Why No One’s A Web Developer Anymore

The year 1999 may have been the apex of the dot-com bubble euphoria, but it wasn’t the heyday of Web developers. At least, not according to U.S. state and federal Occupational Employment Statistics, which didn’t even register that “Web developer” was a real job. 

Since then, Web development has become so popular that it has made it into our labor statistics even as it has faded as a marketable job skill. Today, it’s not enough to be a generic Web developer: the best developers have specialized.

Catching Up With The Zeitgeist

Government has never been known as an innovator. Nowhere is this more true than in its the data it captures on its workforce. As a new study from Pew Research finds, government jobs data tends to be a lagging indicator of the economy:

In 2013, an estimated 165,100 Americans worked as computer network support specialists, 141,270 as computer network architects, and 78,020 as information security analysts. None of those occupations existed on their own in 1999, though some workers in those fields likely were included in broader job classifications such as “computer programmers” or “network systems and data communications analysts.” But listing them separately speaks to the importance of networked computing in today’s economy.

In other words, the government eventually recognized what those in the industry already knew: The network had become a big deal. Somewhat ironically, the government can sometimes be so late to the party that the party is over by the time the government recognizes it ever existed.

Web development is like that.

Web Developers: On The Out?

As Pew Research highlights, “Web developer” wasn’t even reported as part of the OES classification system until 2012. The report notes this fact with the obvious statement that “[government] data often lags the evolution of the actual economy.”

By the time the OES got around to recognizing web development, the industry seems to have moved on. “Web developer” jobs peaked in 2009, according to Indeed.com data, even though Web development was becoming even more important. 

This importance is expressed by a shift away from generic “Web development” to specific Web technologies Web developers need like jQuery and Node.js:

In other words, “Web development” is simply how apps are built now, making government’s and employers’ distinction of “Web developer” far less meaningful. The same is true for mobile. As such, saying “I need a Web developer” or “I need a mobile developer” is increasingly unhelpful as what matters are the technologies these developers know.

The Web You Need To Know Now

So what technologies does a developer need to know in order to escape the anonymous “Web developer” distinction and stand out? Oddly enough, some of the same technologies you needed to know way back in 1999, as data on trending web programming languages from IEEE Spectrum shows:

I’ve written recently about the enduring popularity of Java, and Javascript, PHP, Perl and other web programming languages were all around in 1999 to help the as-yet “unborn” web developer. Some of the most interesting languages, however, like Go, weren’t around for the still non-existent “Web developer” back in 1999. 

But beyond programming languages, the modern web developer needs to understand real-time service APIs, Git and techniques for making Web applications feel more like mobile applications. 

On that last point, it’s likely that the government will eventually get around to recognizing “mobile developer” as a separate job classification (today it doesn’t). That will likely be long after the industry has figured out that “mobile” is simply how applications are developed/deployed, and technologies like Node.js and PhoneGap are what “mobile developers” really need to know.

Give it time.

Lead image by Jim Sangwine

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