Whether you’re graduating a course of study in web development or looking to start one, it’s vital that you complete a reality check to determine if your new skills or those you intend to learn match the demands of the real world.
It’s unlikely that the list I’m about to share with you will be completely addressed by any one program. Even if it did, the published course outlines may not reflect that fact – it’s common for outlines to be locked-in months or even years before classes begin. If you’re a prospective student, you might want to reach out to professors in your program of choice to confirm what is actually being taught in classes: a good prof will teach whatever is required in current web development practices, no matter what an outline might insist.
A web development graduate looking for design or development work – in other words, a generalist who is prepared to be both a freelancer and a specialist in a larger company – would reasonably be expected to have the following skills:
- The ability to write valid XHTML and HTML5 markup, with an emphasis on SEO value and semantics.
- A thorough grounding in CSS, including CSS3 (including gradients, transitions, and animations).
- The basics of typography, including web and icon fonts.
- Video and audio workflow for the web, including production, code choice, and compression.
- Design fundamentals, with a strong base of color theory, and the principles of visual alignment, rhythm, balance and grids.
- The ability to constructively critique a site; perhaps more importantly, the strength to look critically at your own work and realistically evaluate its failings.
- An understanding of accessibility issues and the skills to integrate features that will assist every user through the site development process.
- How to optimize image formats for the web, including SVG.
- The basics of mobile and responsive design.
- Strong skills in the Adobe Creative Suite, most especially Photoshop, Illustrator and Dreamweaver, with at least a sideline in Flash.
- Familiarity with a minimum of one server-side language and CMS, together with an understanding of how databases work to create a dynamic site.
- Social media skills to amplify a site’s presence as part of a cohesive strategy.
- Analysis of a site’s metrics in order to evaluate success or failure.
Soft skills are the one area that employers keep saying that graduates lack. A web development program should prepare students to:
- Make a pitch (including elevator pitches, client interaction, and presentation to an audience).
- Communicate written work clearly, with correct grammar and spelling.
- Work well in groups, including ad-hoc groups that may be fractious, dysfunctional, or have a high variation in ability and motivation.
- Handle time management, disagreements and stress in healthy and productive ways.
- Write contracts and invoices for web development work.
- Research and provide solutions to new problems as they come up, without requiring direct supervision.
A course of instruction that does not provide every one of skills does not necessarily mean that it lacks value – the truth is that no set of classes can entirely prepare you for real-world demands, and you will always be learning, growing and expanding your talents as expectations within the web development industry change.
What is important – and will always prove to be your greatest and most valuable skill – is an ability to identify your deficits and weaknesses and work on them. A good web design/development course can avoid years of false starts, misdirection and frustration, but its greatest product will always be the self-guided and motivated graduate who is committed to learning and improving for life.