Web Team Roles, Web Developer: What exactly does a developer “develop,” anyway?

This is the second in a series that examines the various roles which might be present on your company’s Web team and how those roles affect the implementation and success of your marketing campaigns. Today’s installment addresses the Web developer.

In my last article, I gave an overview of the Web designer role. Today I am looking at the yin to the Web designer’s yang – the Web developer. Often, the casual observer will have the most difficultly drawing a clear distinction in a corporate Web team between the Web designer and the Web developer. They are both conversant in Internet jargon. They can both have direct access to Web pages and ancillary systems that affect the website. To confuse matters more so, in some organizations, they are the same person.

So if the Web designer is primarily responsible for the overall design of pages and graphics, what exactly does the Web developer develop on the site? In short, Web developers develop applications. An application uses business logic to manipulate data or customize the visitor’s experience. To put it in simpler terms, “developer” usually refers to a programmer – someone who enjoys building complex rules to drive and maintain systems.

Programmer“Web developer” pseudonyms

  • Web Application Developer
  • Web Engineer
  • Multimedia Programmer
  • Web UI Developer
  • Software Engineer
  • Web Programmer
  • Software Developer

In your company, this role might be
lumped in with

  • Web Designer
  • Webmaster
  • Software Engineer

What they probably can do for you

  • Create, alter, or troubleshoot custom applications – especially those which require database access
  • Connect data gathered onsite to internal databases or third-party applications (e.g., lead generation forms)
  • Develop scripted widgets from scratch (Javascript, Flash)
  • Install or configure some software on the Web/application/database servers
  • Secure applications against hacking vulnerabilities
  • Optimize sites for performance (except optimizing graphics)
  • Formulate direct queries against a database
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What they probably can’t do for you

  • Translate your specifications into a visual representation of the site/page
  • Create site graphics
  • Create Flash animations from scratch
  • Perform complete site redesigns

What you need to know about Web developers

The shortest path to a successful Web-based marketing initiative often requires the tandem deployment of a Web designer and a Web developer.

Web designers typically handle the elements that are most evident to the end-user – they are decorators who ensure that the house is attractive and tastefully furnished. Web developers will often handle the elements that are just assumed to work by the end-user – they are the general contractors who ensure that the plumbing, lighting, and heating are installed and working properly.

Developers can be extremely literal in their interpretation of your requests – to a fault. If the “Buy Now” button is supposed to lead to the shopping cart, you may actually have to spell this out for them. And although it may feel like a lot of unnecessary work on the front end, you will find yourself actually saving significant time over the length of the project if you take the time to document everything in detailed specifications before it even begins.

Developers thrive on good specifications. They will appreciate your effort and will probably be more proactive in working with you if they see that you have made the initial effort to properly define your request. Continually changing the specifications throughout the project and communicating these constant changes via email, instant messages, and verbal chats could cause the developer to plot your early demise.

Understanding all of the “what-if” scenarios of your marketing application is crucial to sound Web development. Designing an application is somewhat similar to building a house. If you know that the house requires a three-car garage, that’s easy to build into the initial foundation.

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If you decide, halfway through the project, after the foundation has been poured and the walls have been framed out, that the house now requires a three-car garage, it may require that the developers actually rip up the whole foundation and start from scratch. This will surely cause the developers to create new, unflattering names for you.

It’s easy to confuse the Web developer with the Web designer (or to squeeze their roles into a single person) because the developer can, technically, do most of what the designer does – but the developer can’t do it well. Most developers can create graphics – ugly graphics. Most developers can do overall site designs – Spartan site designs.

Web developers are often available to perform Web-based tasks that don’t rise anywhere near the level of true application development. They might be asked to make basic copy edits, to swap out simple graphics, or to create new pages that are simply different versions of existing pages. This is all fine – to a point.

Developers who have true programming skills but are confined to nothing more than janitorial duties on a site probably won’t stay around for long. Serious developers want to build applications and they will seek out opportunities that allow them to delve deeply into business logic.

Related Resources

Web Team Roles, Web Designer: Are you trying to buy bread from the butcher?

Technology Blind Spots: How human insight revealed a hidden (and almost missed) 31% gain

The MarketingExperiments Quarterly Research Journal, Q1 2010

Photo Attribution: deltaMike

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6 Comments

  1. Web Development says

    Developer can do anything related web development. without web developer web development is impossible. Web developer can do web site development, software development, SEO, E marketing, Quality assurance, Software testing and more.

  2. Deven Pravin Shah says

    Going by the definition here, web designer needs to be a marketing person, or a marketing extension.

    Marketing and sales are so tightly coupled now. And technology plays such a big role in marketing. A good marketer needs to fill technology and business shoes to an extent, or have support in place to be able to do that effectively.

  3. CSS Training says

    Also I think Web developer Can any thing of web development.
    He/she also work as SEO’s and designer and any other.

  4. Designer1 says

    What the article says is exactly right, a web designer without a web developer means your site will be gorgeous to look at but will remain static. The website will more or less be an array of posters with text, picture and information but without the developer you don’t get the strong interactivity a good website needs. It is the responsibility of the developer to develop the interactivity/ functionality of a website, mainly when it comes to forums, databases and applications. The designers job is to ensure the website is attractive and also gets the point across.

    Lets just say that the designer is the front man of the band while the developer is the instruments 😉

  5. mike says

    @Web Development I disagree. SEO for example is a complex world and is better left to an SEO/Marketing Professional. Anyone can set up online adds but to have the skills to really evaluate whats working and whats not in SEO you need to have SEO based experience and training. So while they can do it, can they do it well? No I don’t think so.

  6. بهینه سازی سایت says

    Mike is right. SEO has nothing to do with web development. Although the web developer and the optimizer guy can be the same, but they fall into two irrelevant categories.

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