If you’re contemplating a career in programming, it’s important to know that while web and software development seem like one and the same thing – they both rely on code – they are essentially unique. And this line can get very fine in the beginning until you recognize their simple yet crucial difference: the path to software development career is longer and more winding.
In most cases, software developers have to finish at least a bachelor’s degree, which means they don’t only learn about code but also computer basics and architecture, as well as data structure. If you want to focus on software development, you will usually have to complete a software engineering externship or do volunteer work for employers before you are actually hired full-time.
On the other hand, being a web developer is usually a lot simpler, though you may be surprised that many web developers also pursued a computer science degree. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t be one without such a degree. In fact, there are so many learning opportunities you can consider these days, from boot camps to websites and blogs to apps and more. That goes for both web and software developers because the reality is, you can jumpstart a career in any area of programming on your own, and the only real requirement is your unwavering commitment.
Software development is an ever evolving and industry where there’s just no learning enough. Even if you’re already high up there in the hierarchy of developers, this business sees no end when it comes to the pursuit of knowledge. To build on your current level on software development expertise, here are some of the most useful resources you can find today:
Courses / Programs
Designation is a Chicago-based web design program focused on frontend and UX/UI design. This 18-week course thrives on a collaborative environment where creativity forms the core and and the goal is to create not only good but exceptional results.
Cost: $400 (part-time); $1,200-$1,500 (full-time)
Epicodus, a two-course package that runs for a total of eight months (4 months each), teaches mainly Ruby, PHP, Rails, Drupal, Java and C#. Within the program, you can create an extensive portfolio that you can use to land jobs in the future. Epicodus provides what organizers call a flipped classroom, where there are no teachers or lecturers. Instead, you will be left on your own to collaborate with other students and learn to code together.
Codeacademy is known for its interactive setup that allows learners to concentrate on the skills they think will help them the most in reaching their own specific goals. The course provider gives access to free programs that help you master the skills needed for general web development, while offering educational programs according to a specific language. Essentially, this allows you to create your own curriculum and learn at your own pace.
Programmr is an online teaching tool for beginners and those who want to polish their existing skills. It is a simple and straightforward learning experience that tackles almost everything important and interesting for a newbie software developer. It is also popular for being an enjoyable tool, offering lessons on a wide range of subjects, from Ruby to Python to CSS and more.
Ladies Learning Code
Cost: “Pay what you can”
The program uses a hands-on, collaborative approach when teaching web development, and aims to inspire women, especially young ones, to build on their skills. Ladies Learning Code is a non-profit that began with workshops and now offers a 7-week full-blown digital skills program, plus other courses that are convenient as well as reasonably priced. So far, it has been successful in spreading digital literacy, which it continues to do while reaping excellent outcomes.
Even after its shutdown, Google Code continues to be a helpful resource for self-taught software developers. It is a searchable database that currently contains over 2 million projects and downloads, as well as 12.6 million issues. It’s undeniable that Google Code is still a relevant resource for system developers, especially newbies.
WIRED Tutorial Library (formerly Webmonkey tutorials)
Beginner web developers can use WIRED and Webmonkey tutorials, but this online resource is still highly useful for those learning to code software. Software development materials are now available through WIRED’s site.
The resources provided by OER Commons are for everyone and offer wide-ranging subjects that can be accessed openly from around the globe. The courses available in this open-education directory come from several sources, such as Teachers’ Domain and the Saylor Foundation.
Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction, Second Edition
by Steve McConnell
As one of the most popular and useful programming guides, Code Complete’s second edition is a revised version that includes updated best practices, together with a variety of fresh code examples. Newbies should seriously consume and re-consume this material, which provides all the information needed to establish a strong professional foundation for building a solid career in software development.
“Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship”
by Robert C. Martin
Separated into three separate parts, Clean Code starts by differentiating the basic rules for clean coding, with real-world examples. The last part reviews the heuristics taken from the previous part’s case studies, making sure that you truly value the importance of clean coding. The book is indispensable, whether you’re new in the industry or an old-timer who wants your code to shine.
