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Where Did All the Web Developers Go?

Stop using terms which obscure the actual thing you're trying to do. Do you develop for the web? Congratulations! You're a web developer.

By Jared White

There’s a dangerous problem in our industry right now, which is that we’ve job-title’d and buzzword’ed and abstracted our way out of recognizing the actual thing we’re all doing if we participate in and care about the global open standard that is the World-Wide Web—which is, y’know, developing for the web. We used to call people who do that—crazy I know—a term you don’t hear so much any more: web developer.

Now everyone is something else. A front-end developer. A React/TypeScript developer. A back-end developer. A Go developer. A front of the back, or back of the front, or side of the middle, or whatever-whatever-buzzword-buzzword developer. A Next/Nuxt/SvelteKit/Gatsby developer. A Jamstack/Netlify/Vercel/serverless/AWS developer. Or worst of all, a “web3” developer. (Sorry to disappoint y’all, but web3 doesn’t exist. There’s just the web. It’s HTTP, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. That’s it. That’s the web. Whatever else you’re building, it’s not the web.)

I find this situation deplorable. The web is one of the greatest inventions in the history of the human race. It’s one of the most incredible examples of an open specification iterated upon and evolved by a consortium of governments, companies, and individuals spanning the globe. There’s literally nothing else like it, not even close.

So why then are some people now so reluctant to identify as web developers? As in: “I develop for the web. I understand how to use HTTP, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to build web experiences. I can explain to you in a straightforward manner how networked computers serve web files and generate web content which are then consumed by web browsers.”

This stuff is hard, sure, but only in the thick of the details. The broad strokes are actually rather simple. HTML is not a difficult markup language to learn relative to any other format. CSS is actually easier than it has ever been at any time in the past! You can create awesome looking layouts in mere lines of code. JavaScript too has gotten remarkably better over the years (and therefore easier) when it comes to basic interactivity and DOM manipulation. We now have object-oriented “native web” components which work in all modern browsers everywhere without any additional frameworks or build steps of any kind. How freaking cool is that?!

I personally like identifying as a Rubyist, perhaps a Rails developer or something like that—but that’s only in the sense of centering myself in a particular stream of programming, community, and ecosystem tools. At heart, above all else, I’m a web developer. And I will continue to use and celebrate that term as long as the web—as it’s actually defined by the open specification itself—exists.

Will you join me? You can start by refraining from using the term front-end developer, or back-end developer, or full-stack developer, or whatever. Use the term “web developer”. Do you develop for the web? Congratulations! You’re a web developer.

Revel in it.

Want to join a fabulous community of web developers learning how to use “vanilla” web specs like HTTP, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, & Web Components—plus no-nonsense libraries & tools which promote developer happiness and avoid vendor lock-in?

Join The Spicy Web Discord

It’s entirely free to get started. And we’ll soon be launching paid courses to take you even deeper down the rabbit hole, so stay tuned! Vanilla has never tasted so hot.