Q: What are the current opportunities for someone coming into the web design market = perhaps a technical person coming back in after a career break?
A; There's a lot of web designers around - a glut of people who'll tell you they can put a web page together (and they can, ranging from high quality pages to ones that neither look great nor contain the information needed). A great deal of their ongoing income may come from updating the owner's site when the owner needs to change his prices or announce a new service.
Folks who are looking for a site that they can much more easily update for themselves, or can take online orders or inputs from their customers are finding it harder to find the type of techical person who can help them with this and if I were I coming back into the market, this is the sort of area I would be looking at. The person or team who puts such a site (which is really a web front end to an application) together needs / need to have a wide range of skills - Graphics art and HTML skill for the look and feel, human engineering skills for site navigation, data warehousing and data mining technique knowledge, programming skills (and systems analysis too so that they can decide which is the effective way to program), and a bit of knowledge of (or interest in) the product / subject being covered by the web site is some help! Having been "around a bit" can help put you into a much better position to undertake such a role than a youngster, or than someone who had previously been on a single track.
Server side applications are "loaded" towards more complex systems on the website / servers, but keep a very simple structure on the client side. In other words, the web site visitor has just a browser at hand and may not even realise that he / she is running an application. Our web site is rather like this - you'll *think* you are seeing plain .html pages in many places, I suspect ... but in practise subtle adjustments are made bearing in mind how you arrived at the web site and where in the world you're browsing from. In many other areas a whole series of pages are in fact generated by a single program, but hide under a series of URLs.
What do you need to learn / to get into this area of work? It's a young market so there's a number of technologies that can be used. In your shoes, I would look at Java, I would look at .net, and I would look at PHP. Java / Servlets / JSP
are a good solution for the huge system; a big bank might put its whole online system up through Java. You'll probably find a number of such systems in use / developed in larger towns such as Swindon and Newbury and a lot in major technology centres such as Reading and Basingstoke. If you're looking for a place in a larger team this could be a good route to go, but Java is not ideal for smaller systems - a lot of overhead for security and expandability which isn't needed for many sites. .net is the Microsoft product, and on the web Microssoft only has around 20% of the server market and that's not growing. Not really my product - if you choose that route I would wish you good luck and not be able to suggest any best place to go for training. We're fortunate in being very busy and being able to train only on technologies that we really believe in. And for a pure web-based application, I would go for PHP these days. With PHP you can very quickly start adding programatic elements to a web site and (with time to learn) you can rapidly start putting significant elements in. PHP is available on around 1 third of domains worldwide - rather more that .net - but it's a bit of a hidden secret as it's "Open source" that doesn't have a huge corportaion marketing it. It's usually chosen for its technical suitability.
Many web sites want similar code to others and in PHP, much code is bundled into appropriate functions so that you can often code a big variety of sites from a single template application, and perform quite specialist checking in a singleline. There's also a growing library of independent application code in PHP, much of it also available under Open Source licenses, and more and more the job of the web site engineer is to tailor and integerate these with some programming work but much other assosciated tasks. Our own site runs 2 or 3 standard applications such as these, with various bits of tailoring.
You may also heard of Perl as a web site language. Yes - excellent langauge and you can do a superb job with it. But to some extent the "pure web" application areas have been overtaken by PHP. Perl is still, perhaps, the best choice for APPLICATIONS which are largely web based but have other significant needs - many of which are company's intranet applications.
So what am I suggesting? I would tend to suggest that PHP might be the best route for you if you're looking for a job that you can do as part of a tiny team or on your own, or Java if you're looking to get back in as a cog in a wheel at somewhere like a big bank. Having said that, there are niches of other langauges in use at these huge companies. Many are our customers.
We run a public PHP Programming course
, 4 days, which I am delighted to welcome restarters on. We've a "technologies for PHP programming"
day that preceeds it but that's only needed by a small proportion of people these days. We also have a more advanced "Object Oriented programming in PHP"i
day - that's not where to start and it may (or be not) something you would want. But that can be a later decision. Indeed - if you're not quite ready to jump into the PHP course even after reading the above, we would be happy for you to visit for an hour or two to talk it through further. I'm really NOT interested in selling people a course they're not sure of - it's too important for that and we're very much busy enough with people who are on right course and are sure of it!
(written 2005-04-20, updated 2006-06-05)
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