Skilled programmers are always in demand, and that probably won’t change anytime soon.
But whether or not you want to make a living as a professional programmer or you simply want to learn code for fun, there are certain proficiencies that will help further your goals and others that are simply less important.
This is especially true as technology continues to advance and roles shift over time.
And if you’re going to be putting any time into learning code, you want to make sure you’re learning the right skills for the job you want and have a foundation that will carry you through the future.
Here’s what you need to know about having the right skills for your dream programmer job…
Key Jobs in Web Development
It used to be that the term “web developer” was a catchall for anyone that knew how to code, but now there are specialties that divide that term even further, like frontend developer, full stack developer, and UI developer (among others), each with their own unique and in-demand skill set.
A frontend developer – sometimes called an HTML developer – focuses on the client side of a web application, including anything with which the user interacts.
The rise of the front-end dev comes from an increase in interactivity from the user’s perspective: they want clickable buttons, images that move, interactive videos, maps, illustrations, and infographics… It’s not just about sharing information; it’s about providing experience.
Also known as a UX developer or user interface designer, a UI developer also focuses on the client-side technologies to build the front end of a website.
But what sets them apart from a frontend dev, however, is that a UI/UX dev will put more emphasis on a website’s design and aesthetic (typography, iconography, design principles).
UX is also about intuitive design and understanding human interactions, so skills in design, layout, and even psychology can go a long way to improving your skills.
Sometimes called backend engineers, backend developers are responsible for building the server-side, including the server, application, and database.
If a frontend developer cares about what the user can see, the backend dev is concerned with everything invisible. They focus on the “how” of coding – how to get something to load, how to implement an action, and how to power the frontend most effectively.
Skills needed: The best skillset for a backend developer is PHP, Python, and SQL. PHP, for example, is a server-side script that powers sites like Facebook, and you can build almost any WordPress or Drupal site using Python. SQL is essential for maintaining the all-important database.
Full Stack Developer
A full stack developer or full stack engineer is good at almost everything, and the demand for full stack devs has increased in the last few years.
Rather than specialize in one area, full stack devs are skilled in all stages of web development, and many employers – especially startups and small businesses who can’t afford to hire teams of workers – are recognizing the value in hiring one or two full stacks.
In fact, the more you know, the more you will set yourself apart as a valuable asset. It probably doesn’t hurt to learn something like XML, too. Throw in some design background and you’ll really set yourself apart.
Key Skills for the Future
Of course, knowing the fundamental skills that are required for your desired job isn’t the be-all-end-all. Skills change based on demand, and demands change over time.
For example, studies show that HTML5 and CSS3 are two skills that have been in higher demand since 2013. Their rise in popularity is most likely due to advances in web technology, with CSS3 incorporating new elements like shadows, multi-columns, and grid layouts.
But that doesn’t mean every skill will be valuable in five years.
Here’s a breakdown of the skills that will continue to be in-demand and those that are quickly becoming obsolete:
HTML5 is the latest evolution of the markup language, and when it was released in October of 2014, it was mentioned in around 43% of web development job postings that year (and more since). It continues to be one of the most sought-after skills for any developer.
CSS3 is also the most recent variation of the CSS language, and was mentioned in 25% of web development job postings in 2014.
PHP, XML (AJAX) will probably be used to some degree, at least for the foreseeable future.
But PHP in particular isn’t as popular as it once was, with many programmers using alternatives like Python and Ruby instead.
AJAX has somewhat of a reputation as a poor language for data transfer, a practice which itself is rising in demand. This means that there may be a new language coming that will replace XML/AJAX with something better, though for now it’s still an important skill.
Though CSS and HTML are still “heavy hitters”, they have become less popular in favor of HTML5 and CSS3, so developers should probably continue to focus on the updated versions to stay consistent with the times.
Employers are starting to hire developers with expertise in newer technologies, including devs with skills in HTML5 and CSS3. But that doesn’t mean that other skills aren’t valuable. It just depends on the job you want.
Frontend devs can get away with knowing the essentials, which is perfect for part-time devs or those who want to learn “for fun.” If you have a design background, you could also relay that into a UI/UX experience.
More serious devs will probably want to sharpen up their backend skills, including learning more about Python, Ruby, and SQL.
And if you can do everything, more power to you. Consider becoming a full stack developer and leveraging your skills to power the world’s next big startup.