To begin at the beginning, front-end web development is all about creating the actual experience of being on the web. What you see, what you hear, what you learn, what you do—in short, how you engage with a website—that’s what front-end web developers build. To do this, front-end developers deploy a mix of programming and design strategies, and ideally the goal for a front-end developer is to create beautiful websites, that also function well.
We know a great many of you are knee deep in Web Development projects as we write this, and any time we have the opportunity to pass on some expert insights and resources, we don’t hesitate to do so. Today, we have an awesome post from Rohit Boggarapu, who is a software engineer at Adobe. He’s written a great article about charting and data visualization tools for web developers, and we encourage you to read it, as it’s got some great information.
The gap between data and our interpretation of it can be huge, especially when it means squinting at rows of unintelligible figures in spreadsheets (possibly the least appealing format of all time).
Web developers don’t really get along with spreadsheets. Now, they no longer have to, for there are far sexier ways to chart data. Yes, the necessary evil that was the static Excel chart isn’t the only option any more.
There are many things to consider when choosing the right charting tool for your project. In this article, I’ll be giving you a direct rundown of 12 of the best charting tools for web developers to help you stop struggling against data and start graphing.
Want to be a developer? It’s not as simple as you might think.
You could be forgiven for thinking that a discipline based in science, logic, and reason would be easy to be a part of. You’d think that you could start by learning how to program in one of the many disciplines, whether that be mobile, web, API, or embedded development, and that you could then continue the journey—increasing your skills, regularly learning more—for as long as your passion, education, and creativity could sustain. You’d think it’d be that straightforward.
Like many human endeavors, being a developer has a bit of a Freemason-like culture attached to it. It is subject to emotional overreach, irrational arguments, and unfounded, yet long perpetuated, myths. These myths can, if you’re not careful, set you up with false and unrealistic expectations and preconceptions. They attempt to dictate what you need to know—and, sometimes, who you need to be—to be considered a real developer.
Web development is something that can be picked up using a text editor as simple as Notepad, but that can quickly evolve into something requiring an entire arsenal of tools.
At the core of great web development are code editors, as well as testing and build tools. These are the tools you’ll likely not be able to live without. Depending upon the scope of your work, you might dabble in design tools as well.
But with so many out there, how do you choose? Here’s a list of some of the best web dev tools to date, according to working web developers. Now, no one toolset works for every developer in every situation. You will develop your own toolsets, picking tools based on the tasks you need to accomplish on any given project — and on what works for you. Some tools are better designed than others for particular working habits or design preferences. So take some of these tools for a spin, and see if they don’t become part of your must-have toolkit.
Last Wednesday was a special day here at Udacity HQ. One of our very first front-end Nanodegree graduates Ben Halperin made a visit to our office. Ben’s an awesome guy: extremely friendly, super smart and very motivated. Ben didn’t waste any time, either; he landed a job in the health care industry shortly after graduating.
We’re working on an in-depth video about Ben’s path from mechanical engineer to web developer, but you can get to know Ben and be inspired by his career path below.
I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I started college, and I defaulted to engineering because I liked math and science. It seemed like a broad choice to open a lot of doors. I only started programming last April—I wasn’t happy with the jobs I had in mechanical engineering, and at my last job, a lot of the software we used was so poorly designed and frustrating. That made me want to figure out exactly what was going on with development behind the scenes.
I didn’t know too much about online courses, so I started looking around at what people were saying on various resources. The first class I took was at Code Academy, and from there I was looking for a computer science fundamentals class. I looked at MIT and Stanford’s intro courses, and then based on some reviews I found, I enrolled in Introduction to Computer Science at Udacity.
…the fact that I was doing all this while still working definitely impressed the companies I interviewed with. Having specific examples of things that I built is so helpful.
For me, there was an immediate love of programming and it just felt right—I’d never experienced that in my career, and right away, I knew it was something I wanted to do. It worked out well for me because I had taken just enough courses on my own (and had a decent background) that I felt well-prepared for the Nanodegree. So I never felt super frustrated or that I wasn’t getting enough help along the way. The last project in the Nanodegree was really challenging and getting started was a bit overwhelming. There was at least one other student that gave me some valuable feedback to get to the finish line.
I started glancing at job listings before graduating, but I didn’t do anything too serious until I completed the last project. Then I updated my resume and LinkedIn and tried to get as well-prepared as possible. I used any resource I could find on the job hunt, tried to figure out exactly what I was qualified for, and of course, tried to decide what was a possibility as far as job location.
