Moving from web development to software development - Is it difficult?

New web developers tend to be curious about how they can transition into more ‘serious’ software development later in their careers. One of the benefits of becoming a programmer is the diverse and varied career that awaits you. There are so many areas you can specialize in as a software engineer.

Transitioning from one area of development to another is fairly simple. You just need some experience, and a portfolio to back up your work. With the improvement of web technology, moving from web development to software development is simple. They are now the same thing. Web development is a subset of software development that focuses on building apps that work in a browser.

However, not all web developers are software developers. So it's important to get into a web dev role that supports your long-term ambitions of developing software.

If you are thinking of moving jobs or moving to a more technical development role I'd highly recommend checking out FullStack Cafe which has tonnes of interview questions and answers.

Let’s take a look at the differences between the two and how you can move into a software development role if you feel your web dev role isn’t cutting it. Web development and software development can be split into three distinct areas, let's explore them below.

Web Development and Software Development Roles

Web Development and Software Development Roles

A web developer used to just build websites. In the early days, these would be static and then the usage of JavaScript helped to make these dynamic. However, with the invention of JavaScript libraries like React, web developers build fully functioning software in the browser.

A typical web developer role now involves sending API requests, managing state, and building components. Web development has become harderand more involved than it used to be. A decade or so ago, it would have been more design-focused and less technical.

The complexity of web development has meant that asking about moving it to software development isn’t relevant. They are now largely considered the same thing.

Front End Development

Front-end developers take data from the backend and display it in the browser. They are responsible for how the application looks and behaves to the users. They must account for how the system will be used and try to make the user experience as positive as possible.

Front-end engineers must make sure their code works across multiple browsers and devices etc phone, tablet, desktop, laptop. For desktop software development, applications must work on different operating systems such as Mac and Windows.

The most common language tools by front-end developers are CSS, HTML, and JavaScript. For desktop software applications Java and C# are great options. Front-end developers tend to be closer to the needs of the business and may interact with the end-users.

Back End Development

Back End Development

Back-end developers are in charge of the architecture of an application. They create the APIs used on the front end and are in charge of managing the data. They take requirements and bring them to life by building out infrastructure on the back-end that can support them.

Back-end developers commonly use languages like Python, Java, C#, PHP, SQL, and more recently JavaScript. Back-end developers usually work off requirements and don't typically interact with people who use the system. However, there's no hard and fast rule. Every role is different.

Full Stack Development

A full-stack developer is skilled in both the front end and back end, hence full-stack. They can build the databases and infrastructure to support an app, then create the UI alongside it. Many web developers slip into full-stack roles once they have enough experience to understand the entire development process on both ends.

What is web development like in 2021?

A web developer used to just build websites. In the early days, these would be static and then the usage of JavaScript helped to make these dynamic.

However, with the invention of JavaScript libraries like React, web developers build fully functioning software in the browser. A typical web developer role now involves sending API requests, managing state, and building components.

A decade or so ago, it would have been more design-focused and less technical. The complexity of web development has meant that asking about moving into software development isn’t relevant. They are now largely considered the same thing.

Web Developer Responsibilities

You’ll have plenty of responsibility as a web developer but a few of the things you will have to do include:

  • Understanding user needs and creating web-based software solutions.
  • Liaise with users to understand their pain points and user journeys.
  • Develop new features for existing solutions and create new code for upcoming projects.
  • Create diagrams and models to outline processes and workflows.
  • Fix bugs raised by other team members and the users.
  • Write unit and end-to-end tests to make sure your code is robust.
  • Ensure compatibility across multiple browsers and devices.

Of course, the exact type of responsibilities you will have will depend on the role you get. Web-focused roles will require you to learn React and other CSS frameworks like Bootstrap.

Working in software development rather than web development

Working in software development rather than web development

As we have discussed, moving from web development to software development is easy now. Web development has come such a long way that the two are now synonymous. Performance increases in browser technology and improvements in web technologies have made peoplequickly flock to learn JavaScript.

Enormous apps use by millions of people are now built in the web:

  • Gmail
  • Instagram
  • Asana
  • Netflix
  • Airbnb
  • DropBox

Essentially web development is an arm of programming that falls under the software development umbrella.

The term Software Developer traditionally referred to developers who create things for desktop or mobile applications. They are optimized to run on these platforms rather than web browsers. However, as discussed this has changed as the web has modernized.

Similar to specific front and back-end roles in web development, there are also a few specific roles in software development.

Software application developers

If you land a job with this title, bets are that you will be creating desktop and mobile applications. Or tools and games for a wide range of audiences. Desktop applications do a lot of heavy lifting and need to be compatible with the operating system you run.

As cloud technology has improved and proliferated many desktop applications now integrate with cloud storage. Gone are the days of saving work on one computer and not being able to access it on another.

Software systems developers

Most developers doing this type of work built stuff at an enterprise level for enormous clients. Many of these systems aren’t public-facing, think Oracle. Software systems developers build software to manage critical infrastructure and other management systems.

How to move from web development to software development

How to move from web development to software development

As discussed, not all web developers are software developers. Why is this?

Some web developers just built websites. Many people would consider this not enough to be considered a “real” software developer. Creating websites is fairly simple and doesn’t require the same depth of knowledge as creating web apps.

Again, this can be argued. Creating a website that uses a headless CMS and React JS on the front end is far different from a site built using pure HTML5 and CSS. There are a few things you can do to transition from a web developer to a software developer.

1. Don't listen to the coding snobs

When I first started learning to code, I’d often venture online to find a community of people doing the same thing. You can find a lot of negative people who will try to belittle the thing you are learning.

I was convinced I had chosen the front-end developer route because I learned JavaScript. I panicked and thought I had made a huge mistake. You will always get purists. They will tell you that because you aren’t learning Cobalt, you're not a real programmer.

Block these people out and focus on your journey.

2. Make a plan

Essentially, if you want to get into desktop software development you will need to learn the relevant languages. Whether it's C#, Java, Swift, C++, or Java, you’ll need to learn the necessary languages to do so. Get an idea of what you need to learn and then attack it.

Overall you have a few options:

  • Udemy - Go the self-taught route and pick up a few of the most popular courses on the platform
  • TeamTreehouse - Their Techdegree programs are great for those looking for more structure and a bit more depth.
  • Thinkful Bootcamp - Offer a fantastic coding boot camp that will get you skilled and ready in 5 months.

3. Improve problem-solving abilities

You will need to get good at problem-solving. Design-focused web dev roles have to solve an entirely different set of problems to more programming-heavy jobs. Software development requires you to understand data structure and algorithms, and other complex issues. It’s important to improve your troubleshooting and problem-solving abilities before making the switch to a more software-focused role.

4. Continue to learn

What separates good software engineers is their thirst for knowledge. Any developer worth their salt must keep up with common trends. Enjoy the learning process and get familiar with brushing up on new technologies.

Avoiding copying code from stack overflow by making sure you learn the underlying concepts. Keep up with modern trends by using industry-leading platforms like Pluralsight.