A beginners’ guide to web development

If you are reading this post, most probably you have some sort of interest in web development, or even you think about starting to learn about web development. In this post, I would like to show you what path you can follow to be a web developer. This is a beginners’ guide to web development from the perspective of what to learn and how to specialize. This is not a post in which you will learn coding. I just want to point out the what you need to consider before you start learning to code. So, welcome to our dynamic and ever changing world. One of those fast-pace professions with lot of challenges and excitement. So let us define some basic concepts first.

Front End vs. Back End

The initial separation you will feel here is Front End vs. Back End. Let us clarify first what is Frond End and what is Back End.

Front End

Web applications are categorized as distributed applications with a client-server architecture. So, we have a part of code which runs in the client and another part in server. The part of application which is run and rendered in client (most of the time, the client is our web browser) is called the Front End. The most usual technology combination which is used to develop for Front End is HTML+CSS+JavaScript. Front End specialists usually develop expertise in creating Front End of the web applications using these technologies. Another common skill Front End developers master is slicing Photoshop designs to HTML+CSS+JavaScript web pages.

Back End

Back End developers write code that runs on server. Usually, this part of the job entails communication with the DataBase for reading/writing data, reading/writing files, doing the business logic, etc. In some cases where the business logic resides in client side, then Back End is used to serve the data from the DataBase usually in the form of Web Services. Back End developers usually master one of web programming languages and a DataBase Management System.

 

You can master both, but from my experience, I have seen that all web developers tend to like one more than the other. Some even specialize on only one of them. Although there is a line of separation, there is no limit that which side should do what. Sometimes Front End is used only for visual representation and all the job is done in Back End. In some cases, Back End only serves the data and all the calculations and functions reside in Front End. It is a matter of design and architecture to define which side does what (although, depending on the architecture you choose, there are some guidelines about the responsibilities of each side).

Programming languages

There are a lot of available programming languages for web development. When we want to program on Front End, the defacto standard language is JavaScript. When it comes to Back End, we have plenty of choices. Let me list some of the popular choices:

  • PHP
  • JavaScript
  • Ruby on Rails (used with Ruby programming language)
  • ASP.NET (used with .net programming languages)
  • Java EE
  • Python

And this is not a definitive list, just those that came to my mind right now. So which one to choose. Well, your choice should be evaluated based on some factors like: the job market, hosting environment of the web application, available learning resources, available time to learn, the development community around you.

If you want to work as a web developer, in my opinion the most important factor is the job market. You should analyze the job market you are in (or you want to be in) and chose that language that has most job openings. Another important factor is the hosting environment. For example, PHP hosting is quite cheap compared to Java hosting. If you are going to develop an intranet application which is going to be hosted internally in an organization, perhaps Java EE could be a very good choice, but if you want to host your application online, Java EE could be rather expensive compared to other languages.

With the popularity of Node.js, JavaScript has started to become a popular choice of Back End programmers, however, this is still quite a new and immature technology compared to others, and I would not recommend it as a choice of beginner Web Developer.

In my opinion, PHP has the easiest learning curve, cheap hosting environment, plenty of learning resources and relatively easy development environment, so I would recommend to any beginner web developer start with PHP. ASP.NET is also a good choice. Microsoft offers a lot of learning resources, free development tools and a pretty rich environment. If you like the Microsoft ecosystem, ASP.NET is a very good choice.

Frameworks

If you are a beginner, give yourself some time before you start learning a framework. Frameworks are code libraries which make the life of a web developer easier. Frameworks give a structure to a web application, help web developer do some tasks a lot easier and faster then coding everything yourself. If you want to be a professional Web Developer, then it is a must you learn at least one framework, which boosts your speed of development.

You have a plenty of frameworks which try to be general solutions or specialist solutions. You must evaluate your needs. If you have chosen PHP, I would recommend Laravel as a framework of choice. It is a sound MVC framework which is quite trendy these days. If your choice is with ASP.NET, I would definitely recommend you learn ASP.NET MVC and EntityFramework at least.

Web development can be huge and you may want to focus on one type of applications, let’s say development of web sites with Content Management Systems (CMS). Again if you have chosen PHP, I would recommend you continue with WordPress. WordPress allows you to create web sites, blogs, but also it can be extended with ready plugins or custom themes and plugins to quite complex business applications.

You will find plenty of choices for frameworks for any language you choose, so based on your language of choice, you will have to work with different frameworks.

