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At GDD, part of our mission is to “stay hungry.” This was the attitude I took on long before I ever became a web developer. To me, this means there’s a world filled with endless wonder and we should never lose our sense of adventure … to try, fail, try again, and learn something new. To me, this is not just a life attitude, but the most important skill for any kind of programmer: It’s not what you know, but what you’re willing to learn.

 

The Evolution of the Web Browser

When I began to program professionally, Internet Explorer 6 was still widely used, Firefox 2 was the latest version, and Google Chrome hadn’t even been released. Today we have IE11, Firefox 30 and Chrome 35. That’s a lot of change in only a few years.

Thankfully, most of this change has been for the betterment of web development. Gone are the days when we have to use special scripts just so we can use a png image or Flash to handle non-standard web fonts. But with these changes comes all new scripts and functions we have to learn. Animations, for example, used to be primarily handled by Flash. At one point, these animations switched over to use JavaScript. Today, many of these animations can now be handled with CSS transitions. Usually these changes make the development easier, but they still require learning the new ways.

 

Out With the Old and in With the New?

Since we keep getting newer and easier ways to do things, we can forget about the older, more difficult ways of doing things, right? Unfortunately, no. Even though better ways to accomplish the same thing keep emerging, not everyone upgrades to these new technologies right away. There are many people who have older computers that just can’t support the new browsers. For this reason, we cannot just forget the old ways of doing things, we have to learn how to do both simultaneously. This allows us to give those using new browsers the best experience possible while still providing a truly great experience to those who are not.

For example, in modern browsers we can add animated rollover effects to elements of a website through the use of CSS transitions. But you’ll want to consider the client’s audience in deciding whether this is the best choice. If very few of the website’s visitors use older browsers, you can use these CSS transitions so the fancy animations occur in the new browsers while in older browsers, the elements will “snap” into place. If the client’s website still gets a lot of users with older technology, you would be better off using JavaScript to make the animations occur instead.

 

Mobile is Overtaking the PC

Ten years ago I would have told you that a laptop would never replace my desktop because it could never be as powerful, but now a laptop is all I have. I said the same thing when smartphones and tablets began to pop up everywhere. I was wrong again. The mobile market is growing rapidly, and in just five years, mobile browsing (including both smartphones and tablets) in the U.S. has gone from about 1% to nearly 30%. Mobile has been a game changer in the world of web development. Either you’ve learned how to develop a site that looks and works great on both platforms or you’re looking for a new career.

 

web browsing

 

No One-Size-Fits-All

There’s a great debate among developers over whether you should use responsive web design to accommodate mobile browsing or provide users with a separate mobile site instead. I personally think there is no right or wrong answer here. I believe that understanding the audience, the client and the whole project is necessary before deciding on any solutions – whether it be regarding mobile, compatibility or functionality. You will not want to spend half the budget on mobile development for a site that only gets 2% of its visitors from mobile and 30% from Internet Explorer 8.

Determining the best way to handle situations like this is learned through experience and lots of communication. If the client already has a website, you can use the analytics to learn a bit about the audience and their technology choices. Also getting to know the client, their industry and what they are about can help determine who the target is, which you can use to decide which technologies fit best. An industry geared toward college students can take advantage of more modern technologies than something that targets business executives. You can never assume that you know what’s best for a client without learning about their goals.

 

Take Every Opportunity to Grow

Every client, project and day is an opportunity to learn something new. With a busy life at home and in the office, it can be difficult to find time to sit down specifically to learn something new. That’s why it’s important to treat every project as an opportunity. Even if it’s something simple that you’ve done a hundred times, you should think “Ok, how can I do it better this time?”

As a web developer, there is no choice but to seize that opportunity or you will get left behind.