People at Udacity went out of their way to give me advice to help with the job hunt and interview process. And having the community around the Nanodegree was helpful…
Most of the companies I interviewed with weren’t instantly familiar with Udacity, but they recognized the fact that I had projects and work on GitHub to show off. And the fact that I was doing all this while still working definitely impressed the companies I interviewed with. Having specific examples of things that I built is so helpful.
People at Udacity went out of their way to give me advice to help with the job hunt and interview process. And having the community around the Nanodegree was helpful—students would share LinkedIn profiles, resumes, and portfolios and provide feedback to each other.
Some people may think that $200 per month is a lot, but it’s almost nothing when you think about the opportunity it provides to advance careers. It’s win-win. Either you’re going to simply learn a lot or you’ll gain skills that will help you break into the field that you’re targeting.
Today’s post features Ayesha Ilyas, Front-End graduate who used her Nanodegree experience to land a job as a front-end developer. We asked Ayesha a few questions about her journey, and discovered she has a very passionate stance on women in development, which is certainly worth a read on its own.
I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science. I graduated back in 2004, so I have some knowledge of computer science, data structures, databases, and object-oriented programming. But it was such a long time ago and I never had a technical job. I worked for a bank for a couple years, then for the last five or six years, I’ve been off work spending time with my family.
With the Nanodegree, I was completing projects I could showcase.
In the first two parts of this three-part series, we took a look at two very different paths to professional web developer: Michael Wales, who always knew what he wanted to do, and did it from childhood; and Cameron Pittman, who hit upon this career by accident as an adult, but who at least had a background in the sciences.
So, ‘OK,’ you may be thinking, ‘A background in hard science is not altogether different from computer programming.’ What if you studied, or have been working in, a wildly divergent field like art, or history, or psychology?
Consider Ben Jaffe.
Ben is a multi-talented musician, skilled in piano, clarinet, bass clarinet, guitar, harmonium, flute, saxophone, and bass. He was a theater major in college, focusing on sound and lighting design. He’s an experienced teacher, as well as a media designer, having freelanced from 2009 to 2012 doing video editing, motion graphics, audio recording, live mixing, and music composition.
He’s also a professional web developer, currently employed as a course developer at Udacity.
If Ben’s background isn’t evidence that you can truly construct a career as a web developer from the ground up, then there is none. But how did he become interested in web development, anyway? “I always liked programming and playing around with computers,” he said. “I kind of kept doing that on the side. I was teaching film and visual effects at a summer camp. From there, I ended up teaching some web technology, then ended up doing more with it outside of the classroom. So I actually started out teaching development before I was doing it.”
Teaching, Ben suggested, is one of the best ways to learn. It helped him learn that he had a strong interest in pursuing development seriously. He encourages students to not only learn from a teacher (online or offline), but to also teach themselves and each other.
Ben channeled his self-taught coding smarts into a job as the lead front-end developer at a San Francisco Bay area startup, developing the company’s website, mobile-optimized consumer web app, iPhone and Android apps with Cordova, and the initial skeleton for the platform’s venue portal. By fall 2014, he had joined the Udacity crew and hasn’t looked back—except to reflect, when prompted, on how his colorful background has served him well as a developer.
Ben’s indirect path from technical theater expert to professional developer paid off by making it clear to him how much he was interested in the work. “The route I took is evidence that I really enjoy it,” he said. “A lot of people go into computer science because there’s money in it. If that’s the reason you’re in it, you’re not going to find it as compelling and interesting as someone who’s in it because they really like to do it. If you’re in it because you really like to do it, you’re also going to implicitly be better at it. The best web developers are going to be the developers for whom web technology is exciting.”
One of the things Ben finds most exciting about web development is when he’s playing with web technologies that aren’t quite ready. “Right now, I’m trying to build something, and the particular features I need aren’t actually stable in the browser yet,” he said, “It’s a matter of constantly hacking around things and trying to find ways to get the darn thing to work.”
Having a wide range of interests can serve you well as a developer if you find the through line that ties them all together. In Ben’s case, the patterns that underlay mathematics, music, and code are fascinating to him, which helps him think ultra-creatively and abstractly. There’s a reason career experts tell you to follow your passion: not only will you be the most stimulated and fulfilled, you’ll be better at your work.
The Bottom Line
Can you build a career as a web developer from scratch? In short, absolutely. Learning is a lifelong activity, and every journey is personal. Take inspiration from Michael’s, Cameron’s, and Ben’s stories that, no matter the start of your own story, it can end like theirs.