Time is never on our side - that’s why we have to invest our time in the things that matter! That’s why a lot of people ask us, ‘Is it still worth learning web development in [insert year here]’.
As a company that teaches web dev, you’d expect us to go, ‘Pfft, of course it is’, and then proceed to hard-sell our course.
But the question is actually an interesting one, and requires a more nuanced answer.
If you’re interested in building websites, chances are you’ve come across online web builders, such as Squarespace and Wix (we’ve even written an article about those!). With how fast technology advances, and how much money is pouring into companies like those two we just mentioned (Squarespace occupied a space on Forbe’s most promising companies list), and more, we expect these website builders are going to get pretty good at what they do.
So do we still need to learn web development if we can just use a drag-and-drop tool? On the other side of the coin, is learning web development still paying dividends? Could you still get paid well becoming a web developer?
The short answer is, yes, it is still worth learning web development. It just depends on what your goal is!
The Simplicity Trap
Drag-and-drop editors have become attractive options to start building websites with because they’re so easy and intuitive to use(for the most part). You pick elements up and drop them around like Lego pieces, and then bam! You have a website.
But simplicity means drag-and-drop editors are limited to being simple. Complete customisation cannot be possible if you’re trying to keep things user-friendly, and we find sooner or later, you’re going to hit a wall you just won’t be able to surmount, and you will have to rethink your entire approach.
This is the simplicity trap - you start a website with a simple platform, but then the simplicity prevents you from growing, meaning your progress stalls, or you need to rebuild everything from scratch.
One of the most earliest limitations you’ll hit is working with templates.
Working with templates is a quick, and easy way to get your brand up and running. However, templates are often uniform in design, meaning you’ll most likely be stuck with very similar designs with someone on the same plan as you. Also, templates are often designed with just a single purpose in mind, and bending the template to work with your unique goals can often be very difficult.
Being limited by templates can start to hurt your branding as you grow. For example, if you’re a fashion brand, having the same layout and functionality as your competitors means your users won’t be able to easily tell what makes your brand unique.
Outside of templates, we also find people have the most issues when they’re trying to build an eCommerce website (i.e. trying to sell something), or trying to give their visitors with more value. Simplicity means limited options, and these limitations quickly become irritating to work with.
Websites built to go beyond just providing the basics are meant to grow over time, but website builders and templates builders are not.
Learning web development helps you overcome, or at least understand where the gaps are, and what to do about them. For example, many services that rely on templates will allow further customisation through their ‘advanced’ settings, enabling you to change some of the base HTML/CSS. Even email campaign services, such as MailChimp, allow for this.
Templates and drag-and-drop services also often produce very messy code. This can sometimes lead to formatting issues for simple things that can only be properly fixed if you dig into the code. Messy code is an unavoidable aspect of drag-and-drop editors, but it becomes especially frustrating when it starts to interfere with your designs and experience, so understanding what is going wrong can help you master your tools.
More than just developing websites
Learning web development however, goes much further beyond than just developing websites. Many people learn web development to increase their skillsets and become more versatile within their team. Web technologies are a big part of almost everything we do nowadays, so to at least have a working understanding of how code works is extremely valuable.
Graphic designers, project managers, entrepreneurs, bloggers and digital marketers are just some of the professions that will benefit from learning at least the fundamentals of web development. You’ll be working closely with developers all the time, and interact frequently with code - for example, digital marketers will often need to embed bits of code into websites to allow for better campaign tracking, and graphics designers will need to turn their designs into code for developers to build websites from. Knowing how to do it yourself, or at least be able to understand everything that’s going on, means you’ll be able to work faster and more efficiently. It also means you’ll can become more independent of your developer team, freeing their load up for bigger pieces of work.
That all just means if you’re a non-developer, learning how to code will make you more valuable, flexible and adaptable.
Communicating with your developers
If you run a growing business, you will eventually need custom solutions for your online presence.
Because coding is a full-time job, often you might have other things you’d be better at focusing on. In these cases, it’s just a better idea to hire someone to do it all for you.
When hiring a web developer, it’s important you understand what you’re hiring them to do. Learning web development gives you a fresh perspective on the scope of the project, time-frames and costings. After all, the last thing you want to happen is get taken for a ride by a developer who throws a lot of jargon at you, followed by a fat invoice.
It’s also much easier to communicate changes you want made, or even the overall vision of the website. Things that look simple on the surface may be incredibly complicated to build, so things become a lot easier to understand when you’ve walked around in a developer’s shoes.
So is it still a great career path? Will there still be work for me? Can I get paid well?
As web development as a career becomes more mainstream, there’s been a constant concern there won’t be any jobs left by the time you become skilled enough.
But all evidence points the other way. By 2020, we expect technology jobs will grow by 22%, including web development, leading to over 1 million unfilled IT related jobs. While offshoring and advancing technology, such as AI, are eating into some industries, web and software development continue to march upwards in growth.
Web development jobs will also often come in the form of fixing up other people’s problems, for example after they’ve tried using a drag-and-drop editor, or have broken one of their two dozen Wordpress plugins. As more people turn to these simple web editors, there will also be increased demand for professionals to fix their problems.
Believing web builders and templates will eventually diminish the number of jobs out there highlights a narrow view of what web development is. Web development goes way beyond this.
If you aim to become a web developer, you will be responsible for building web technology. Platforms like Facebook were all built by teams of front-end engineers. Increased demand for Web-based applications are increasing, and while you’ll need to continuously learn new languages and frameworks, your work can get incredibly complicated. It’s these projects that keep web developer and engineers busy and very well paid.
Lastly, learning basic web development opens up a whole heap of new opportunities. If you find you have a proclivity for learning code, then you can code down the engineering path, learning both front-end and back-end languages so you can build all kinds of applications. More fascinated by design? Master CSS, LESS/SASS, Sketch and Photoshop to become a web designer. Love design, but human interaction and building enriching experiences is more your jam? Then look into UX design! The possibilities are truly endless.
Web development is an incredibly rich field, with plenty of growth opportunities. Anyone who says it’s unnecessary to learn web development now in this day and age, have a fundamental misunderstanding of what web developers do. Right now, and for some years to come, learning web development is going to be one of the most valuable skills you could possess.
Written by: Josh Li
Digital Marketer at Institute of Code