises of freedom, opportunity, an vastly improved payslip and a chance at becoming a Mark Zuckerberg clone, it is simply hard to resist. More and more, flocks of individuals scour the internet for that tutorial, e-book, video, course, etc. to transform them from novice to ninja within a self-approved timeframe. While their motivations might be as diverse as their backgrounds, a few things quickly become clear as Erik Trautman clarifies in this post. He does an excellent job at explaining various stages of trial and triumph in learning to code, while quickly dispelling the myth of the world’s greatest paycheck in the shortest possible time.

Truth be told, web development (any sort of development, for that matter) IS HARD! Let’s say your dream is a more dignifying job (cash and title considered), then you get inspiration from this ex-carpenter, assuming you took the exact same steps he took you will only have manged to get yourself into a position where some employer decides it will be profitable to invest in your continuing education.

Let that last sentence sink in for a while a journey into web development is a journey into intense commitment to everyday learning. The real-world projects you handle along the way are your thesis and you will be expected to reproduce and exceed them in various forms as you go along. Come on, you advertised yourself as a web developer, with the ability to shift bits and bytes on the fly with a keyboard. Your clients refuse to be forgiving and they are right.

Truth be told, web development (any sort of development, for that matter) IS HARD!

In terms of continuous education, there’s a plethora of material on the web, which is where you live now. A simple Google search produces millions of results, many relevant to your criteria only differing by certain nuances and shades. This lack of shortage of materials can be very inimical to the development of the developer. One of the very first skills a developer must develop (like the pun?) is the ability to wade through torrents of material to decide what is relevant. This probably begins with being able to search properly for what one needs to know. A corollary to this is that a web developer must quickly learn to keep their focus in one place…

Having learned so much how our brains work and how we’re able to adapt to different learning styles while ultimately preferring one to the rest, how about going with a learning approach that excites your faculties, causing you to engage the material in more meaningful ways enhancing your recall and ability to make real-world application of concepts.

Watching video tutorials and reading written tutorials are about the two most popular ways we learn anything, but if we know anything about passive and active learning, it’s easy to tell which is more effective. Reading (along with copious note-taking) is a very active form of learning as opposed to watching videos, which is passive. Even code illustrations in videos are often treated with the same laxity as when we watch movies. Therefore, we get entertained and retain much less than when we read, excite neurons to visualize what we’re reading and attempt to follow every word the writer has written. Indeed, reading is a conversation with the author where we don’t get to talk back, and since we’re generally bad at listening, the absence of the author forces us to ruminate on what point he is trying to get across. How about seeing videos only after we’ve read material and accumulated enough background information about the topic? That puts us in a much better position (mentally and psychologically)as we learn from the videos. It seems to me that people who favour reading to watching, quickly familiarise themselves with reading “boring” docs and manuals thereby learning some more, while “watchers” tend to wait until it is only “absolutely necessary.”

After reading though, you must make room time-wise to test your recall of the material studied. That’s where your note-taking comes into play. If you pencilled down questions about salient points earlier, now is the time to answer those questions. My experience is you unearth weak spots in your understanding of the material, and immediately seek to fill those gaps. You might need to do this a few times depending on how tricky the material is. You can say you’ve got it when you attempt to apply it in creating something and the results are satisfactory. This is deliberate reinforcement and is very much effective. It has good implications for the longterm memory of the material and means you haven’t just learned the material by rote.

Concepts are one thing. Projects are another. Projects are where you put it all together. Concepts however build into projects and even if your knowledge appears minimal, you probably know more than enough to delve into a project. That said, every project is different. Every client is different. See each as a minima in your learning curve (assuming your learning curve oscillates widely) and know there is always room for improvement.

Web developers are a commodity as almost every other profession eventually becomes. Demand multiplies and the barrier for entry inevitably diminishes. The barrier for entry into web development is as low as it gets. yet sheer grit, raw discipline, nerve-wracking attention to detail, ever-increasing commitment to remain committed (whatever that eventually entails) is non-negotiable.

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