Web development for dummies, by Bert Heyman

by Jan 26, 2021News

Does it itch to change your life and are you looking for a new career path with a lot of future perspective? Then a career as a web developer may be what you are looking for. But what exactly is web development and how do we, at BeCode, prepare you for your new career path? Our Ghent web development coach, Bert Heyman, will tell you all about it in the following interview!

What were you doing before joining the BeCode team?
“I worked as a back-end developer. There I focused on everything that you can’t see in an application, everything that makes it work at the back-end. In addition, I acted as a point of contact for some customers. They often came to me with a very nice idea, of which we discussed the technical side together. I found it a huge advantage to be involved in this discussion as a developer, as you don’t get that chance everywhere. This provided me with the opportunity of talking to the customer: “Your idea sounds really cool, but if we approach it like this, we can build your application faster or increase its lifespan.” 

Why did you want to join the BeCode team?
“A few years ago I happened to meet someone who asked me if a job as a coach would be something for me. At the time, I was specializing, so this did not seem like the right time to apply for such a position. I did not think seriously about it at the time, but it actually sounded fun. In my previous job, I regularly supervised trainees. Since I found this really great, I wanted to continue working in this field. I then thought back to what this person had proposed to me a few years ago. The idea did cross my mind, but at that point, it didn’t go any further.’

“Via Stackoverflow, I came across a vacancy at BeCode. The vacancy looked very interesting, so I decided to do some more research about the organization. The more I read, the more I thought “This is it!”. The vacancy matched exactly with what I was looking for. Not only the technical aspect but also the social aspect really appealed to me. I am a big fan of charities and helping people out. So I could tick all these boxes and before I knew it, I had applied for a job.” 

What made you want to start a career in web development? 
“In secondary school, I followed a very theoretical course, namely Latin-mathematics. Although it went well, it wasn’t really itching to continue in this direction. I decided to start following a course in Photoshop in evening school and participated in a summer camp in web development. I soon realized that, although IT is also a very analytical field, you can use more creativity in it. In web development, I got the feeling that I could create fun, meaningful things. Back-end development, on the other hand, I really like it because you see everything come to life here. You have a website that contains information, but if you don’t have a back-end, that’s all you’ve got. Through back-end development, you can, for example, automate certain processes. This is where the magic happens.”

What is your favorite programming language and why?
“If you were to ask different developers, you would get very different answers. My favourite language is PHP because it is used in a lot of aspects of the web. Historically, this language has evolved a lot. Originally, PHP started out partly as a templating language, which sometimes made it neither fish nor flesh. In the meantime, PHP is evolving a lot, which brings consistency to the language. Popular frameworks, such as Laravel and Symphony, are on the rise. It’s certainly not a dead language either, as you can see it evolving in what feels to me personally like the right direction.’

How would you describe web development to someone who knows nothing about it?
“Actually, web development is like learning to read and write. When you learn a new language, you’ll have to learn and respect various rules regarding the use of capitals, style sheets, etc. Programming is no different. If you follow those rules properly, you can create some beautiful things.”

Front-end development refers to all the things that are physically visible, like your facade or interior. In your house, when you push the switch, the light goes on. The process behind it is hidden, that is what the back-end does.

How would you describe the role of a web developer? What are the most important aspects of the job and why?
“You have to be curious. With web development, you can actually create whatever you want. During Corona, I would often go and borrow books from the library, but before choosing a particular book, I always look up reviews online. Because it took a lot of time to google each book, I decided to write a Chrome plugin that automatically adds these reviews to the library website. You can build whatever you want with web development, but the IT world is so big that you will never master all the knowledge. Whether you’re a junior or a senior, the only thing a senior can do better is researching or fixing mistakes, but even he doesn’t know everything. So you need a healthy dose of curiosity as a developer. If you like puzzles or trying to escape from an escape room, then this domain is definitely for you.”

“What is also very important to me is that you are a good team player. When building an application, you must always ask yourself whether this is really what the customer is looking for. Team spirit and good communication are very important here.”

You just briefly touched on what back-end development entails, but what exactly is the difference between front-end and back-end development?
“One of my former interns left a review on my LinkedIn page saying that I always used very surprising but useful comparisons to explain a certain concept. To explain the difference between front-end and back-end development, I often use a house.”

“We have just moved, so I have plenty of material to refer to. Front-end development refers to all the things that are physically visible, like your facade or interior. In your house, when you push the switch, the light goes on. The process behind it is hidden, but if there is a hitch here, your lamp will not turn on and that is what the back-end does. You don’t get to see anything visually, but all sorts of things happen behind the scenes.”

