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10 Things Every Modern Web Developer Must Know

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It's an exciting time to be a web developer - if you can stomach the steep learning curve.

Web development is a huge field, with a lot to learn. It can be overwhelming to decide what to spend your precious time learning. But there are some core skills that you can count on. These ten skills will improve your website building and streamline your workflow.


Hypertext markup language (HTML) is the backbone of all websites. Some tools will allow you to create websites without writing HTML, but HTML takes your web development to the next level. Coding in HTML gives you more control over the content and understanding HTML will help you diagnose issues faster. You can also add SEO information directly in your HTML to help web crawlers read your page and increase your visibility.


The power of cascading style sheets (CSS) has grown. Developers used to primarily use CSS to define the color and layout of a website, but now it can handle animation and some interactive design. However, one of its most important features is responsive design.

Nowadays, users expect websites to seamlessly transition from computer to tablet to mobile. Responsive design ensures that the display is optimized for each platform. A CSS concept that will take your layout to the next level is flexbox. It is a layout mode that makes creating flexible responsive layouts simple.


If HTML is the backbone of the website, JavaScript is the brain. Websites are no longer electronic versions of newsprint. Users expect interactivity—and interaction is the basis for many designs these days. To add this interactivity, you need a solid foundation in JavaScript.

It is a mistake to underestimate this language, it is a powerful language that has only grown more powerful with every new JavaScript library developed. But, don’t worry, it is a light-weight language that you can get up and running within no time.


At Least One JavaScript Library

Vanilla JavaScript is powerful, but coding the latest and greatest JavaScript features in pure JavaScript is time-consuming. There are many great JavaScript libraries available that will cut down on your coding time. Most developers have a love-hate relationship with jQuery. It is not the sexiest JavaScript library anymore, but it is still a strong workhorse. You will want to know jQuery if you are developing something with a lot of document object model (DOM) manipulation, event handling, and Ajax.

A popular newer JavaScript library worth checking out is React. It is great for developing interactive websites that depend on real-time data.Facebook developed it to manage their newsfeeds, but you can find it pretty much everywhere nowadays.

A Server-Side Language and Databases

Although you can become a web developer without diving into the backend, learning a server-side language will make you a much more versatile web developer. Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP) is over twenty years old but isstill an important server-side language worth knowing. If PHP is powerful enough to be the go-to for WordPress, it can definitely handle anything you throw its way.

Data is everything these days. To store and access that data, you need to know databases. There are many different databases, but a great one to get started with is MySQL. It is an open-source database and can introduce you to relational databases. All relational databases use a language based on Structured Query Language (SQL), so the skills you develop using MySQL will be transferable to other relational databases.

Development Tools

The above skills will get you coding, but nothing will stop you dead in your tracks like a bug. Understanding the development tools offered by browsers can speed up debugging and cut down on frustration.

Chrome and Firefox both offer popular development tools. Web development tools allow you to see what styles are being applied to each element, allow you to analyze JavaScript, and provide more information about errors.


A great way to create a website is to leverage existing data and services. Application programming interfaces (APIs) give you access to third-party data and functionality. If you are new to APIs, start with Google.

Google offers many different APIs including analytics, YouTube, maps, and translation. It is also very popular, so there are many tutorials for their different APIs. Most major social media and marketplace platforms will also have APIs, which will give you access to both the app’s features and user information.


Creating a website is meaningless if no one can find it. As the number of websites grows, it has become more important to increase your website’s visibility and readability to web crawlers, and you do this by using search engine optimization (SEO).

At the very least, you need to know how web crawlers use the information to rank a site and what they can and cannot read. This will help you get the most out of adding metadata to your site and elements of the site that web crawlers cannot view.

Version Control

Most website development projects require a team of developers. Working with others brings a lot of coordination challenges. Thankfully, version control tools can handle these problems.

All version control tools keep a record of changes made to a repository of code. This allows you to track changes and even roll back to previous versions. Git is one of the most popular version control systems, so if you are new to version control, try Git.

Project Management

An oft-forgotten essential skill for web development is project management. It is not enough to know how to code; you need to know how to translate your idea into a product. Does your project require a waterfall or an agile workflow?

If it is a large project, how will you distribute the work among the team? Will users understand the interface? As a web developer, your role may not include answering these questions, but it is important to have insight into how project management decisions impact development and your workflow.


The developer community offers tremendous support when upgrading your skills. You can connect in-person or online. Reddit and Stack Overflow both host large developer communities. There might be a lot of things to learn, but you are not alone, and there are many tutorials to learn from. Learning with and from other developers is the best way to accelerate your skills.

Each of these skills will take time to learn and improve. But becoming a good web developer requires continuous learning and improvement. Even after you have mastered these skills, there will be others that you will want to add to your arsenal. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a web developer is that it constantly challenges you to grow as a developer.


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Will Little
Will Little

Will Little is the co-founder and CEO of Code Fellows, a Seattle-based digital trade school that guarantees jobs to graduates of its eight-week intensive bootcamps. Will holds a Ph.D. in Bioengineering from ETH Zurich and has worked professionally as a Web developer and tech entrepreneur since 2005.