Computer Programmer

For those wanting to get into web development, life experience is becoming more and more invaluable.

Here, Ashleigh More-Hattia, a web developer and instructor at RED Academy, talks about how she got into the industry and the typical work she tackles – and gives her top tips to women thinking about entering the sector.

I’ve been in web development for about six years now. I was initially self-employed, starting off as a designer. As soon as I starting working on developing my first website, I realised that I loved to code.

I then moved on to doing a PHD and started working for an IT company. I soon joined an agency and became a junior developer – so you could say I’ve had experience in all sectors of web development.

Choosing a sector 

It’s so difficult to know which sector to go into. I personally feel that if you’re just starting out, it’s worth going into an agency at first. When you do this, you get exposure to all possible departments. You’ll work with clients, building websites and creating WordPress sites, and you work across multiple projects.

Freelancing is of course still a valid option, and working for yourself can seem appealing for many reasons! However, you need to be a really motivated self-starter and be really strict at managing your own time. For example, you might start coding at home when you’re comfortable and settles, and before you know it, it’s been 10 hours and it’s pitch black outside! Whereas on other days you might struggle to get a few lines of code written. As a junior this can all seem daunting and it can sometime feel like you don’t have much support.

Getting into the industry

It can be hard to know where to begin, but with the right attitude, creativity and flair you will stand out from the crowd. Make sure when you’re in the learning stages that you really gain as much experience as possible. At RED Academy, we offer courses that expose students to not just the theory behind coding, but the more creative skills that you’ll likely need to go straight into a job. You also work with real clients which is always such a learning curve. RED runs like an agency, so our Web Dev students work with all different departments, UX Design, UI Design and even Marketing. The junior developers who have just completed their course are now ready to hit the world of work.

It’s one thing learning code, however, but it’s also important to be able to implement it in real world situations. This can really be the difference between success and failure. I’ve been a senior and have experience of hiring juniors that have just come out of university and simply don’t know how to apply what they have learned.

If you want to know code, do a coding course. But if you want to learn how to really develop invaluable skills, you need to expose yourself to real-life elements of coding and web development. Look for courses or gain experience that will allow you to create something with a purpose, with real outcomes and that involve real-clients. You need to understand how to apply what you’re learning, what challenges you’ll face – including difficult clients – and how you best deal with that. This will really help you understand coding that little bit more.

Manage your time

Even in an agency, an average day requires effective time management. There can be a lot of switching between clients and it can really depend on what level you’re at. When I was an intermediate developer, I did lots of HTML mailers, digital design and website work. Swapping tasks and time tracking can be important in an agency too so balancing your time and projects is so important.

In terms of an average day on a full-time course, there’s still lots to do. At RED, we have a web development course, which starts out with HTML and web basics, as well as pre-course work through online exercise on Code Academy. Throughout their time on the course, students progress and tackle the trickier codes from CSS to CS3. All of this can be coupled with another 12-week app development course to become a full-stack developer.

De-coding, coding, Java Scripts and more all combine to make seven projects in total. But it’s always a team effort, with students sharing code together through interactive lessons. We don’t want it to just be dull lectures and deadlines! For both courses, students work on a final project with a community partner, who is a real-client. This means that each student spends three weeks building something that the UX students just down the corridor have actually designed, with no idea what’s coming – so there’s a real sense of the unknown and everything is very hands on, as it would be in real life.

Coding can sometimes be perceived as a dry subject, however it’s how you teach it that makes the difference. It’s important to make it creative and engaging; for example play games to practice coding or challenge one another to come up with different solutions to problems. There’s never one right answer, it’s about your own interpretations and developing the outcome.

Stand out from the crowd

As I’ve shown, getting real-life experience is so important to becoming a web developer. If I could share one piece of advice, it would be to look for practical, hands-on opportunities. Whether that’s during the learning process, for a course, or in the workplace.

That’s what I love about being an instructor; we get our students to work on practical tasks, as well as delivering cross-subject lectures. Everyone is encouraged to get involved in anything and everything, allowing us to promote the importance of being part of a company and being able to deliver in various areas rather than just learning coding as a standalone subject.

With all of this exposure, comes the development of invaluable social skills which can of course then be used hand-in-hand with their new knowledge.

So, do as much as you can to build up practical experience and have a good think about which sector you can apply your creative skills to, and you’ll be that much better equipped for a career in web development. We are hosting a free to attend Intro to HTML and CSS on 27th October, so register and come along and see for yourself! >>

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About the author

Ashleigh More-Hattia is a web developer and instructor at RED Academy.