Career: Web Programmer
A Web programmer translates the requirements of end-users and internal clients into a functional product. In other words, a programmer knows how to make a computer do what people want it to do. Usually, that product is an application which allows an end-user to do something on the Web-order a pizza, make a stock trade, or buy an airline ticket, for example. The programmer assesses the technical parameters of a project, decides how to approach the work, and then carries it out. The terms for this job often vary from one Web company to the next as the Internet changes; sometimes this job will bear the title of software engineer, developer, or programmer. On a daily basis, a programmer will modify pre-existing code, design new products and applications, create and test those products, and discuss how a design is going to flow. “There is never only one way to get a project done; we are involved with a team of people who have different factions and can never agree on how to get something done,” notes one programmer. The number of applications that a programmer can develop is virtually endless; basically, anything that can be done in real life can be translated into an application for the Web. A programmer will often simultaneously work on two very diverse projects. Programming requires highly creative, perceptual thinking-an ability to see what people want and generate a conceptual solution without seeing the actual product. If a client says, “I want it to look like this and I want it to do that,” a programmer has to be able to imagine that without actually seeing it.
The potential knowledge base of computer programmers is virtually unlimited. If it’s out there, someone is using it and you can learn it. Some programmers need to know Unix, which is an operating system and scripting language; others need to know SQL, which manages databases. Learning C, a general programming language, is the basis for finding a first job. “As long as you have some idea of how to program and understand how logic flows, you can apply and translate that knowledge,” says one programmer. “You can always pick up other languages, or even learn new languages that haven’t yet been invented.” However, “solid communication skills are the most important asset that will make you valuable,” notes one programmer. “Lack of communication is a big barrier and a serious problem. This leads to errors, confusion, and ultimately, missed deadlines. Know how to understand and interact with people.” The evolution of hiring has gone from needing all the requirements of the job, to needing less as employees learn more on the job. Three years ago, there was no one with Web programming experience; companies wanted two years of C programming experience and would teach HTML. Today, employees often come in with 50 percent of what the job requires, and the company will teach the other half. There are so many jobs and so few people to fill them, that employers are lowering their expectations.
Outside of a Web environment, general programmers can apply their skills to any industry. One Web programmer formerly worked for AT&T, working on an application to generate monthly billing. There are even specialty programmers, such as those whose design applications for recording the chemicals used in paint. This would require more specialized knowledge, such as a degree in chemical engineering combined with a certificate in programming. Programmers have a common subset of skills with engineers-the ability to create and design within a framework-and some do cross over between the industries.