Software Development (SD) Times is BZ Media’s flagship and was the industry’s only publication until its conversion into a monthly magazine. Nonetheless, the new format still contains the same detailed approach to news and trend analysis. Since 2004, BZ Media has been holding technical conferences and trade shows, including the Android Wearables conference in 2014.
@CPontikis by Christos Pontikis
Pontikis.net offers aspiring software developers most of the how-to’s and tutorials they need to get started, especially on certain languages and frameworks. The author, Christos Pontikis, is an Internet solutions specialist who tackles various subjects in his blog and through social media, including lessons in MySQL, PHP, and jQuery. Pontikis is known among his followers for his consistency in providing not just instructional materials but also the latest news in the trade.
Technology, Strategy, People & Projects
@ericdbrown by Eric D. Brown
Technology, Strategy, People & Projects Eric D. Brown is a data science guru who is also popular for his blog that contains a wealth of tech, data and marketing information. New developers are naturally attracted to Brown for his wide perspective as evidenced by his posts.
The Building Blocks
No such thing as a free lunch, but free resources for web developers? Aplenty. And we’re not talking bells and whistles or contingent support here. Many of the core systems and tools you’ll need as a web developer come at zero cost, including, most notably, the following:
WordPress practically wrote the book when it comes to content management systems, which let users add, change, remove or publish content on the Internet without any coding. It’s also the cornerstone of some of the world’s most influential blogs, like CNN’s and Wall Street Journal’s. As far as web developers are concerned, it’s the plugins and customization that make it a killer – so much so that more than 30% of what’s online now runs on WordPress.
The gold standard for version control systems, Git allows you to monitor your website’s code changes so when something’s not quite right, it will simply restore the last version that worked, and you can start tracing the problem.
Visual Studio Code
Whether you’re on Mac, Linux or Windows, Visual Studio Code can work for you. It’s a fully customizable source code editor for debugging code (spot and eliminate errors) right from an on-screen editor. To boot, it comes with inbuilt Git commands that let you keep a tab on the changes you make while staying inside the editor, plus a smart completion tool that boosts your coding efficiency.
MAMP, WAMPSERVER and LAMP
WordPress websites – the program itself and your content – are often stored on a web server through a web host. But while you’re in the process of development and testing, you can also install WordPress in your own local system using MAMP if you’re on Mac; LAMP if you’re using Linux/Ubuntu; and finally, WAMPSERVER if you run on Windows. These programs provide all the necessary tools for running WordPress in your own home or office.
When scrambling for free web developer resources, don’t be like the others who forgot websites. Of course, these are some of the best help providers ever – as a web developer or an aspiring web developer, you should be the first to tell! But there’s always more to discover in the world of web development, and these are some of the best sites to keep you in the know:
DZone is a place where web developers exchange links, articles, cheat sheets, development techniques and many other materials that help one another improve what they do. All you have to do is sign up for an account and you get unlimited access to everything the site offers.
Here’s another online community where you can share tips and tricks with other web developers. Stack Overflow is currently over 7 million strong and counting – just the place to see a beautiful congregation of programmers from the world over, asking and answering questions and just helping one another. Sign up to hop into the conversation!
W3Schools is a website that teaches common scripts and languages, lets you practice with an actual editor, and even quizzes you to gauge your learning.
GitHub is an open source repository hosting service that lets you store your current projects, collaborate with other programmers, and enjoy the site’s command line features. Plus, you can use its web-based graphical interface if you want to.
Smashing Magazine is another website that gives you heaps and piles of tools, tutorials, tips and tricks from established developers and talented aficionados.
If you’re looking for articles and tutorials about web development, Codrops has ‘em all, especially the hot and trendy. Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran looking for inspiration, you can head to their Tutorial section for tons of how-tos, and to Playground for the plugins. The site even has a Blueprints section where you can find a panoptic CSS reference page, plus lots of mock website concepts and designs.
