7 tips to become a better web developer
Learning web development is a lifelong process. These 7 tips will help you grow and mature as a developer.
Whether you’re just starting your career as a web developer or you’re a veteran programmer, there’s always room for growth. Developing good habits will help improve your skills and ultimately advance your career. Here are our tips for becoming a better developer, regardless of your level of experience.
1. Never stop learning
No matter how experienced a web developer you are, programming is a process of constantly learning. As new technologies and frameworks are released, you’ll have to keep yourself informed to remain competitive.
Dive into Stack Overflow and GitHub to find the answers to questions you have, or just to scan through the questions other developers are asking. Develop a reading list of industry blogs and magazines. We like these resources:
- Smashing Magazine
- CodePen Blog
- GitHub Blog
- Coding Horror
- CSS Weekly
- Freelancer (OK, we’re slightly biased)
2. Contribute to open-source
Working solely on your own projects can give you tunnel vision. Furthermore, leaving coding to work hours limits your opportunity for development. If you really want to mature as a developer, get into coding as a hobby for the pure joy of it. In other words, get involved in open-source.
Jump on GitHub and start contributing to open-source projects. Helping other developers solve problems will help nurture your own creativity and problem-solving skills. As a side bonus, it also raises your profile as a developer. When you do good work on open-source projects, you start to develop a strong reputation in the development community. This can open up new opportunities in the future.
3. Conduct code review
Most companies already have a culture of code review. Before code gets pushed, the development team shares it with each other for a sanity check. If you’re fortunate, this process is already in place where you work. If it’s not, you can be the one to start it.
Code review not only helps pick up problems in your code before they turn into bugs on your site. It also makes you put more thought into why you wrote your code the way you did. When you have to explain and defend the way you chose to solve a problem, it helps you reflect on the “why” behind your choices. Ultimately, this can help identify and eliminate bad habits, and teach you new skills.
4. Document properly
We can’t emphasize this strongly enough: comment your damn code. In a perfect world, documentation wouldn’t be necessary. Code would always be written for human readability first, and machine interpretation second. This is not a perfect world.
There are times when code cannot be further simplified or made more readable. It’s these times that commenting is imperative. Your comments explain to other developers the what, how and why of your codebase. It also helps you understand.
Not only does commenting provide time for self-reflection and assessment of your code. It also provides a useful guide for you in the future should you have to set a project aside and come back to it later. Trust us. Future you will thank present you for taking the time to comment.
5. Build on the work of others
The great thing about web development is that you have a vast community of intellectual capital to draw from. Web developers have done and are continuing to do amazing things that push the boundaries of the internet experience.
Find sites that you like, that have done unique and exciting things. Then learn from them and shamelessly rip them off. It’s as simple as inspecting the source code for the site to see how they’ve accomplished what they’ve accomplished.
The work of other developers is an invaluable teaching tool. Build yourself a “swipe file” of websites that excite you, ones with features and functionality you want to emulate. Learn from their code. Or even go the extra mile and reach out to their developers.
6. Code for a purpose
Writing code is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It’s important to identify why you’re writing code for your site. What are you trying to achieve?
Any coding effort is actually a business effort. If you’re working on a freelance project, make sure you understand the client’s business goals and aspirations before you start coding. It’s the best way to determine if what you’re producing is going to help achieve the desired outcome.
Likewise, if you’re writing code for your own site, think about the big picture. What are your goals for the site? What is its reason for being? In a landscape with nearly 200 million websites, you have to do something to make yours stand apart. Having a clear idea of the outcome you want will bring more focus to your web development.
7. Sandbox your experiments
When you’re learning web development, front end or back end, you’re going to make mistakes. A lot of them, in all likelihood. Sandboxing your experimentation ensures those mistakes won’t have dire consequences.
You can sandbox your code by setting up a server environment on your computer. We’d go with MAMP for Mac users, WAMP for Windows users or LAMP for Linux users.
Keeping experimental code confined to a server environment on your machine means that any mistakes you make can be easily identified and won’t impact your entire codebase. It gives you the freedom to play around, and to fail. And failing is an important part of learning.