It's quite often we're approached at A Digital by people early in their career (or even before they've started their careers) looking to join us as an apprentice or junior web designer or web developer. This has been especially prevalent recently as we've stepped up our search for an experienced web developer to join our team.

Unfortunately as a small agency, it's not always possible to accommodate people in junior roles. Much as I love to share my experience with others and support people at the start of their careers, it can be challenging for us to give someone starting their career the rich experience they deserve to get up to speed.

I also believe that for someone starting their career as a web designer or developer, they really need to be office based to get the most from their experience. You can't beat hearing the conversations that take place across the agency; the ideas, the planning, the technical issues and inevitable panic situations (actually, we never panic, much). These are all hugely valuable for someone to see and experience first hand. While the new world of remote work has opened new opportunities for experienced people to work from home, this can still make things difficult for those starting out.

Quite often, we'll also be asked the question, "what advice can you give to someone like me, trying to start out as a web developer?"

So here's my answer, literally copied and pasted from an email I sent to someone the other day who'd approached us from our home county of Cumbria, but still a couple of hours drive away.

I'd love to know what you think. What's missing? What would you add or what have you seen that would help someone starting their career?

Let me know over one Twitter!


Dear <name>,

Unfortunately in Cumbria, most web agencies are run by individuals or are made up of very small (<5) teams which makes it difficult. I’d suggest a larger agency would be able to give you a more structured approach and more rounded training/visibility of all the things that happen there. However, I feel quite strongly that as a junior developer, your best experience will be working in a studio surrounded by people where you see/hear the conversations taking place and your learning will be so much richer.

Many developers are largely self taught (especially my generation!) but there are now a few more options that would be worth exploring.

Northcoders have a number of courses and a coding bootcamp, however the fees are quite steep.

Udemy have courses on all sorts of subjects often with special offers and you can learn at your own pace.

Treehouse offers a range of specific coding courses with some cool interactive functionality on their website to help you build applications within a safe environment - no server or hosting needed! Like Udemy, this is something you can do at your own pace and switch between different streams based on what you want to learn.

Of course there’s always YouTube and books that can be helpful, but in my own experience I’ve always preferred being able to learn interactively while doing or building something, rather than just watching/reading. There are books that essentially walk you through a project, but make sure these are recent, as just like software itself, they too can become out of date.

Beyond this, you need to just try stuff and experiment in your own time.

So for example,

  • Set up a cheap hosting account (checkout someone like Fasthosts or Heart internet where you can get a hosting account for a few £ monthly) that allows multiple websites and just create a handful of concept projects. These don’t need to be full designs, but just examples of say forms that submit to a database, a WordPress site using a theme, some animation using Javascript - basically just evidence of what you’ve researched, tried and most importantly learned from doing it.
  • Get familiar with what hosting accounts provide and how they work. So things like FTP, adding free SSL certificates etc.
  • Create a profile on Github and learn version control, as well as upload your projects. Many potential employers for developers will look (or ask) for a Github profile.
  • Look for conferences and online events for developers (eg. https://pixelpioneers.co/ or https://www.phpconference.co.uk/). Many offer student tickets so research these and you may get a deal! Plus, with many of these offering online tickets as well as in person, these are easy to attend. There will be more conferences coming back after Covid, so Google for them and find the right level/area of interest for you and don’t be shy to go along and ask questions.
  • Start a blog, document what you’ve learned, share code samples and post them on Twitter. Ask questions - you’ll be surprised how many people will offer their help.
  • For design, build a portfolio of work. Take on a fictional project and post it on social media or a personal website. Checkout something like One Minute Briefs (https://www.bankofcreativity.co.uk/one-minute-briefs or https://twitter.com/OneMinuteBriefs and contribute to these if you can.
  • You'll find there are also communities online where you can join in and ask questions or just listen in to the conversation. One established community which can found on Slack is the Boagworld community talking about all things digital marketing and UX. Find out more at https://boagworld.com/, or if you use Discord, there will be plenty of developer communities there too, eg. There’s a Laravel channel at https://discord.com/invite/mPZNm7A.

Hopefully this helps - I wish you all the best - good luck!