A List Apart
A List Apart is a website that helps developers make websites through articles on design, development, and web content, especially with respect to web standards and best practices.
If you’re convinced you’re a ninja programmer, you can proceed to the next level: freelancing. Ninja Freelance is a website that helps you connect those two worlds.
Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association
Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association keeps you up to date on the most recent developments in the open access market.
Turns out web browsers aren’t only made for browsing. They can be web developer tools too, thanks to browser extensions, or those downloadable add-ons that allow browser customization. Here are some of the best FREE browser extensions you can use for your projects:
As a developer, you’ll come across websites that really blow you away and inspire you to create your own, except you don’t know exactly how it worked for those sites. That’s exactly what Wappalyzer is for – it tells you what technologies are used on a website so you know how to create your own work using them. For example, Wappalyzer will tell you if a website uses an e-commerce platform like Shopify or Etsy, a framework like Ruby on Rails, so on.
WhatFont & Fount
When you find a font you particularly like, you can usually just Google it down quick and easy. If you want to find that font even faster, use a browser extension like WhatFont, which instantly displays web fonts as you hover on the text. More importantly, it tells you where you can get that font so you can start using it immediately. WhatFont only works with Chrome and Safari though. For any other browser, check out Fount.
Responsive Web Design Tester
This extension lets you check how your website looks on mobile without having to use actual smartphones and tablets. Responsive Web Design Tester itself will be your all-in-one test site as it is designed to mimic the dimensions of a wide variety of devices.
The CSS3 Generator is exactly that – a browser extension that generates CSS3 (the latest) for any design features that you may want to use for your own project, such as borders, gradients, etc. Once the extension has generated the code, you can simply copy and paste it into your stylesheet and see it work.
It’s not uncommon to lose a bit of a picture’s fidelity as you work with it on HTML and CSS. Simply put, Perfectpixel lets you overlay your original image file over your web content so you can compare the pictures by pixel and build an HTML file according to your exact specifications.
Applications and Utilities
As a freelance web designer, you likely take care of so much more than websites. You talk to clients, check your cash flow, pay your taxes, clean up your desk, etc. Sometimes – or most of the time – that doesn’t really leave enough room for creativity. That’s exactly why you need to organize your time so you can maximize each opportunity to innovate and maintain high productivity. Here’s a list of some of the useful tools, paid and unpaid, that you can use for this purpose:
Advanced PDF to HTML Converter
Keep your clients happy with Advanced PDF to HTML Converter. This program ensures your online documents have all working links and bookmarks, and smooth formatting.
Cost: FREE to $20 / 10 devices
Like most developers, you probably value the freedom of being able to work anywhere and anytime, including staying up until the wee hours. There’s a problem with this though: a computer monitor’s glare in low light isn’t exactly helpful. With f.LUX, you can keep your computer display eye-friendly, no matter what time it is. Of course, that still comes with taking frequent eye breaks.
Cost: $8.95 / mo
Lots of junk in your inbox? You can breeze through that with ClearContext, a program designed to organize and prioritize email.
As a Mac user, you know you need to use command line features sometimes, which you usually do with the system’s terminal program. Amazingly, the built-in Mac terminal is still a little backward, but that’s just what Iterm2 is for. Working as a Mac terminal, this emulator also offers some of the extra trappings, such as a powerful search feature, a text auto-complete function, a paste history, and split panes, which automatically dim when a session is inactive.
Cost: FREE to $89+ / mo
Cyfe is a handy business dashboard that keeps you in the know when it comes to a website’s analytics, social rankings, uptime and the like. It also performs CSV, JPEG, PNG, and other data conversions for personal or team use.
Cost: FREE to $130 / mo (individual), $14.99 / user / mo (team)
When you’re so immersed in your computer – five browsers up at the same time, thoughts streaming in unstoppably – it can be easy for ideas to go up in smoke. With Evernote, you can write them down as they come, save screenshots and pictures of handwritten notes, keep everything in one place, and search for them easily as needed. Plus, you can sync it with your other devices.
