How much does it cost to be a web developer?

With Software Development topping 2014’s top jobs list, I thought I would share how much it cost me to become a web developer, and what my monthly expenses look like nowadays.

Start-Up Costs

If you’re new to the industry, you’ll need this stuff. My philosophy is that it is OK to spend money to make money, especially when it comes to getting proper tools. You have to have fast, reliable equipment or your productivity will be adversely impacted.

TOTAL START-UP COST: $3,079

* Mine was a gift
** Cost with a two-year contract
*** Free for evaluation

What about training?

My advise is to skip the college thing. Don’t waste your money, and more importantly, your life.

A few books and online resources are all you really need. Google is your best friend. Read up, then go build a real, live project. That is the best way to learn.

As you struggle through, you’ll be learning to think for yourself and figure problems out on your own. This will by far be your most valuable skill.

Recurring Costs

TOTAL RECURRING COSTS: $226/month

* Verizon Wireless More Everything plan with 4GB bandwidth and mobile hotspot
** Charter 30Gbps cable connection

Free stuff

The best part about software development today is that many of the tools you need are free! These are tools I use every day. Your list may vary some, but these have been very solid in my experience.

Summary

Never before has it been so easy to get such a well-paying and rewarding job. Anyone can do it, if they are interested, but it will take drive and commitment. For about $3,000 in up-front costs, you can become a web developer. My monthly expenses run less than many student loan payments.

It will take about 4-5 years and 10,000 hours of practice and resume-building to command a 6-figure salary. Think about it: would you rather have a 4-5 year college degree and no job, or a 6-figure salary?

While many people are struggling to find employment, employers are struggling to find good software developers (emphasis on good, since mediocre devs are a dime-a-dozen).

It is a great year to be a software developer!

12 thoughts on “How much does it cost to be a web developer?”

  1. While you make a point about the expense of getting into development, a college or university degree is more about learning to do things properly for professional development, not just a hack of code together for basic web skills. Fundamentals, object oriented design, patterns, etc… are not something that people just come by. Being a developer and being someone who simply writes code is two considerably different things. Your post makes it seem like simply starting to hack on code will make you the $100K developer, and that is really not the case, otherwise there would not be the large offshore development that there is, which is basically people hacking out code as needed, and not really developing solutions.

  2. It should be pointed out that many of these costs aren’t necessary for new web developers (which is why you’re pitching this article to). Most new web developers will probably be using PHP, and probably be making the bulk of their money on WordPress sites. I propose the following:

    Any laptop (text editing is really the only requirement): $500
    Second Screen: $250

    This is about it really. New web developers won’t be worrying about responsive design to the point where they’ll need their own iPad (and web inspector tools emulate various screen sizes anyway), they probably already have a mobile (hell, they probably already have a laptop). They won’t know how to or want to use git (remember they’re new – we’re not talking best practices here), they can use Komodo Edit for development (great cross platform, free editor with alot of cool features).

    Web development has a really low cost of entry and potentially for really high rewards, however you’ll need to learn incrementally as there is a hell of alot to learn. Starting with HTML and CSS, moving on to javascript and then jQuery. PHP then SQL. Only at this point are you really even able to look at something like WordPress which is where you’ll start to make an income. Once experienced with WordPress and have a bit more of a hang of the languages you’ll want to learn about OO vs procedural development, pick up git and use a CSS/JS framework like Bootstrap or Foundation. You’ll need knowledge of at least one ecommerce platform – usually Magento (though it’s a horrible beast).

    Now we’re probably years into your learning. You have a life – you’re not sitting there 18 hours a day pouring over this stuff. Are you done yet? hahah. Time to move on to the slightly more difficult stuff. You’ll need to know about apache configuration files, htaccess redirects, caching and optimizations. Learn about best practices – KISS, separation of principles and so on. Time to begin using preprocessors like SASS or LESS. Package managers like composer, bower, npm. You’ll want to automate tasks with gulp or grunt. Unit testing is now highly important.

