This has been a rollercoaster year for everyone’s careers. Layoffs, dissolved opportunities, unemployment. All the bad stuff.
If you’re just starting out your development career, it’s going to be harder now than it was at just the beginning of the year.
That’s exactly why it’s important to have a laser-focused career goal. We may no longer be living in a time where casting a wide net is an effective solution to finding your next big opportunity.
In this post, I want to discuss four of the major career paths you can pursue as a web developer. We will take a look at a few things to keep in mind while progressing down each path. We will also take a look at how the new remote culture is already starting to play a role on each path.
When most people set out to learn web development, I believe that corporate development is the option that first comes to mind.
These positions are attractive because they come with a certain level of prestige, great benefits, a community of really smart coworkers, and a healthy salary. Your parents will also be happy if you choose this route.
As an entry-level developer, this is going to be a tough market to break into until companies have adapted their onboarding programs for the remote landscape. Searching for corporate job listings now is going to return a bunch of results with “Sr.” in the title, and very few with “Jr.”
What can you do to stand out?
The answer comes down to supply and demand. Corporations use an array of languages, frameworks, and other technologies, and some of those technologies are trendier than others. As a general rule, any technology that is trendy is also going to be highly competitive.
React is a great example. We all love React. As a result, corporate React jobs are hammered with highly-qualified applicants. With layoffs mounting and senior devs out there looking for work, entry-level devs can easily get lost in the woodwork.
Something like PHP is on the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a technology that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been trendy in over a decade. Another example would be .NET, except I’m not sure that .NET has ever been trendy. As a result, fewer people are applying for jobs in these technologies.
This is a market that, until I first started applying for jobs, I didn’t really understand. At its most basic level, a marketing agency is a powerful collection of developers, data scientists, marketers, and sales people who create products for other companies. This is freelance development on a massive scale.
These can be exciting places to work, but the downturn in the economy has left many agencies on hiring freeze — at least in terms of traditional hiring.
Because it is expensive to run an agency and pay all the employees involved in making great products (including their benefits, etc.) it would seem that contract agency work is going to become even more available in the near future.
What can you do to stand out to Agencies?
Picking up some of this work for yourself is going to require getting in contact with developers from that company. It’s unlikely that many of these opportunities would be listed on a job board. As an introvert, this will be tough; you’ll need to pound the digital pavement on LinkedIn, Twitter, and all the other places that you can “meet” people from agencies. Start by sending polite messages to let people know you exist, and move on from there.
The good news about startups is that, for entry-level developers, the pandemic probably hasn’t made it any harder to get that job offer.
The bad news is that it was already extremely hard.
The traditional startup is a scrappy but small group of experienced developers who are well-versed in many technologies (ranging from the tried-and-true, to the trendiest frameworks). Also, bonus points if it’s based in San Francisco.
This is far from the ideal starting point for an entry-level developer, but it’s worth keeping on this list because, with the right mentality and strategy, you might be able to work your way into an opportunity. And, with the new remote-first mindset, some of the most nimble startups have expanded their zone of candidacy beyond Silicon Valley.
What can you do to stand out to a Startup?
Learn about the company. Learn about the founder of the company. Learn about the previous companies that the founder of the company worked for. Study the ins-and-outs of their product, their tech stack, their culture.
I’m not sure how far something like this would go in practice, but in theory, the following sounds like a cool way to get noticed by a startup:
Find an issue with the startup’s product (especially if it’s open source), develop a demo solution, and tell someone about it. This will prove not only to the company, but to yourself that you are passionate about that product.
Again, your mileage may vary with startups.
Last, but not least, is freelancing. In my opinion, now is a great time to get out there as a freelance web developer.
Once again, introverts like myself are going to have to dig deep to overcome that barrier. What’s helped me is the confidence that I’m offering a great service that all business owners need. Have confidence.
The potential for freelancing is limitless, and so are the types of projects that you can take on. You can start off doing sites for local businesses, and move into picking up “overflow” work from larger agencies. You can specialize in Ecommerce and sell to clients on the gig websites like Fiverr and UpWork (not ideal, but certainly do-able)
More so than any of the other options, creativity is the key in this department.
What can you do to stand out as a Freelance Web Developer?
Many people will say have a great portfolio. Others will say improve your tech skills so that clients will be impressed by your knowledge and expertise.
I believe the only two ways to stand out here are to build a network and focus on the client.
The one constant that has permeated all four of these career paths is the importance of having a NETWORK. In the remote world, you can start cultivating a network by getting your name on people’s screens in whatever ways you can think of: writing blog posts, making YouTube videos, building a following on Twitter or Instagram, etc.
You’ll of course have to start off by cold-calling and doing other stuff to drum up business, but never forget to invest time into your network. It will drum up business for you in the future.
Once you’ve begun initial talks with a client, the second key is to focus totally on their needs. Listen to the client’s needs, and don’t bore them with the details of the tech stack unless they are a more technical client who needs to know that information. Also, don’t have shame in using something like WordPress or Shopify if it’s sufficient for what your client needs (and I think you’ll notice, these platforms are totally sufficient in many cases).
Pick a Path, and Get Going
This is a crazy, weird time for everyone. For entry-level developers looking to start their careers, it might be a good idea to pick one of these paths and devote as much time to it as you can. Specializing in one of these areas will give you the best chance at landing the opportunity you’re looking for.
With the right strategy and a lot of persistence, any one of these options is viable right now.
Good luck, and if you’re an entry-level developer, I’d love to know more about your story and the things you’re doing to move ahead.
Thanks for reading.