by Jolie O’Dell | //mashable.com
So, you’re not content with just using the social web; you want to be part of building it, too.
As a budding or beginning web app developer, you’ve got a difficult but rewarding path ahead of you. You have to master (or at least attempt to master) the intricacies of OOP and scripting languages, learn to build web apps the hard way (practice, practice, practice), and network your way into a few job opportunities. You must also decide whether you’d like to work as a solo/consultant/freelancer, a startup employee or founder, or a rank-and-file developer at an established company.
Here are a few tips and words of advice that might make your individual path a bit easier and hopefully a bit shorter. We’ve also compiled a gallery of 140-character tips from veterans at the end of this post.
If you’ve already found success as a front-end web dev, we welcome your suggestions in the comments, as well.
1. Go Open Source
By far the most oft-repeated words of advice we heard from masters of the web dev trade were these: Put in some time on open-source projects. The hands-on experience will challenge you, educate you and help you build your body of work.
Aside from code for code’s sake, open source projects are a good way to meet other devs and do some networking. You’ll have the opportunity to work with people who are much more skilled and experienced than you are yet; take full advantage of this situation and be a sponge.
SourceForge and GitHub and good places to start looking for open source projects that appeal to you; also, as you follow various blogs around the web and see what projects might need a few extra hands. Sites like Code for America and organizations such as the Mozilla Foundation are always looking for good developers with free time.
Finally, when working on open source apps, not only will you get great practice and be able to learn from some really excellent engineers; you’ll also be giving back to the community. As some would say, creating and sharing free and open-source software is one of the best things you can do to help your neighbors as a developer.
2. Expand Your Web-Browsing Repertoire
“Fish where the fish are” is an old advertising axiom. Its meaning is fairly obvious: If you’re aiming to meet, influence or otherwise “catch” a particular group of people, you have to be seen and heard in the places (real or digital) where they congregate.
If you’re “fishing” for other developers — the people who will teach you, help you, and with any luck, hire you — you’ll need to add a new set of websites to your browsing and bookmarking repertoire.
Hacker News (), while it occasionally deviates toward social media/Silicon Valley in-jokes and gossip, can be a wonderful resource for meeting other developers, getting advice and learning about the ecosystem, particularly where startups are concerned. The site is an offshoot of Y Combinator, the well-known startup incubator.
GitHub’s Gist, Forrst, UseTheSource and CodeSnipp.it are four places on the web where you can go to see and post brief code examples. Be open to critique, and don’t be a show off. For UseTheSource, we recommend lurking until you’re ready to post your most stellar hacks, as the site is intended to be a repository for beautiful code.
Other sites to check out include SourceForge, Stack Overflow (), Google Code and Google Groups (). There are literally hundreds of solid online resources for web app developers; which sites you follow and which communities you join really depends on your desired areas of expertise and spheres of professional interest.
Once you’re ready to move into the work force as a web dev, our readers have recommended Dice, ODesk, and even Craigslist () as good spots for job-hunting, particularly for freelance work.
3. Network Your Socks Off
Of course, along with all this new web-browsing activity, you’ll be seeing a horde of new and friendly faces: The developers and designers that make up the web app-building community.
Blogger (), entrepreneur and developer Jesse Stay says, “Network, network, network! Find your future boss on Facebook (), LinkedIn () and Twitter (),” and his advice rings true. If you can locate and befriend a few like-minded, highly skilled professional web devs, they might be able to guide and help you in your career as you broaden and deepen your skill set.
We recommend joining a few Facebook groups and checking out developer-oriented Twitter lists from Twitter users you already follow and respect. Once you’ve located the people you’d like to emulate, go back to Tip 1 and see how you can offer your time and skills to any open source projects those people might be involved in.
The golden rules of networking still apply: Give as much as you’d like to receive, and be a good resource and connector for others, not just a parasite.
4. Show Your Code
Once you’re practicing, networking, reading, working and generating piles of beautifully functional code, you’re going to want to show it off to the world. After all, as one reader said, “GitHub is the new résumé.”
Use a robust, accessible code repository such as GitHub or SourceForge, release your code into the wild. And don’t stop there; be sure to blog about any clever hacks or efficient new ways of doing things that you may discover along the way. Make sure your code samples show good architecture, documentation and versatility.
Showing others your code is equal parts giving back (by open-sourcing it) and self-promotion (if the code is good, that is). If the code you’re posting is worthy, then sharing it is a win-win scenario.
5. Market Yourself
For some devs, bragging is second nature. For others, self-promotion is an uncomfortable stretch. No matter which camp you fit into (and even if you’re somewhere in between), you’ll need to learn how to gracefully and effectively promote yourself as a web applications developer.
It goes without saying that you’ll want to put the full force of your coding skills into building an elegant website. We don’t mean elegant in the general sense of the term; we mean “elegant” as in “the intersection of simplicity and functionality” in form and function. And it goes without saying that the source code for your site should be immaculate, as well.
Focus on creating a good portfolio that shows a breadth of work on a variety of projects. Your apps could be entirely open-source; you could also include client work, if you’ve had the opportunity to develop web apps for others. Make sure this experience is attractively highlighted on your résumé, along with any languages or frameworks you know and your proficiency in each.
Once you have a great website that showcases your skills, make sure you and others link to it frequently in your email signature and from your other online profiles, and don’t be afraid to show your Twitter and Facebook friends when you add a new item to your portfolio or update a section of your website. Whether you use physical or digital business cards, make sure your website is the most prominent link the receiver will see.
Bonus Round: Little Things Mean a Lot
- If you’re looking for full-time work, be a great developer and a well-rounded candidate with communication skills.
- Always thoroughly comment your code.
- Be as good at reading code as you are at writing it.
- If you’re a developer, learn something about design, UX/UI, business and web economics (especially if you’re going into a startup).
- Customize your personal growth: If you don’t get a job, ask why and what you can do to improve.
- Remember the big picture — make sure your code is built with scalability in mind.
- Commit to perpetual self-education.
- Don’t give up.