Has Web Development Diverged?

Contributing Editor

In the early days of the web, a web developer (or webmaster) was expected to do everything: a little graphic design, database development, server-side coding, and front-end engineering. The job was varied and rapidly changed as the technologies evolved.

Today, there’s far more divergence within the employment market:

  • a designer may spend all day using PhotoShop and never touch the website code
  • a front-end engineer may concentrate on HTML, CSS and JavaScript without a concern for server-side processes
  • a back-end developer may create databases and PHP or ASP.NET code but never worry about the user interface.

Larger companies will find it easier to separate job functions. They can create a factory process where each component is built by a team which specializes in that technology. The obvious benefit is that developers can become experts in a particular field and produce a working product within a short time-frame.

Even freelancers and smaller companies can specialize in specific technologies. They can provide those services to larger organizations or outsource parts of the project where they need assistance.

We’d like to know whether your job has become more specialized. Are you still involved in every aspect of system development or do you concentrate on a certain area. Please vote on the SitePoint home page or leave a comment below.

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  • Derek K

    I think this depends on what the person wants to do. I consider myself a graphic designer. But because I work in an interactive medium I feel it’s important for me to know HTML, CSS, JS, AS, PHP, etc. I also don’t consider myself a ‘web’ designer as I do more than just design web sites. I feel it’s probably best if I call myself a maker.

    But, that said, I do work for a company that has a development team—of which I support—and I am on a creative team. The more I can do on my own the better I feel about myself. But I can also talk with a Java developer and understand what’s going on.

  • Edison A. Leon

    Totally, I remember from once I was called a webmaster to now be known as the front end developer (even web designer). which was the reason I’ve learned photoshop and some back-end language like perl and now php, which it really just helped from previous jobs to become a great web developer where I’m now. I have been a front-end developer in the last 3-4 year from just a web master though the name should stick for those who are gaining more experience, cause I know of a web master any more.

  • jaytem

    While I heartily agree that web development has diverged, and users would be smart to specialize, it seems that most small and medium size business want the all-in-one “webmaster”.

  • Dodie

    Personally, I am fond of working with all 3… Except I’m just learning it in the order you placed it there (what coincidence!). I was first learning Photoshop for web design, then eventually it lead to me learning CSS and such, then now I started doing research on PHP :)

  • Young Seeker

    Yes it has and I am loving it…

  • juliannicholls

    I am not a full-time web professional, so my experience is perhaps not typical. If (when???) I get made redundant from my current job, I may well try to find a talented local designer to hook up with and make websites full time.
    My first ‘professional’ outing was a full e-commerce site, so I can handle the front-end and back-end, but the design is really beyond me. The layout of that one was really a knockoff of another shop site. Not that I copied the actual HTML, CSS, or Javascript, that would be unethical and I have no need to, just the look.

  • http://www.jonathanpenny.co.uk jonpenny

    When working freelance I was responsible for it all. The design in Photoshop to the build in HTML/CSS to the database side of things.

    Now I’m working for a company I mainly handle all the HTML, CSS and Javascript. I do some small bits in Photoshop and some small back end work but not much.

    I prefer doing all the HTML, CSS and Javascript though, which is why I applied for the job.

  • Eddt

    I think it has diverged, and my role certainly has shifted since I got my first “webmaster” job back in the day. Yes, as mentioned in the article I started off doing everything – and I mean everything. And did that for a LONG time.

    It really wasn’t until my most recent gig that I began to sort of focus in on one aspect, and that was mainly due to the function of the team I work with and my role in it. Previously I was a one-man-shop with most of the jobs I had.

    So its only been a recent evolution for me. Interested to see what others report here as well…

  • Dave

    Even if one person is specialized in one technology, when we talk about web – or any area to be true – some knowledge about other related-roles are very very valuable.

    A back-end developer who does not knows a minimum of HTML and Javascript is not what we want to see.

    Same thing about designer. They need to know a minimum about web-related best practices in order to not create a unreal design that will require more images than HTML components and CSS features.

    What I am saying is: web relies on stardards and best practices. We can follow another path if we want to, but this is not always recommended. Using wed standards, regardless the role and actuation area, allows a commom place and language that team can use.

    And this speed up things, and make everyone involved in a project a little bit happier.

  • chadavan

    I still do all aspects of the project, though with all the changes in technology, I am beginning to feel like a Jack of all trades, master of none.

    I’ve begun embracing 99designs and PSD to HTML companies to not only create better looking sites and front-end code, but also increase my productivity. I can also concentrate more on selling and keeping up with my trade – backend database design and coding.

  • Ulyses

    Well, being a little older, I started as a DBA. Then, I grew with the new systems implementations and I started server-side and front-end, first as a way to explore and learn. It just comes in handy now. I guess we all grow with the web technology becoming a must these days. And if you have time, then you can even Photoshop a little. But specializing on coding or designing makes great results. Like a major/minor where you can handle the minor but not really deliver great results (unless you really are a Picasso, but your father is Knut, then you’ll master both worlds).

