10 Tips for High School Students Wanting to be Web designers/Developers-2016 edition

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About five years back from this post’s publish date, I wrote “10 Tips For High Schoolers Wanting To Be Web Designers Or Developers”. That post’s objective was to give advice to any teenager considering a web design/development career, outlining what tasks they needed to perform to get that going.

At that time, many still believed that web design/dev was a career for “nerds” and most schools (public and private) placed little-to-no emphasis on technology education. Today, the nerds run the world’s most profitable tech companies, have lots of high five/low six-figure salaried developers reporting to them, my son was taught how to use a mouse & keyboard in first grade as if it were a basic life-skill, and a friend of his started learning Scratch in second grade.

While technology hiring and education is on the rise, there’s evidence of a hiring bubble. Two stories published in Medium respectively claim that tech hiring is down generally 40% in 2016 and that software engineering jobs will disappear sooner rather than later.

I think that there’s a hiring bubble in 2016 and don’t think that web jobs will disappear, and also believe that high school students should still puruse web-related careers if they want. I also think they need to understand the 2016 web career climate to estimate what the future climate will be.

With that in mind, here’s the 2016 Top Ten list of things I would suggest high school students perform if they want to be web designers or developers:

1. Web Developers Have a Better Chance For a Long-Term Career Over Designers

Developers write the code for a website and designers make the website pretty: there was a time when both of those things were equally hard.

Today, both have gotten easier, but design has gotten much MUCH easier: it’s now possible to design a website without knowing how to write code. Free web tools like SquareSpace, Weebly, Wix and WordPress come with a huge choice of free design templates, putting the power of web design in non-designer’s hands.

There are tools that make web development easier as well, but web dev changes much too rapidly for those tools to keep up with the changes. So possessing hard knowledge of web development obviously has more long term career security than knowledge of design.

2. If You Want To Be A Designer, You Need To Know More Than PhotoShop & Illustrator

In web design’s infancy, strong knowledge of the Adobe suite of tools was more than enough to qualify one as a web designer. Those days are gone for good.

Web designers must now possess a good understanding of “user experience design,” or “UX.” They not only need to know how to design a pretty website, but also a clean simplistic one that works on almost all web browsers & devices and is also intuitive to the point that end-users can get around the site in no time.

Thankfully, an entire teachable philosophy has been built up around UX. Schools such as the Rhode Island School of Design and New York’s School of Visual Design have well-recommend UX programs…look into those or ones at similar schools.

3. Be Prepared To Work In A World Where You Are ALWAYS Learning

Let me update a previous statement: web development obviously has more long term career security than design…if you’re willing to keep up with the constant web dev changes.

Today’s world consists of a knowledge-based economy where you have to learn at least one new thing every year. In software development, the amount of new things you need to learn annually can easily add up to four!

A career in web development easily translates to regularly attending conferences and meetups, online learning and open source community involvement. All while having a day job and, sometimes, at your own expense.

And on a bit of a side-note: this circles back to my previous tips article where I said to focus on all of your varying classes like math and French because:

“…the point of taking seemingly unrelated high school classes is to learn how to think and organize multiple tasks, skills you’ll need in the web field…or any job field for that matter.”

You have to be organized to constantly learn…simple as that.

4. You Do Not Need To Go To Stanford, MIT Or A Similar School To Be A Web Developer

Those two schools have produced some of the smartest tech minds in the world and you should DEFINITELY try to get in those schools if that’s what you want. But do not think that getting into those schools is part of what it takes to have a web career.

I did a random sampling of 20 men and women in the global web development community with bachelor degrees (BAs)…those that have made tangible contributions that have positively impacted the community. Of that 20, only 40% went to a private college or university…none of which were Stanford or MIT.

All these men and women used passion and desire to grow their careers: the name of the school on their degrees had a limited impact. That helps, but is not as important as some may say.

5. Assume That a Web Dev/Design Career Requires A Computer Science Degree

A major thing that’s happened up to this point is that people with BAs in something other than Computer Science are obtaining web dev jobs…including some of the 20 people I sampled. Those with no BA at all are also getting those jobs.

I believe that a direct result of the aforementioned bubble will be limited web dev/design jobs for people without a Comp/Sci degree. I think those will get a majority of the day jobs, so that make that one of your primary goals.

6. If You’re A Women, Don’t Let Anyone Make You Feel That “girls” Can’t Be Programmers

There’s definitely racism in the world but I’ll readily concede that opportunities for people of color are getting better in the software development world…nowhere near perfect, but getting better. But that world still needs to make strides in gender equality.

Since programming, gaming, etc. have always been marketed to males, women have been marginalized in software dev community. The community is getting better at this, but there’s still work to be done.

There are good women developers and there are bad women developers. The good girl ones deserve a seat at the table just as much as the good boy ones…don’t let anyone tell you different.

7. Understanding Microsoft Web-based Technologies Make You More Employable

Microsoft has survived software trends, lawsuits and economic downturns because it has focused on business-related software solutions since its inception. They brought that same thinking to web development.

Personally, I know lots of web developers but when I look at the ones that moved into management positions (and you need to plan for that), all of them have above-average knowledge of MS products compared to those not in those positions. Products such as .NET/C#, Sharepoint, BizTalk and Visual Studio solved a business problem…maybe the solve could have been better, but something got fixed.

Corporations see this and as a result, embrace Microsoft regularly. So taking time to learn some of their products is a good idea.

(Note: Microsoft’s Scott Hanselman delivered some GREAT insight on the role of web development in business on the JavaScript Jabber podcast…listen to it here.)

8. Check Out All The Great (And Free) Web Design/Development Learning Resources

A nice byproduct of the rise in popularity of software development is that lots of awesome, free-of-charge resources have emerged. Codecademy is ~probably~ the best place to start, Khan Academy’s Computing curriculum is good and Coursera will give you a preview of what college-level computer courses will look like.

9. Math Still Matters

I said this in my previous article but it bears repeating. The better you are at math, the better you’ll be at web stuff.

Having a better-than-basic understanding of algebra and conditional math is a must. And spending some time reviewing discrete math is a good idea.

10. Make Your Transcript Pop By Either Building Something or Participating in Open Source

Not all students do this so you can stand out if you DO do it. Open a free GitHub account, build something, tell lots of people you built it and give it a prominent position on the transcript you’re submitting to colleges.

Also, poke around GitHub and find a project that interests you. Then try to fix a bug or two and add that to your transcript.


This post may make more work for high school students wanting to have a web career, people that have a heavy course-load, must deal with getting into college and maintaining a social life. All while trying to simply “exist” as a teenager…which is not easy.

Those students should treat approach these tips as if they’re entering a marathon, not a sprint. You’re want to create a long term career so treat as such: with a long-term plan.

Do any web designers/developers have tips for the younger generation? If you’re a high school student, would you follow any of these tips? And what do parents think? Feel free to comment!!!!


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