How much programming does a Web Designer do?

Question: How much programming does a Web Designer do?

I received the following question from Jennifer:

What percentage of the time does a Web developer/designer use programs like C++ etc? ... If I don't like the programming aspect of computers, can I have a successful career in Web design development?


Trying to decide what kind of Web developer you want to be can be tricky. There are so many options:

  • Design
    Including CSS and layout as well as graphic design
  • Programming
    Writing CGIs or Flash applications or even Ajax Web 2.0 applications
  • Content
    Writing the text or creating the images that will be used on a Web site
  • Databases
    Including working with XML, database administration, and connecting sites to databases
  • Information architecture
    Setting up the informatics behind a Web site, and making them easier to use and navigate
  • Metrics
    Watching the pageviews and tracking to validate the efficacy of Web design work
  • And much much more...

If you're going to be a Web programmer, languages like C++, Perl, PHP, Java, ASP, or JSP will feature heavily in your daily workload. But designers and content writers don't use them at all. You would use C++ to write CGIs and scripts to make your Web pages dynamic and interactive.

There are lots of other jobs in the Web field that don't require any programming, they have titles like Designer, Program Manager, Information Architect, Content Coordinator, and many others.

I took the programming route because it worked for me, but I've worked with hundreds of Web developers who wouldn't know a block of code if it bit them in the foot. :-) And they wouldn't want to know it.

What about the money or job prospects?

It may be true that a Web programmer could make more money than a Web designer, and a DBA would make more than both.

But if you do Web programming for the money and you hate it, you won't be very good at it, so you won't make as much money as someone who really loves it and is very good at it. The same is true for doing design work or being a Web DBA.

I've worked on jobs where I had to do everything - design, code, and content - and other jobs where I only did one part of the equation. But when I've worked with Designers who don't code, usually the way we worked it is they would come up with the design - how they wanted the pages to look - and then I would work on building the code (CGI, JSP, or whatever) to make it work.

Focusing on the parts of the job that you enjoy doing will let you get better and better without a lot of struggle - as it will be fun. And the money and job prospects will come from that.