    And in coding of course, DBA takes a lot of research and learning. Front-end is demanding also, but you still can be both.

    But if you need to learn design (in depth), that takes much more time than a coder has to spend.

    Having said these, then YES! for first class, high demand projects, Web Development Diverge.

  • Elaine

    I’ve gone the other direction in a lot of ways; I’m still the sole “web person” at my job, same as I was a decade ago at a different organization. And there’s so much MORE than there was then…not just design, front-end, back-end, but evaluating web apps (CMS, etc); designing, writing and managing email campaigns; keeping up on Facebook et al; creating search engine ads….

    I have had to deliberately decide that there were things I wasn’t going to try to progress in, where a surface knowledge is good enough most of the time: Flash for one thing. But I definitely need to keep up enough to be able to talk intelligently if someone asks about some particular technology!

    FWIW, so far (Thursday morning Seattle time) your survey is showing 55% doing “everything!”

  • dungeon

    I consider myself a back-end developer.. but my job lets me do front-end as well.. not worrying about designing of the site inself in photoshop though.. its good and i like it..

  • Dave

    I personally thing companies are taking advantage of web designers / developers these days. They expect a one man army. At my current employment I am working 60 hour weeks doing the work of two full-time job employees. And still getting underpaid. I wish people would start mentioning the fact that companies are completely taking advantage of the down-turned economy in some aspects.

  • cyberwhiz

    Working as a freelancer puts everything on my shoulder, and I can say it has been fun for me all the way. Being able to communicate with co-designers and developers without any hitch gives me an edge.

    I hope to specialize in design in the near future (with a good knowledge of back end scripting)

  • vinhkhoa

    HTML, CSS and arguably JS are must-know technologies to work on the web these days regardless of what you call yourself, imo. They are the building blocks of websites. How could you call yourself a web designer if you don’t know HTML and CSS (if you don’t, you are just a ‘designer’, not a ‘web designer’)? The other way around too, it is a shame (imo) to call yourself a web developer if you don’t know how to write HTML or how to style a site using CSS. I mean really do it in a proper way, not playing around and creating some “table-ly sites”. The designs may not look breautiful but they need to look “right”.

    I’m not here saying how much money and opportunities you would be missing if you limit yourself inside the PS or PHP/ASP.NET cube (although you definitely miss a lot!). My point is these are what the web is all about, and everyone should or in fact need to know about them in order to just be in the web industry.

    Although started out as a web developer (still call myself that now), I’m in fact trying to avoid myself becoming a hardcore programmer by reading more articles about designs, learning about usability, SEO, marketing and also the business strategies. The look of my design is not as beautiful as the functions of my applications yet, but that’s what I’m heading to.

    There are many opportunities out there, why limit yourself to a small corner? Learn a bit more to grab the whole picture and that will surely pay you back.

  • boldfish

    I’ve been freelancing for a very long time. I still do the client facing jack of all trades web thing, but much prefer my specialist niche of front end developer.

    I like creating solid html and CSS for a designers visuals.

    More and more I find myself working as part of a multi-disciplined team, designer, back end developer and me…

    Noded teams of freelancers are the future…

  • mmatsoo

    Like Elaine above, I’m the only “web person” in my organisation and like chadavan, the “jack of all trades master of none” notion often runs through my mind.
    Some people call me webmaster, my official title is Specialist, but I think a more accurate title would be Web Generalist.
    I can’t make a pretty design to save my life, but otherwise I’m pretty confident in being able to handle my organisation’s needs. (web maintenance, new development, db maintenance, training, requirements gathering…etc.) I’m curious to know how prevalent this role is in medium-sized orgs. I expect there’s tons of me-s out there, but I’ve never really met them.

  • Heather

    I’ve done all three, and in my freelance work, that’s the only way. But I love working with a great designer (which I do in my day job) so I can concentrate on the architecture.

  • worldwisewebs

    I have a few clients I’ve taken from start to finish but most of my work comes from slicing designs and creating the html, css, php, and javascript to make the designs into reality.

  • http://www.jasonbatten.com NetNerd85

    “Webmaster”… oh those were the days. I’ve gone back and forth from HTML/CSS and PHP focused work for a long time. I enjoy both and do like to switch. I dabble in design when I can but have never considered myself a designer. I’ve only done one job where I did everything, design – html/css and backend code.

  • http://www.jasonbatten.com NetNerd85

    Shouldn’t it be a concern that 49% of people still do everything? It’s good to have multiple skills but you can never beat the focused skill of dedicated people.

  • http://manwithnoblog.com Gary Barber

    I used to be on of those dinosaur webmasters, now I do UX design. Which doesn’t really seem to fit in the discussion, as it’s something else again. ;)