Starting out in Web Development

By Ollie Parsley

This story starts when I finished college at 18. All I knew when I left was that I wanted to be involved in web development. I wanted to build awesome sites that had dynamic content and get users interacting with them. But where do you start? How do you get into the game and stay there?

Further education or employment?

This was a major dilemma I came across when I decided I wanted to get into web development. Because the nature of this industry is fast paced, everything moves too fast for the education system to keep up with. But does this mean that the education system (in terms of technology) is redundant? Well I’m still not sure. But I will tell you my trail of thought.

  • By the time I completed the course the technology would be out of date
  • I can’t motivate myself to work at a place which I wouldn’t have much benefit from
  • I wanted to learn and earn
  • I work better teaching myself

Employment it is!

There is one type of employment that works really well in this industry. Apprenticeships. Most people think apprenticeships are just for plumbers and electricians, but its a great way to see what the real world is like. I started work (and still work there to this day) at Dorset County Council doing web applications with geographic/spatial data. But don’t think that I just worked 9-5. As soon as I knew enough about web development I started programming in my spare time.

Challenge yourself

It’s easy enough to pick up a programming language and develop a simple website, but how do you actually stamp your mark on the industry? You need to push yourself. My first website was a social network complete with video uploads, forums, chat rooms and everything. All I knew before I started the project was how to insert something into a database table and how to grab a value from a form (which I learnt on the job).

Keep going

Once you have a web app or two, just keep up the momentum. I currently have about 3 app ideas on the go at the same time. This way I keep my head in the game, and learn about new technologies and methods. Plus I am working up quite a large portfolio to help me when I apply for another job.

Put yourself out there

When I created FootyTweets, my largest Twitter web app to date, I wanted to put myself out there, get some buzz generated, and getting people to recognise my work and efforts. So I looked at Twitter Developer Nest and put my name down to do a talk on the service and some of the issues I have come across.

I ended up speaking at the event and got lots of people asking me about the site and got lots of contacts. I loved it so much that I went back the next time and showed off my latest web app. Where did this lead? Well on Monday (30th September 2009) I went with a bunch of people I met at the event to have a photoshoot with UK Wired magazine.

I thought back and realised that if I’d just sat at home, made web apps and didn’t put myself outside of my comfort zone, then I wouldn’t be the developer I am today.

Ollie Parsley

Starting out in Web Development

Ollie Parsley is a web developer from Dorset in the south of the UK. He has built several Twitter applications and writes for TechJuicer and TweeterStuff.