Career Decisions

A student recently sent me an email asking some valuable career questions. Here is a summary of her questions as well as my responses:

I am having a hard time distinguishing the differences between:
-Web Designer
-Web Master
-Web Programmer and
-Web Developer

A web designer normally does the layout, color, font, graphic stuff of a web site.
A web programmer or web developer writes the code that makes a web page happen. For example, a designer might design how a form is laid out and then give this idea (often as a PhotoShop or Illustrator file) to the programmer. The programmer than writes the code to make the form work when the user clicks on the submit button: saving data to a table, sending information as an email, creating and displaying a web page telling the user that something happened. (The web designer will probably dictate what that user-feedback web page will look like).

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is used by web designers and PHP or ASP.NET (languages that run on a web server) are used by web programmers.

Based on these descriptions you can see that often a person can be both a web designer and web programmer. However, with larger web sites and organizations these two areas become more distinct and have people with different skills doing the particular jobs. Designers are usually more artistic and programmers are generally more technical and detail oriented. A designer’s work is seen and most often a programmers work is “behind the curtain”.

A Web Master is more of a job description. Most web masters design and programming the web site or manage the designers and programmers that do the work. Who ever is in charge of the web site is normally considered the web master.

Skill sets for web designers include PhotoShop, DreamWeaver, InDesign, and Illustrator. Also a good sense of layout and design, psychology, and a strong understanding of human interfaces are important.

Skill sets for web programmers include PHP, ASP.NET, XML, Java, XHTML/CSS, Flex, DreamWeaver, Eclipse and/or Visual Studio, Linux. Understanding programming logic, database design, programming frameworks like WordPress and/or Drupal, and client/server relationships are all important skill areas.

Whenever I look into getting an actual degree in this field, basically all I can find is a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, which seems to be more technically focused on the hard-core computer science than I am necessarily interested in. However, I would like to be as marketable as possible, so I would be willing to work toward such a degree if necessary.

For computer degrees there are general two main types. An Computer Systems (CS) degree focuses more on theory and how to design operating systems. How a computer work, how a chip parses through language statements, and how data can be stored as a structure. Some courses normally include things such as Finite Automata theory, Compiler design, and Computer architecture.

An Information System (IS) or Information Technology (IT) degree normally deals with more practical uses such as computer support, programming, and using operating systems (instead of writing them).

CS degrees generally require higher math skills such as calculus more math than an IS or IT degree.

It is my feeling in today’s market that employers just want folks that know how to design and code. You already have a bachelor’s degree so a programming diploma from SCC is more than enough credentials, especially with a good portfolio like you are working on. That experience is the valuable piece. I know of several people that are doing well after having completed the Web Programming Certificate although the Programming Degree will give you a better overall coverage in the industry. From an employer’s point-of-view it isn’t so much what degree you have. Instead they want to be certain that you have excellent problem solving skills (you do), excellent communication skills (you do), and a good basic knowledge of design and programming (you do).