What programming languages are covered during the course and what exactly do you use them for?
“The foundations of the house are laid by HTML and CSS. HTML can be compared to the bricks you use to build your house. But if you rely solely on HTML, your layout will look rather monotonous. As your website also has to look nice, CSS often goes hand in hand with HTML. CSS is used for the look and feel. Once we’ve created the website and pimped the layout, it’s time to create interaction. For this, you can use JavaScript, a language that relies heavily on logic: “If A happens, we will see B appear”. Those who, in high school had the course Technical Education (TO), will recognize the same concept as at the AND and OR gates of the control panels with JavaScript. If you then want to create a system to make the content on your website manageable by the client, you can use PHP, for example. That way you connect to a database that contains all the content, and everything becomes customisable. Finally, you can also use frameworks for JavaScript or PHP. If you know the basics of those, it will look very good on your CV.’

You just mentioned the concept of frameworks. What is the importance of frameworks in web development?
‘When building a house, an architect never starts from scratch. The bricks are already there. You can compare frameworks with bricks. You can simply reuse some already existing concepts. Because of these frameworks, you do not have to reinvent the wheel and you can develop your product in a more consistent manner. Frameworks often bundle a lot of knowledge, are open source and are usually managed by large companies with masses of knowledge.’

‘Good frameworks manage to provide you with enough building blocks, but leave you room to create what you envisioned. With Symphony and Laravel, for example, you can do anything. Some frameworks give you more building blocks and are less focused on pure customization. A good example of this is WordPress.’

At BeCode, how do we try to hone the technical skills and soft skills of the juniors that start our training?
‘At BeCode, you are not a teacher who stands in front of a class all day long and talks about a well-defined topic. As a coach, you actually run a business. Each student acts as a team member who has the support of the rest of the team because he/she has the same goal to reach. Some things you might be able to do on your own, but sometimes you need an extra push or a pep talk and that’s what we offer at BeCode. The students work on a lot of projects that grant them a look behind the scenes of their future career path. Although the curriculum includes technical assignments, we also focus strongly on developing business skills. As I often interviewed interns in my previous job, I know very well what companies are looking for and I try to implement this in the projects that we work on. After following a theoretical training, the first project you’ll work on can be a bit awkward. At BeCode, we therefore put a strong emphasis on practice and I stand behind this decision 100%.’

How do you keep up with the new trends in the industry?
‘That’s a really fun question! Just last week I was preparing a presentation on this topic for my students. As a coach, I think it is very important to keep up with the latest developments. If you don’t, part of your curriculum can quickly become irrelevant.’

‘You undoubtedly know Medium. Well, there is a similar website for web development, Dev.to. It’s a very nice platform as the community is so accessible. Even as a beginner, you can find a lot of interesting material there. Sometimes, I also write for this platform. When I am working on an article, I think about the wording and do some extra research, which also allows me to learn new things. I also find Stackoverflow very useful, but this website mostly contains solutions to very concrete problems.’

‘If you want to be proactive, I think Twitter is an excellent medium. Many programmers use it to briefly describe what they have built or what technologies they have worked with. This message is often accompanied by a link to their blog. I then add the most interesting links to my reading list.’

‘If you are looking for background information, podcasts can be very interesting. Of course, there are faster ways to get the same knowledge, but via a podcast you usually find out a bit more about how exactly people gained this knowledge.’

You mentioned earlier that a healthy dose of curiosity and good team spirit are important soft skills for a web developer. Are there other soft skills

that you as a web developer should definitely master?
‘That depends on the field that you want to specialise in. When you start in a company, you will undoubtedly be asked whether you want to work as a full-time developer or project manager or rather combine both roles. Depending on this choice, other soft skills are important.’

Communication is very important even as a full-time developer. You have to be able to explain to your customer or project manager what you want to create and how. Being able to plan well is also very important. Suppose you finish a project a week later than expected, then the application may have already missed its target. In addition, it can be interesting to gain knowledge about other domains than IT because this enables you to make suggestions to the customer.’

How do you try to incorporate new technologies into the BeCode curriculum?
‘That depends on the complexity of the technology in question. If it’s related to HTML, CSS or PHP, we encourage the students to look into this technology when working on their exercises. If it is something more complex, we organize a demo or let the juniors experiment with it during a project. Here, the focus is not so much on how you should use this technique, but why you should use it.’

Do you have any tips for someone who is considering enrolling in our training program?
‘You should definitely have a look at the events that BeCode organizes. We organise all kinds of events where you can talk to the students and coaches or test whether HTML and CSS are for you. You get a full glimpse of the BeCode track. This is not only a very interesting opportunity but also allows you to make an informed decision.’

Anything else you’d like to add?
‘The BeCode journey is very tough, but it is also hugely important to really enjoy your time here. Our juniors are often so absorbed in their learning path that they don’t always stop to think about what they have already accomplished. You may not always feel like you will be able to complete your training successfully as everything that you’ll learn in the beginning is new to you. As a coach, you point out to your students that everyone has been through this, but it is, of course, the student himself who must be convinced of his/her abilities. As a student, you need to take some time to look back at where you were a year or a month ago. You can compare this to standing halfway up a mountain. You can look up and think “I’m going to have to invest a lot of energy in the rest of the journey”, but you can also look down and think “The first half was tough, but I did it, so the second half will work out too.’

Are you interested in following our web development training?

That’s possible! – Register before the 12th of February for our new class in Antwerp! 


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