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What technologies, techniques and mindsets would be most beneficial to web developers?

I'm a relatively new developer with only 3 months working for an actual web development company. Since I've started, I've learned the wonderful world of version control using Git and how useful the command line can be. I've also learned the world of good a decent editor such as Eclipse can do with it's RegEx Search and Find and few other features I actually use.

What I'm wondering is what are some other things you've learned over the years that have been been really helpful and might apply to a web developer? I work primarily in PHP and front end languages (HTML/CSS/JS).

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jquery such a big timesaver –  NimChimpsky Sep 23 '10 at 14:38
    
I hated JavaScript before I discovered jQuery. Actually I still hate JavaScript, but I love jQuery :) –  Brandon Wamboldt Sep 23 '10 at 20:05

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Practice. Same as any other niche programming. Practice, practice, practice. Experiment, build your own projects, freelance, get involved in open source software. It all is the same, practice.

If you want to be an excellent craftsman, you need to practice.

Oh and did I say you need to practice?

Web specifically, it cannot hurt to remain up on technology, newest javascript frameworks, accessibility techniques/standards, etc.

  • frameworks are great but do not forget the underlying details of the language
  • new technology is great and you should experiment with it
  • accessibility is a must in some markets (federally funded institutions for example) and you want to understand how screen readers work with dynamic content for example such as ajax
  • new techniques and standards are a must

Lastly, you seem to be missing any mention of databasing. SQL would be worth your time.

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+1 for databases mainly. DB is extreamly important. –  TheLQ Sep 23 '10 at 3:11
    
Yeah, I didn't mention the details but I am pretty good with SQL, and I use Ajax all the time (Thanks to jQuery). One thing I've never used is Testing/Unit Testing, so I should look into it. –  Brandon Wamboldt Sep 23 '10 at 20:03

Chris covered a lot of great points with his answer. I thought I'd add these:

  • Learn several technologies (for example Rails, ASP.NET, Silverlight) in addition to your PHP skills so that you are not in a single Web developer niche but can take advantage of and know the pros and cons of different technology stacks.
  • Learn about some testing frameworks for web applications (for example the testing built into Rails, or things like Watir, WatiN, Selenium, ScrewUnit). A lot of web developers leave the testing up to the users, so it can be a real selling point to some customers (and help you stand out from the crowd) if you can leave a suite of tests for your application.
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Thanks for the credit, I would like to pass it back to you for these great additional points you made to add to mine! Cheers. –  Chris Sep 23 '10 at 14:42

Three things really have helped me out:

1) Perform Code-Cleanup on your own code

I have found many times going back through to improve formatting, optimize some routines, boil out magic numbers and words with variables, I can normally find a few ways to improve on my codebase, or at least see what I would do better the second time around. This especially applies to older code I may not have touched in a year.

2) RTFM / Read Programmers Blogs / Check out some Open Source/3rd party APIs

I learn something new every day. If you haven't been, you aren't looking hard enough. Sometimes even the most mundane problems, I will do a quick search to see if the top three answers take an angle to the problem any differently. Occasionally, I will find a rare gem, and many times that method can casade to all sorts of other problems. I used to not touch AJAX with a 10-foot pole. Now I use it with most everything. XML used to be a mystery to me, now its a absolute must-use.

3) Try something new

Usually, if you have an idea floating around in the back of your head, it means you want to improve your skills. At the very least, you might end up creating something that will make your life a bit easier as a programmer. But more often than not, no matter how challenging, daunting or impossible the task might be, in the end you will learn from it even if you fail. if you succeed, you have another notch under your belt.

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Related to the "practice" answer above: Volunteer.

There are tons of non-profits that are dying for a better web presence but either don't have the budget to hire a developer or the in-house time/talent to do it themselves. By volunteering your time to improve their web presence, you get the practice you need to become better at what you do PLUS you can generally have the freedom to experiment with technologies that are you not as familiar with and may not be able to integrate into for-profit sites or projects yet.

Plus, you help a needy charity and that's always good karma.

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Experiment

Something that wasn't mentioned in other answers is this. If you push the limits of what you know, you will inevitably find a new way to do things. You probably know how to do this already, but for me I just simply looked at the articles under the heading "AJAX" in a tutorial I was using and experimented with it. I then realized how extreamly helpful such things are.

Some things to try out

  • HTML5
  • Javascript specifically in browsers with custom JS implmentations like Firefox and/or Internet Explorer
  • New CSS rules available in Firefox
  • Flash and its usefulness to you
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1  
I must disagree with you for the last part, I see basically no use for Flash. Sadly, Apple doesn't support Flash on it's devices and Flash has awful support in some aspects on Linux. Flash DOES have a place on the web, it's just been terribly overused and misused. –  Brandon Wamboldt Sep 23 '10 at 20:05
    
@Rouge Flash does have its usefulness in some situations. And even with the lack of support of flash in some apple products and the generic linux support, flash is still extremely popular. Hate it or not, your probably going to need/want to use it someday. –  TheLQ Sep 23 '10 at 20:36

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