On web development

posted 29 January 2009, updated 29 January 2009

When people ask me what I do nowaday, I reply without hesitation: I'm a web developer.

But what does that term mean? There's a lot of confusion, and because of that, a lot of people who are web developers have started calling themselves other things: frontend engineers, web engineers, web architects, and more. Worse, in the late 90s and early 2000s a bunch of unqualified hacks looking to make a fast buck started calling themselves "web developers" when they were template-fillers, glorified keyboard monkeys, which seriously devalued the term. But now I think it's time to reclaim the term for real web developers, and take pride in it.

What is a web developer?

Wikipedia has its own definition, including this frankly awesome timeline of web development career specializations which serves, at a glance, to explain how it is that there are so many people called "web developers" and how they can disagree about so many things. The community of webdevs don't use the same or even vaguely similar programming languages, and have widely differing development environments -- client side, server side, flash. So what binds us together?

Well, the web does, obviously. But more than just what we work on, what makes somebody what I think of as a "real" webdev is how they approach the job. To crappy web developers, their job is "building websites". They hack stuff together just well enough that it passes the demo, they don't care about future-proofing or doing things "the right way". They just want to throw up an e-commerce site and get paid.

Don't build websites: develop the web

Good web developers, on the other hand, don't just build websites, they push the boundaries of the web as a medium. They try new things, experiment with new interfaces, hack around, try to produce novelty. Even if their experiments don't make it onto a hard-nosed production site, they learn tricks that are useful, and each site they build is better than the last. They aren't building websites, they are developing the web.

So I'm a web developer. It's a cool job, and a challenging one (hell, it's the only one I've ever had), and I'm sort of proud of it. If you're a web developer too, then say so, and start using the term with pride.

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