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What to study to become a web developer

Web developers are in higher demand then ever today and, because of this, the salaries in this sector are generous. This is not only driven by the web growing at exponential rate, but also by the fact that more and more enterprises are moving from desktop-based applications to centralised intranet or cloud-based solutions, both of which are accessible by a standard web browser.

To become a web developer, you don't need a sophisticated computer science degree, although having one would be helpful. Software industry is probably one of the least bureaucratic systems. Business owners care about your abilities rather than your qualifications, so as long as you know what you are doing and can demonstrate it during a job interview, you will be successful regardless of your IT qualifications or lack thereof. I am writing this as a successful software developer who did Biology instead of anything computer-related at university.

If you don't have a right education, however, the caveat is that you would have to spend your time getting to know the fundamentals in certain key areas. At the time of writing, in order to be a successful web developer, you need to know HTML, CSS, JavaScript, JQuery, the concept of AJAX, a database language, server-side framework and a multi-purpose language used by the server-side framework of your choice.


HTML, which stands for hyper-text markup language, is the most fundamental declarative language understood by browser. This forms the backbone of a web page and puts all of its elements in place. Without it, there can be no web page.

The following tutorials will help you to master HTML:

W3 Schools HTML tutorial

Tutorials Point HTML tutorial


Cascading Style Sheets technology is used to apply styling to HTML elements on the page. CSS is critical for positioning and look of the elements on the page. The properties available in CSS include font style and size, dimensions of the visible elements, location of elements relative to other elements and many other attributes that control the look of the page. The most recent version of CSS, which is compatible with all modern browsers, even has various animations.

The tutorial below is sufficient to learn all about CSS:

W3 Schools CSS tutorial


If this article would have been written 20 years ago, this section would have been called "client-side scripting languages". However, since then, JavaScript became de-facto standard, virtually preventing other languages, such as VBScript, from being widely used in browsers.

Despite its name, the language has very little to do with Java. Syntax is somewhat similar, but this is where similarities end.

There are several good tutorials on JavaScript available online, such as the ones below:

W3 Schools JavaScript tutorial

Tutorials Point JavaScript tutorial

Codecademy JavaScript tutorial


Although JavaScript is a powerful language, a lot of commonly-used on-page functionality is quite difficult to write from scratch. Therefore many JavaScript-based libraries, toolkits, plugins and frameworks have been developed to simplify the syntax and allow the developers to accomplish complex tasks just by writing a few statements.

JQuery is the most used JavaScript library and virtually every web development project uses it these days. After learning JavaScript, JQuery will be walk in a park. The following two links will provide you with more than sufficient material to pick it up:

Codecademy JQuery tutorial

Official JQuery documentation


AJAX, which stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, is used to update a part of a page without having to reload the whole page. Any modern web application relies on the technology, as it is the key to great interactive user experience. For example, interactive timeline on social networking websites heavily depends on AJAX.

As the name suggest, the technology allows to make requests to the server asynchronously, i.e. completely independently from the main page load event.

To find out more, follow the links below:

W3 Schools AJAX tutorial

JQuery AJAX documentation

Database languages

Relational databases based on SQL (Structured Query Language) are the most commonly used data storage/manipulation layers in web applications. Although more and more applications rely on NoSQL databases, such as MongoDB, these technologies are largely in their infancy and are relatively rare.

The most popular relational database platforms are Microsoft's SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL and PostgreSQL. Some of them are commercial, while others are free open-source. Luckily, all of them use standard SQL language with only slight variations. Therefore, one tutorial is sufficient to grasp the fundamentals of all of them:

W3 Schools SQL tutorial

Guru99 MySQL Tutorials

Server-side frameworks

The era of static web pages is trully over. These days, virtually all web applications have the bulk of their code executing on the server with no direct interaction with the browser. Server-side code is absolutely mandatory if the web application relies on a database.

Unfortunately, different server-side frameworks are very different from each other. Therefore, web developers tend to specialise in only one or two of them.

The most popular open-source framework is PHP. This probably is the easiest framework to learn; however the downside of it that the developers who specialise in it don't usually earn much compared to their colleagues who specialise in ASP.NET or Java-based frameworks. Also, it doesn't tend to be used in enterprise-level applications.

This tutorial will give you all of the fundamentals of PHP:

W3 Schools PHP tutorial

ASP.NET is a commercial enterprise-level framework released by Microsoft. It is much more complex than PHP, but is also more reliable, secure and functional.

There are several different sub-frameworks within ASP.NET, including MVC, Web API and WebForms. MVC and Web API are the most commonly used flavours of ASP.NET, the latter of which is used in single-page applications.

Although learning ASP.NET in its fullest will take years, these relatively short tutorials are sufficient to get you started as a developer:

ASP.NET MVC tutorial

ASP.NET Web API basics

An important prerequisite for these tutorials is knowledge of at least one .NET languages. The most popular language is C# (pronounced as C sharp); however some places give preference to Visual Basic.

There is also a collection of Java-based enterprise-level frameworks that are quite widely used. However, unlike ASP.NET, many of them have not been standardised. Therefore it is difficult to get it right in terms of which framework to chose. On the other hand, however, knowing Java language itself will sufficiently prepare you for the most of them.

Oracle, the owners of Java language, have kindly published a very detailed tutorial available below:

Official Java tutorial

Written by

Posted on 11 May 2016

Fiodar Sazanavets is a full stack software developer with several years of experience working in various industries. In his professional career, he has mainly worked with a number of different technologies from Microsoft stack, both back-end and front-end, and Java for Android. The main Fiodar's speciality is .NET. As well as being an experienced programmer, Fiodar has an Honours degree in Environmental Biology and a Masters degree in Environmental Informatics.

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