How to get experience in the web industry – real advice

Now is a great time to be starting, or thinking about starting a career in the web industry. Tutorial series are available for free or very cheaply all over the web. Whether your focus is design, development, devops or a bit of everything, you'll be able to find the resources you need to move forward. However, resources aren't the only thing you'll need to get ahead in the industry and many people find themselves stuck in a rut. Read on for a guide to getting started and growing yourself in the industry.

My cup runneth over, spilling beer all over the floor

It can be very tempting to get excited about all the tutorial content on the web. Spending hours learning about the latest Javascript framework or reading articles about Laravel feels like progress. You're learning, right? You'll definitely retain all this information!

Unfortunately, if you're not putting what you've seen into practice then that information is going to come dribbling out of your ears. You'll retain about 20-50% of the knowledge you passively ingest. By putting the techniques you're learning into practice, you'll embed that knowledge into your mind.

I'm not good enough, I need this knowledge to start

Many people feel that if they just keep watching those tutorial videos they'll get to a point where they can start creating. They feel they don't have the knowledge to make a go of it yet. Just one more lesson on HTML or Javascript will surely give them the skills they need.

As I said in the beginning, watching videos feels like work, but it's really a form of procrastination.

The solution is to get started creating something. If you want to be a developer, think of a problem in your life that could be made easier or solved by technology. If you want to be a designer then think of a brand you think would be cool to explore different designs for. Once you've got something in mind, open up the software you're going to use and get cracking.

I'm just starting, I have no knowledge

This is a fair enough statement. We all have to start somewhere and the web industry can be an intimidating place. When it comes to being a developer you've got the added complication of a myriad of different languages and frameworks you can try.

Protip: they're all pretty much the same.

Some people on Twitter will insist that Ruby is the greatest thing ever and if you're not using it then you're doing something wrong. Others will say that PHP is the most widely-used language and you'd be a fool not to concentrate on that.

The simple fact is that it really doesn't matter what you use, as long as you're producing. When you're producing, you're learning. So pick a language, any language. Don't spend hours learning about each one. Read the cliff notes, see what floats your boat and make a decision.

At this point you may be having trouble coming up with a problem that needs solving. That's ok. If you're just starting out you may have no idea of the kinds of problems that technology can solve, nevermind how they do it. Don't worry about it. What we want to build at first is momentum. Once you start you'll want to keep going, coding will become a habit.

You'll start pumping out simple little programs, then complex little programs, then programs with more than one technology. Before you know it you'll be creating interleaved systems with automated testing and all kinds of cool stuff.

For now, look up some exercises in your language of choice by Googling 'Simple coding exercises' and start producing. Don't be too fancy with them, get them to run and perform the exercise task and move on to the next one.

Exerises done, what now

Once you have a handle on your language of choice, you can start putting some of that knowledge to real world use. Go back to the problem you thought of earlier (perhaps struggled to think of). You should have an inkling of how you can use your language of choice to solve that problem. This is where you'll start to hit roadblocks.

There'll be gaps in your knowledge that will need filling and this is where those tutorial videos and articles come in handy.

Search online for the specific roadblock you've come up against. Pick one article or video that you think will explain how to get around that roadblock and read or watch it. However, don't fall down the rabbit hole. You're there to get the knowledge. Once you've finished with the tutorial, apply the technique to your problem and close the tutorial. Onto the next roadblock.

Onto the next roadblock

Congratulations, you've just vanquished the ogre standing in your way and you'll know how to defeat similar ogres. Because you applied the technique you're more likely to remember it for next time. You'll remember about 90% of what you do, compared to 20% of what you hear or see.

The web industry moves fast

New Javascript frameworks pop up at insane speeds. Every week somebody seems to have a new methodology for developing applications. The truth of the matter is that best practices and frameworks are just there to speed up development and help your future self, and other developers, maintain your code. They make life easier, but any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.

Concentrate on making your applications work. Hacks and workarounds can be sorted out later when you have a better understanding of the system and as your skill in development increases.

As to methodologies, perhaps try a few, but know that, if you're looking to make a career in the web industry, then any employer you work for will probably have their own style and process for you to work with.

Find a mentor

Perhaps the best thing about joining the web industry today is the amount of people who are willing to give up their time freely to help newcomers. Many industry gatherings have Slack channels where you can usually find great one on one advice about a specific problem. Here's a list to get you started.

It's also an idea to get along to any local web industry events. Eventbrite is a good place to start finding events in your area. Often these are free and you'll learn loads, as well as making new friends. If all else fails there's always Stack Overflow. This site crowdsources answers to questions posted by its users. The quality of the advice can vary wildly but more often than not you'll find the answer you need.

Like any internet community, the userbase can be a bit acerbic so be sure to stick to the rules of posting so you don't get discouraged when a neckbeard calls you out on the format of your question or something equally inane.

You are not your output, your career is your output

Many people in the web industry have this mantra of 'You are your output'. I find this particularly simplistic. People have interests outside of the industry, which makes them a well-rounded individual; the kind of person companies want working for them.

The more work you can produce, the more skill you will gain. Better still, the more work you produce and show people, the better you will look in the eyes of prospective employers.

Side projects are a great way to get into the web industry

This is where the notion of a sideproject comes in. Many people already in the industry use sideprojects as a way of trying something new or connecting another passion with their web careers. However, sideprojects are also great for those looking to get into the industry.

Sign up for a Github account and run through the Git-SCM getting started guide. This enables you to put your code up where it can be seen and acts as a great portfolio to send to employers. Students, in particular, can get great discounts and freebies from Github, which will help you with the journey.

tl;dr

Cartman's startup tips

I hope that gives you a starting point for dipping your toes into the water of the web industry. The main points to take away from this post are:

  • Produce as much as you can. The quickest way to get better is by doing.
  • Seek out articles and videos for specific problems, don't just consume endless tutorials and pretend it's work.
  • Don't worry about best practices or what the best language is. That will come later and may be dictated to you by an employer
  • Get your code out there. Find a mentor and ask them to critique your output. Show prospective employers what you've been up to.

I haven't touched on formal education in this post. I think there is a place for formal education and a degree can often be a prerequisite for a job in the industry but it's not the only way. The key thing is to find the best path for you by trying and follow it to the best of your ability.

Feel free to post questions in the comments and I'll answer as best I can.

Best of luck!

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