What we have here is a failure to communicate

“I am a web developer.” What does that mean to you? I’ll tell you what it means to me.

  • It means you don’t have to ask if I’m familiar with HTML and CSS. You can’t be a web developer without them. They are literally the languages used to tell your browser what to display and what it should look like. If you don’t know what HTML and CSS are, you’re simply not a web developer.
  • It means you almost certainly know your way around JavaScript. You can’t be a modern web developer without it. JavaScript is the language of the interactive web. Without it, you’re probably making static web pages that don’t do anything but display information. Or (::shudder::) you’re refreshing the whole page with every button-click, probably by submitting something to PHP. Speaking of which…
  • It means you almost certainly know your way around PHP. Sure, there are other server-side languages and services you can take advantage of, but the old tried-and-true web server stack of Linux, Apache, MySQL (or MariaDB), and PHP (LAMP) is what most of us cut our teeth on, and still dominates the web.

Past that, it gets a little more involved. Do you focus on the server? Or do you focus on the front-end? Do you use any of the gajillions of frameworks that have sprung up around making client-to-server communication faster/easier/ineffably better? Are you a JQuery afficionado? An Ember snob? Do you eschew traditional servers like Apache in favor of something like Node.js? Do you prefer Bower or NPM? Linux or Windows? Milk bones or bacon treats?

Clearly, I prefer live chicken.
Clearly, I prefer live chicken.

There are so many different directions a “web developer” can go in. So to answer that question in a meaningful way usually takes some explaining. And if you’re trying to explain it to someone who isn’t a web developer at all, you really do need to start at the top in that list of bullet points up there.

I had an object lesson in that today, when a recruiter asked me for an updated version of my resume. He called me back and informed me that there were things in the old version he’d gotten from one of my online profiles that didn’t show up in the new version. I told him I didn’t understand. After all, there it was, plain as day. I have developed web applications. “But the requirement is for someone with HTML and CSS experience,” he said, as well as some of the other acronyms and made-up words in webdeveloper-eze. I had to fight the urge to explain that “web developer” literally means someone who can write HTML and CSS at a bare minimum, and that adding that would be redundant. Because he’s right, that really does need to be laid out plainly. He and – more importantly – the hiring manager he’s working for don’t speak the common language of web developers.

So I’ve taken that as a lesson. Don’t assume knowledge the people reviewing your resume may not have. Asking a web developer something like “do you know HTML?” may seem silly, but how are recruiters and hiring managers supposed to know that?