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Working with the web

Spider's webLots of modern life is built on the web. Find out how you can get into this exciting and fast-moving field.

Design or development?

Although there is some overlap between the skills you need and the work involved, web design and web development are not the same thing. Designers work with existing software to build websites, focussing on making them look good and work well and on selecting the right tools to do the job. They need to know HTML and CSS, the basic technologies of the web, and skills in graphics programs like Photoshop are also helpful. Developers build new software to solve specific problems, and need to know at least one programming language for building web apps, such as Python or PHP.

Take a course or teach yourself?

There are many courses in web skills available, and you are likely to be able to find one nearby. However, web design and development are also skills you could teach yourself, with the help of books, online guides and plenty of practice.

Taking a course has a few advantages. It can be easier, as you don’t have to work out what you need to learn and how to get the information before you can get started. It also helps to demonstrate your skills to potential clients or employers. However, it will cost money to take a course, and you will still have to be comfortable teaching yourself - web design and development are fast-moving worlds, and you will need to be comfortable learning on your own to keep up.

What do I need to know to work with the web?

Whether you teach yourself or take a course, there are certain essentials you need to know as well as many other extras that will help you to stand out. The core essentials are:

  • HTML: the basic language of web-pages. It allows the browser to know that a particular piece of text is a link, a heading or whatever else it might be. For example, a link is created like this:

    <a href="http://www.google.com">Google</a>
  • CSS: used to design how web pages look. A CSS file is essentially a set of rules, which are linked either to certain kinds of HTML element (such as links or headings) or to specific parts of a web page. CSS is used for everything from setting text size to laying out what goes where on the page.

Other things that might come in useful include:

  • JavaScript: a programming language that can be used to make web pages interactive.
  • Programming languages like PHP and Python. Although these are most important for developers, designers may find that understanding these helps when working with websites based on them.

Of course, understanding the technologies you’ll be using is only one part of it: you’ll also need to be familiar with what makes a good design or a well-made web app.

Building a portfolio

Once you have learned the essentials, you will need to start putting your skills into practice building real websites. As well as developing your skills more, this will mean that you have something to show to potential clients or employers.

This can seem like a chicken-and-egg situation, where you can’t get work without examples of what you’ve made and you don’t have examples until someone gives you work. But there are ways around this problem. You could ask family, friends and local businesses and offer them your skills at a reduced price or for free. Alternatively, you could show off your skills on your personal website, or create some example projects just to demonstrate what you can do.

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