Cost: $3 – 10 / mo
Nimbulis tool will keep track of the time you spend per job so you can bill your clients accurately.
10 Annoying Word Features (and How To Turn Them Off)
If you often use Word but can’t stand its pesky features, 10 Annoying Word Features (and How To Turn Them Off) is an article that will tell you how to get rid of them so you can work in peace with only the ones you want.
Cost: $79.00 / mo
Atom is not your usual text editor in that it comes with a lot more customizability than the rest. It is also compatible with multiple platforms and programming languages, and has an intelligent autocomplete feature and split screen capability.
The best things in life are free indeed, including Google Calendar, which goes with you whenever and wherever. Lots of useful features too!
Here’s another really handy and zero-cost tool. Unclutterer helps you organize your work, both physically and digitally.
Sometimes, some websites just need a few tweaks here and there to make them look better – for example, change the background color or increase the font size. The Stylebot browser extension allows such changes and even records them for future reference. With this extension, you get a sidebar with all kinds of CSS options, allowing you to customize a site’s appearance and even sync those styles for all the computers you use.
Cost: $60 / user
So many contacts, so little time? The Mail.app plugin lets you tag and go directly to certain emails as needed at half the time.
Cost: FREE to €500 / mo
Miscommunication in a web design project can have catastrophic effects. WordFast prevents that scenario by helping you communicate with international clients.
When you just don’t have time to go through each sentence or paragraph, you can use the Free Summarizer to round up the points for a quick and easy read.
Cost: $499 / year (individual), $499 / user (team)
Besides laying the bricks for programming, these guys also teach every area of development you’ll want to master. Check out the O’Reilly Network.
Cost: FREE to $99 / mo (individual), $99 / mo (team)
During the website creation process, you will likely have to share your progress with your client. This often entails making prototypes using branded and paid software as big companies do. Or you can try free prototyping tools like Invision and get the same results. Of course, you can always upgrade to a paid plan with more specific features when necessary.
Cost: USD $49.00 / user
If you usually do repetitive tasks that are beyond Excel automation, ASAP Utilities is an add-in that will fill all the gaps and increase your efficiency.
Cost: FREE to $299 / mo
Zamzar is a program that lets you convert client documents in.docx to something you can read.
Cost: FREE to $649/ mo
Netvibes lets you store everything you need in one place, from emails to news to jobs and more.
Auto HotKey is a program that lets you assign text or keystrokes even to your most unique tasks, allowing you to work faster and more efficiently.
CoreBlox is a token service that lets you manage projects in an environment that is secure for you as well as for your clients.
Freelancing As a Business
As a freelance developer, you can’t be all about coding. You have to mind the business side too. Mismanaged finances, unpaid or underpaid taxes, the lack of a business plan, poor client communication – all these and more have led to ugly consequences. The good news is they are all avoidable, especially with the following tools:
Tax Tips for Freelancers
Yes, even freelancers have to pay their taxes. In fact, record-keeping tasks may even be more tedious and complicated than those of regular workers. Tax Tips for Freelancers can help.
Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center
The Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center guide helps ensure that you’re well in step with all the deductions and other tax items that affect you as a freelancer in the U.S.
Cost: $32.50 (Standard)
One of the worst things for a freelancer is not getting paid by a client. With the Escrow tool, you can work in peace, knowing you’ll be compensated as soon as you’re done with the job.
Intellectual Property Law Blog
This Intellectual Property Law Blog teaches about intellectual property and all its aspects, as well as saves you from potential legal trouble related to intellectual property violations, intended or unintended.
Cost: $12 – 75/mo
This one’s for the books, literally. With the Quickbooks tool, you can easily keep track of your accounting tasks and even pull up reports that help assess your fiscal health as a freelancer.
Mr. June Walker is an experienced tax advisor to the self-employed, including freelancers. He even answers questions directly if you try!
Bonsai Freelance Rate Explorer
One of the ways to thrive in the web development game is to keep your rates competitive. With the Bonsai Freelance Rate Explorer tool, you can compare freelancer rates according to skill, experience and location.