What next

As a first advice, even if you choose to specialize for Front End or Back End (I would strongly recommend you do), you should have a grasp of the other side, and if you do, your team’s performance will be better. If you have learned a programming language and mastered a framework, what I would recommend is you start with another one. Programming languages have their own philosophies and paradigms, and sometimes some differ quite a lot. Knowing two or more programming languages will allow you have a better picture and understanding how programming problems are tackled and will make you a more fluent developer. As I said earlier, you have to consider many factors when you choose your languages. My choices until today were: JavaScript, PHP, ASP.NET, and Java EE. I’m still looking forward to extend my list 🙂

Do you need to take developer certifications

Software development industry is one of the fastest progressing industries. New technologies, amazingly fast changing businesses, and advancement of requirements make learning a daily task of software developers. In a way, when we choose this profession, we kind of agree to lifelong learning, but there comes the question:

“Do you need to take developer certifications?”.

Personally, I like developer certifications. You can see from my profile, I have taken 9 different industry certifications, mostly for Microsoft technologies. The biggest value I see in taking certifications is learning the details of some technologies. As the saying goes “The devil is hidden in the details”, I like learning some technologies in deep details. I do not claim that I do remember all those details from all the certifications I have gone through, but from the experience, I have had some “aha moments” when some of those details have spared me lots of time. Certifications have also helped me to establish my knowledge and credentials as knowledgeable person in those technologies and help me teach those technologies in various courses.

The effect of certifications on your career

I have read in many articles that certifications help you find a better job. I would not argue that you can look better or more prestigious with all those certifications but personally, I have not seen any case that certifications have been the ultimate factor for hiring someone. Perhaps I’m short of that kind of experience, but I put myself in the shoes of a hiring person, if I’d be choosing someone to hire, the certifications surely would be a benefit or a value added for the candidate, but not an important factor for my decision. The important factor is the knowledge one has, and industry certifications can only be a plus.

The effect of certifications on your professional development

If you have taken and passed an industry certification, most probably you have followed a learning plan to learn all the objectives tested in the exam, and that has pushed you to have some good understanding of that specific technology. Moreover, you have seen the latest developments in that technology and have become familiar with what is required to follow on further developments.

Development technologies advance every day, and if you follow the cutting edge technologies, this is an indications that you are also a productive developer as new technologies most of the time make the development process easier and faster. I have not seen a better illustration of this than this picture

are you too busy to improve

The effect of certifications on your personal brand

Branding is not something exclusive to corporates. We all have our brand, your name is a brand, and you should work to make it better and better. Taking certifications will have a positive impact on establishing a firm expertise in your industry and showing how seriously you take your career and personal development. Certifying your knowledge will have an added value towards the development of your personal brand as an industry expert.

Conclusions

As I stated from the beginning of this post, I am very much into certifications, not from the marketing benefits I get from them, but from the learning and self development benefits I get from the process of preparing to take the exams. Personally, I have had a lot of benefits from the knowledge I have gained during that process, therefore I would recommend taking industry certification exams to anyone who wants to advance in software development career.

The most important skill for Software Architects

I trust anyone reading this post title most probably is expecting to see something like UML Design, OOP Design, writing code, etc. I would not consider these in required skills list, these are I would say, mandatory skills for a Software Architect. In my opinion, the most important skills for Software Architects are the communication skills.

The importance of communication skills

In Microsoft .NET – Architecting Applications for the Enterprise (2nd Edition) book, the role of the software architect is defined as a person who ties together the requirements and specifications, and one of the most important responsibilities of the software architect is mentioned to be the acknowledgment of requirements.

This requires a lot of communication with people of different profiles and various knowledge of technical jargon (project managers, business analysts, potential users, etc.), and it is a natural expectation that Software Architect should speak the language of business rather than the other way around.

Speaking the language of business is one part of the communication. Next comes communicating that business knowledge and requirements to development team. In my experience, I have seen several situations that developers and business people were speaking about the very same solution, but the language terminology they used made everybody think that they are speaking about two different solutions.

It is the technical skills of planning, designing, development, and implementation of a software solution that qualifies one for  the position of Software Architect, but in my opinion it is the soft skill of communication that is the most important skill for software architects and the skill that makes one an appropriate choice to be in that middle point of the team. As my boss says, we must talk talk talk.

What can you do to improve your communication skills?

