Out of Hanwell

January 11, 2009

Basic Web Developer Skills

Filed under: Browsers, Development, JavaScript, Software, Web — Tags: — Matthias Miller @ 12:25 pm

The past several years at work, I’ve done a lot of HTML/JavaScript development. Last summer I handed off my work to another lead developer. During that process, my manager and I discussed the basic skills required for a good web developer, and we came up with this list.

Test cases. A good web developer turns problems into simple, reproducible test cases. When something goes wrong, it’s easy to fall into the lets-see-what-this-does rut. This solves your immediate problem, but it doesn’t leave you much smarter for next time. If you whittle down your problem to a comprehensible size, you can understand exactly what is going on, why it’s not working, and what you need to change. (Well, okay, some browser bugs are simply weird, but at least you have got a fighting chance!)

Research. A good web developer researches problems. You’re the smartest man alive, but you’re not the first to find this bug. You need to know which sites to check, such as QuirksMode, MSDN, MDC, and now Stack Overflow. But you also need to know how to use a search engine. Developers are creative creatures and can find a hundred ways to describe the same problem. You need to learn which keywords will bring the gold to the surface.

Documentation. A good web developer writes clear documentation. Once you solve a problem, it’s easy to check it in and move on. But just because you understand the problem today doesn’t mean that your team understands it or that you’ll understand it tomorrow. Write it down!

Localized Hacks. A good web developer favors localized hacks. Some problems can only be solved by ugly fixes, but you can minimize the damage by localizing the complexity. Keep the knowledge of that hack in one place–for example, hide it behind a JavaScript function, stick it into a CSS block, or fix it by adding a single element on your HTML page.

Pragmatism. A good web developer is pragmatic, neither sailing on the clouds of optimistic idealism or sinking to the depths of pessimistic despair, but somehow maintaining enthusiasm and courage in spite of the challenge.

Our conclusion? A good web developer is primarily a problem solver.

Really, it’s not complicated.

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