Cost: $9.99 – 39.99 /mo
If you hate paperwork and its inefficiencies, use Hello Sign (or any similar service) for quick, secure and legally valid eSignatures for your freelancing business.
Cost: FREE to $199 (lifetime access)
SitePoint Freelancing is a website that offers both free and paid content that will help you with your pursuits as a tech entrepreneur.
More and more people are into web development, causing an unprecedented rise in the number of candidates who may be considered for a project. Still, that’s not to say there aren’t enough opportunities for developers, and neither does that make you any less talented compared to the rest. It simply means you have to widen your horizons when looking for projects. Here are some of the places where you can position yourself as a professional web developer, connect with high-quality potential clients, and find a jazillion opportunities:
Guru is one of the pioneers of freelance work sites and has definitely grown a mammoth base of programmer-seeking clients.
Cost: FREE or $197 (6-Week Job Program)
JibberJobber works a lot like Guru but has a bit more features to help you with overall personal career management, like network building, relationship management, and so on.
Another one of sites like Guru is Flex Jobs, where you can find plenty of opportunities, especially for web programmers.
Freelancer’s job board is another one to beat. It’s also one of those sites where web developers seem to be a favorite – projects just keep coming!
Like other freelancing sites, We Work Remotely gets you projects to work on, but one thing that stands out is their quick payment system. Works great if you want your cash instant.
Craigslist is, of course, the timeless favorite for all kinds of freelancers, including web developers. Just never let your guards down as it’s a haven for flakers.
All websites and products should be user-friendly, but this goes beyond developers being nice. Creating something that is simple and meets the purpose demands testing for certain usability standards that ensure overall project effectiveness and user satisfaction. To a user, usability helps them do their tasks correctly and without trouble. To a developer, usability is a crucial measure of the success of a completed project. To help you with that, here are some of the most helpful tools you can use for advantage:
Usability Testing Boot Camp
Usability Testing Boot Camp is a course teaches you all the essentials of boosting your website’s user experience so you can run your own usability test from beginning to end.
Information Architecture Basics
A big chunk of usability is related to the organization of information in a website. Information Architecture Basics, while short, is extremely relevant article for developers.
Designing Web Usability
Designing Web Usability is a paperback is by none other than usability guru Jakob Nielson, who teaches about websites that please both users and search engines.
Information Architecture Tutorial
Information Architecture Tutorial is a comprehensive, 5-lesson online tutorial. It’s a steal if you’re looking to brush up on your knowledge in information architecture without spending a penny.
Questions for Website Usability Testers
When testing a site for usability, the right questions must be asked to get the right information. Questions for Website Usability Testers gives you those questions, ready-made.
Information Architecture 101: Techniques and Best Practices
Information Architecture 101: Techniques and Best Practices is another extensive article that gives you the lowdown on information architecture as an element of usability.
Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition
Cost: $28.80 (brand new), $10.25 (used)
Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition is a book by Steve Krug that is more than a usability handbook. It uses humor to teach its lessons, making them so much easier to remember and apply.
Creating Accessible Forms
Creating Accessible Forms is an article that discusses all things form, especially how to keep them logical, intuitive and accessible, and why that’s important to usability.
LAYING THE GROUNDWORK
Recent research shows over 75% of employers now view coding camp graduates and self-learners in general as equals of college degree holders. And with the pay for web developers in the U.S. reaching over $100,000, you are looking at excellent potential return for your investment in self-education. Of course, if you’d rather work as a freelancer, the sky’s the limit when it comes to your earnings.
At the end of the day, learning how to code may well be one of the most important skills you’ll ever learn. It is, after all, the language of the 21st century, and it opens so many doors to so many profitable and exciting career prospects. Mastering code is not just even for those who want to work as programmers. It also ushers in countless opportunities in non-tech positions, from coding jobs to business jobs and even entrepreneurship. In any case, it can be your perfect jump off to a long and rewarding career in IT.