Of course there is no silver bullet to this problem. We humans tend to be unique in our behavior and skills, and as such the recommendations can not easily be generalized. However, I have three points which I can recommend to anyone:

  1. Seek for sincere advice from people around you, be it your family, your friends, or your colleagues. Generally, it is not easy to get someone to sincerely tell you what they think. People sometimes don’t like to tell what they think and sometimes they are afraid of being percepted as criticizing others, so they don’t tell you exactly how you are being percepted unless they get this freedom from you. Try to make people feel comfortable saying what they think about your communication skills and appreciate sincerely their comments.
  2. Spend some time with yourself thinking about your communication with others. What did you say, what was your intention to communicate and how was it percepted? This could be very helpful to find your weak points, on which you should focus to improve.
  3. Read the book How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie. This is one of the best books I have read and I can confidently recommend this book to anyone. It has an immense set of advices which are very useful for improving one’s communication skills.

You can find plenty of advice from different resources on internet, from books, and from people around you about how to improve your communication skills. Pay attention to the input you get especially from people, you will appreciate it at the end.

Staying up to date with technology developments

For a software developer, staying up to date with technology developments and follow latest trends of software development is of utmost importance. But nowadays, the number of online posts/activities that are competing for our attention has increased exponentially. Dealing with all this load of information and staying up to date is not an easy thing. I have create a simple strategy which works for myself and I’d like to share it with you.

 

Conferences to follow/attend

Conferences are where the latest developments usually are formally announced and demonstrated. Attending developer conferences gives me the opportunity to listen to the demos and presentations of latest trends in software development as well as network with my peers. Sometimes, attending conferences is costly, especially if you target one of the major conferences, but luckily, most of those conferences publish their videos online so we can view them.

Some of the major conferences I follow are:

User groups

Local users groups provide excellent opportunities to see what your peers are up to, what is happening on the market, and what technologies and trends are actual in your neighborhood. There is also a value added activity of networking with your peers which is a good benefit. There is a user group for almost anything out there so just search for user groups at your neighborhood and join them.

Sites to follow

There are some major sites where I follow latest developments on software development technologies and practices, and entrepreneurship (in my opinion, developers should be quite familiar with what is happening on the business world as well) . Of course the list of the sites will be relative to your interests and platforms you use, but here is my list:

Persons to follow

Every industry has its own influencers who evangelize technologies and practices, and sometimes these people define the trends the industry follows. It is very important to chose who you follow as in some ways, by following a person you accept his influence to some degree and if this person is a successful one, you will benefit positively from his experience and thoughts.

Here is a part of the list of persons I follow:

Conculsions

It is quite challenging to stay up to date in this dynamic world, and we need a process in order to excel. Having a defined and structure workflow of flowing the information in and getting most of it will be a skill we all have to master. Depending on the technologies you use, the market you work in, or your interests, most probably your list will not be same as mine, but the principle behind is valid for any interest I think. It is important to define your standard sources of information and supplement them with additional sources from time to time or even substitute your standard sources with new ones after some time.

What are your sources of information?

 

Microsoft Certifications: Web development path

Microsoft Corporation offers a rich set of possibilities when it comes to education of new and existing software developers. Taking certification exams and certifying your knowledge is one of the best ways to build a solid knowledge base, improve your skills, and get ahead with your career in software development. In this post I will describe what it takes to follow Microsoft Certifications: Web development path.

In this wide range of certifications, where does one start from? Well, it depends on your current skills and work experience. If you are new to software development with less then one year of work experience or so, then my suggestion is you start with Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certifications.

You may start with  following MTA exams:

Software Development Fundamentals (Exam: 98-361)
Web Development Fundamentals (Exam: 98-363).
.NET Fundamentals (Exam: 98-372)
HTML5 App Development Fundamentals (Exam: 98-375)

For the complete list of MTA certifications please see MTA Certifications web page.

MTA certications are optional and are useful only if you do not have work experience developing these solutions.

What after that? The next part of the path is of professional certifications. The web development path leads to Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer: Web applications (MCSD). This title is awarded to anyone who passes these exams:

Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 (Exam: 70-480)
Developing ASP.NET MVC Web Applications (Exam: 70-486)
Developing Microsoft Azure and Web Services (Exam: 70-487)

When you complete all of these exams, you will get the title of MCSD: Web Applications which will certify your knowledge in the field of developing web applications using HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, and ASP.NET MVC.