Editorial Closeup photograph of web site codes on computer monitor.

Published on October 30th, 2016 | by Sunit Nandi

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What in the Heck Does a Web Developer Do? Explaining it to a Non-Techie

Everyone understands what a teacher does. Why? Because everyone has been in a classroom and actually experienced a day in the life of a teacher – actually many days in the lives of those who led us through learning experiences, good and bad. Now that we are all “grew up,” though, and have moved into a diversity of careers, we have little understanding of what exactly other people “do” in their careers.

Anyone who has attended a high school or college reunion and has moved about the room re-connecting with people they liked or didn’t will inevitably get the question, “So, what do you do?” Web developers know that anyone in IT-related careers will understand what they do – no further explanation will be needed. But then there is always that person, usually an English teacher, counselor, social worker, etc. who wants a fuller explanation. This can get tricky, because, like in any profession, there is jargon and terminology that the lay person will never understand. Here are some suggestions that will simplify the explanation.

Training neuroscience development concept as a group of cog wheels and gears shaped as human heads with information transfer as a technology brain symbol or psychology exchange success.

The Analogy of the Car

When most people look for a new car, they have a process. They have an idea of size, the gas mileage they want, and the pricing parameters. So off they go to the showrooms. But, like any purchase, there is emotion involved, and they are soon taken in by the body designs and colors, the feel of the upholstery, the cool dashboard design and all of the “bells and whistles” that have been incorporated into the “beauty” that they want to take home. They then begin to make compromises on price, on mileage, and other things and they visualize that car sitting in their driveway.

Websites are a bit like car showrooms. Everyone accesses them, and they have an experience while on every site – good or bad. They may like the “look” of the site; they may experience cool images and graphics, and they may like the way they can navigate around finding exactly what they want. They give no thought to how that site got to be so good. And people who buy a car out of the showroom give little thought to how that car actually operates, to what is under the hood that makes it perform so well. They just know they love the car and that their friends and neighbors will too.

Designers come up with a car’s look; engineers make the car actually work. They put together the guts, what’s under the hood, the chassis upon which that sleek body sits, etc. Web developers are like those engineers. They literally take the design that someone has generated and put in the guts to make it work.

Most non-techies will understand this preliminary and simple explanation because they all have and drive cars.

Taking the Analogy Further

So, what happens when a car breaks down? It goes to the shop where a mechanic diagnoses the problem and fixes it. Web developers are also like those mechanics. When they put the “guts” into a website to make it work like the designer imagines, and then it does not work correctly, the developer diagnoses the problem, comes up with solutions and then tests those solutions until s/he has the coding issues resolved.

The Analogy of a Home

If you don’t like the car analogy, you may like the analogy of building a home from scratch. First, there is an architect – the person who designs the exterior and interior “look” of the structure. When people shop for a new home, this is what attracts them. They like the “curb appeal” of the home; they like the way the rooms are laid out, the beautiful floors, the great windows, etc. Again, these are emotional “draws.” And home buyers often make compromises as they shop – they may be willing to go a bit higher on price because they absolutely love the design, for example.

Home buyers rarely ask the builder such things as how much spacing there is between the studs; how long the concrete cured, or which walls are load bearing. These are things that are left up to the structural engineers – those individuals who make that design work and who ensure that building codes are met. They are the unsung heroes behind that great house.

Web designers are the architects; web developers are the structural engineers. And if there are structural issues once a home is built and sold, it is the engineer who diagnoses that issue and resolves it to the owner’s satisfaction, just like a web developer does.

Analogies Work

When I was in school, I had to write a college essay for an English comp class. The professor handed each of us a pair of nouns that were totally unrelated. We had to write an analogy essay, explaining how one was actually like the other. The topic I got was gardening and gambling. Wow. This was one of the toughest essay assignments I received during my college years, but it was oh so practical. Working through that essay made me realize that things can be effectively explained by analogies if you use the right ones.

A non-techie will never understand coding or terms like HTML, CSS or JavaScript. But they will understand those things with which they have had experience. So begin your explanation of what you do with an analogy. Then, you can move on to other aspects of your job that they will understand – collaboration, problem-solving, fixing, researching, etc. You are the person who actually makes a website work through all of these aspects, and those aspects anyone can understand. A social worker must collaborate, problem-solve, research and work at “fixing” human issues. You do the same thing as you develop great websites, although your “subjects” are not human.

So maybe you want to develop a unique analogy to explain web development. The possibilities are pretty endless. Pretend you are in college again, and come up with a good analogy of your own.

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About the Author

I'm the leader of Techno FAQ. Also an engineering college student with immense interest in science and technology. Other interests include literature, coin collecting, gardening and photography. Always wish to live life like there's no tomorrow.



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