With the increasing reliance on e-commerce as part of an overall shift to digital business, it’s not surprising that web developers are in high demand. Job growth for web developers is expected to increase by 23% by 2031—much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to the job site Indeed, web developers are responsible for using their knowledge of programming languages to code websites and web applications. “The individual demands of each business will define what role the web developer will take,” Indeed says.
Among the required skills and qualifications are proficiency in programming languages; an understanding of search engine optimization (SEO); excellent written and verbal communication skills; strong interpersonal skills; high-level programming skills; and the ability to troubleshoot and optimize web pages for security and responsiveness.
To find out what’s involved in becoming a web developer, we spoke with Hannah Robertson, an independent web developer whose clients include the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).
Becoming a web developer
Robertson attended Radford University, focusing on web development and political science and graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in media studies.
“I don’t think people should be too hung up on their past degree titles; they can do much more than what they studied and they can also pivot,” Robertson says. She set out to pursue a career in a technology-related field. “I grew up fixing computers for friends and family,” she says. “Being better at something than the adults is a surefire way to find direction in life.”
After Robertson graduated in 2015, she quickly found a job as a developer for an asset performance management company called Meridium, now a subsidiary of GE. In this position, she wrote training manuals for SQL software.
Robertson then moved to the Campus Emporium at Virginia Tech, taking a position as a web merchandiser. She managed web applications and built an inventory control system. “That was the foot in the door that helped launch my career into Northern Virginia—Silicon Valley of the East,” she says. “I’ve helped kickstart numerous companies in the area beginning with Health Wizz, a digital medical data app secured with blockchain.”
Alongside this venture, Robertson went to work for United States Postal Inspection Service as a web developer for the Communications Governance and Strategy Group. Later, she moved over to the USPS proper, where since 2018 she has served as digital manager of the Corporate Information Security Office. “I manage applications, software, and project teams in all capacities from strategy to tech support,” Robertson says.
Starting her tech consultancy
Just prior to joining USPS, in 2017, Robertson launched the consulting firm TrueTech Inc. as owner and CEO. She drew on her experience as an entrepreneur and contracted with freelance talent to develop business strategies for clients, usually other small technology startups in the area. “I look forward to growing my business every day,” she says.
Even though technology is the main focus of Robertson’s career, she emphasizes how important people are, as well. “It can’t be overstated that while I do my work on computers, I’m working with the people behind those computers,” she says. “In every position I’ve held, I’ve created tight bonds with the people around me. They are my friends whom I admire. Mostly they’ve been around longer than I have and I learn from them. I treat them with respect and they pay it forward with word of mouth. My clients come to me knowing that as a person I go above and beyond.”
“Initially, I didn’t plan to stay with USPS, but it’s been such a great place to work,” Robertson says. “I want to stay there, but I also want to grow my own business. Ideally, I’d have the time to focus on a very targeted approach to growing my business. It’s modeled after major players like Deloitte and Booz Allen Hamilton, where I have developers on call when projects come our way. I need a good working relationship with my developers. I want them to have the same drive I do. We’re still a small company and we hand-pick the clients we take on. What I love about this is that we’re supporting the businesses and ideas that we believe in. It’s important to me that my developers like what they’re doing, and for the projects to be meaningful for all of us.”
“I keep a full schedule,” Robertson says. “It’s a 40-hour week of management duty in the office for my main client, USPS. I also work nights and weekends for my other clients routinely, and sometimes really early mornings to squeeze in extra projects. For those, it’s a combination of work I do myself or task out to my team of freelancers whom I have on the ‘bench’ at my consulting firm. I’ve had to learn how to accept help. I like to be in control, but I’m more productive If I can let go of that and allow others to do the things I don’t have to do myself. Time management is essential. I live by the clock.”
Memorable career moments
“There’s a quiet sense of dignity in knowing that literally hundreds of millions of people who send and receive mail are benefiting from systems I helped maintain, protect, and help build,” Robertson says. “Another contender would be guest lecturing at my alma mater. That was kind of surreal. It wasn’t that long ago that I graduated. It’s an honor to be recognized. Speaking to a large crowd, feeling the energy of a room feeding back into me [was] very exciting and not at all where I imagined I’d be, going into tech.”
“But I think the top moment would have to be the incorporation of my own business. That’s the American dream. I poured my heart into it. It felt like the culmination of everything I had worked for, everything I had learned, and everything I had ever done up to that point.”
Inspirations and advice for other developers
“I admire anyone who’s left their mark. I don’t want to elevate any particular person. They say you should never meet your heroes, and I feel like I’m just as likely to be inspired by everyday people as I am by anyone famous. It’s the ideals that live on through time. If I had to name someone I admire, it would be my grandfather, for never compromising his principles and always doing what’s right.”
As for advice, “Don’t be afraid to do it,” Robertson says. “That’s what holds us back. I tell friends to take more risks. Don’t just stay in a job you don’t like. Don’t get complacent and convince yourself that the money is good or that you’ve fallen into a groove and that it would be too much effort to do it all over again. That’s called being stuck in a rut. Deep down you know you need to get out of it and it starts with that first step. People either experience failure or never experience success, and they become conditioned to keep feeling that way. You can’t be afraid to fail.”
Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.