    What’s amazing about all of the above is that every single one of these technologies is free – they only cost you time and they’ll cost a hell of alot of it. Web development isn’t something you’re going to be able to just pick up in a day and become a millionaire like you hear about on TV. We more experienced developers spend decades and still feel like we know the bare minimum to keep ourselves above water. This isn’t even the worst part – the landscape is constantly changing for us. Very recently in web development history have we begun needing to worry about responsive design (mobile first), the rise of nodejs, CSS3 and the ever increasing number of browser APIs to hook into. Javascript is becoming more and more important and it needs constant focus on optimization to keep things running smoothly. WebGL will probably become more important… there’s just so much stuff and there will always be more just around the corner.

    tl;dr Cheap to get into but god damn do you need to be prepared to learn an endless and ever expanding array of shit.

  3. Both points well taken, but…

    1. I disagree with the implication that college is the only way, or even the best way, to learn OOP and all the things you need to know to develop professional solutions. It is at best “a” way. My own experience is one reason that I say this. Many of these best practices I learned from books (hence the book budget). I learned from online research – there are many good blogs on the topic if you seek them out. I even managed to learn about some really advanced CompSci topics this way, such as multi-processing, semaphores, resource contention, etc and how to manage all that successfully (see this post and my PHM library on Github). I also had the opportunity to work with some really good mentors, such as Paul Jones, who taught me how to estimate properly. One thing I did not mention that is also a really good idea is to find and participate in the nearest active PHP meetup, and go to PHP conferences such as LoneStar PHP and many others.

    2. While some of the equipment may be unnecessary from the beginning, they are necessary if you want to do excellent work. If you just want to be a code hack, like the endless numbers of other code hacks that are out there, then by all means read a few tutorials online and get yourself practically any cheap laptop. I do not recommend WordPress for beginners, that is no way to learn how to do things right. It is a great way to learn how to hack.

  4. Hi Mr. Hill,

    I’ve read your article a few times now and I have a few things to say – mostly in rebuttal. I’ve written my response over on my blog, but I don’t necessarily want to link to it for fear of it looking like I’m advertising my site. If you can add me to twitter (@xangelo) I’ll gladly DM you a link for you to look over, and hopefully rebut.

    Angelo.

  5. Interesting list, but quite not complete.

    You wont need Macs, any PC/notebook would do.
    How about some important cost? establishing a company, accounting, legal, taxes, office space?

  6. You don’t need an office space. I do my own accounting, so that doesn’t cost me anything. I also file my own tax return, here in the United States I use TurboTax which costs $80 per year.

  7. @Tibor
    Infact, working from home can actually save you money on that front if you have a space that you use as a dedicated office space.

    There is a cost associated with establishing a company however, at you’re right – that is often over looked.

  8. Liked your post.

    PHP will be like Cobol is today, 20, 30, 40 years from now, PHP will still be used on the web, just like Cobol is today. If you are a strong Cobol programmer and not getting well over $180,000, you are selling your skills too cheaply. Companies do not want to train anyone and few people know Cobol today. Unlike many languages where 5 years of experience is the normal minimum, a decent programmer with a year of Cobol (good luck getting this today) can command $100K – $140K. Just say No as many will offer much less per hour.

    While I am not going to bother debating the costs, I will add some of mine for the benefit of others. I use laptops/tablets/servers built for Linux via ZaReason (@zareason on twitter) so that I will not be prevented from installing whatever distro of Linux I want in the future.

    Avoid Windows 8, avoid hardware with UEFI at all costs, just do not go there if you can not turn UEFI off. IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU SAFER, only vendor locks you in to specific hardware…do not go there for your own sanity. Look very suspiciously at any Linux vendor that jumps through hoops to be UEFI and Windows compatible, history is littered with the fools who came before them that made the same mistakes!

    Remember you can always purchase a Windows 8 license and run it on Linux hardware, the converse is rarely if ever true. Just know there are proprietary chip sets on hard disks, motherboards, adapter cards, etc… you are best to avoid them. Avoid big box stores as they have all bought into this FUD.

    After I mention some costs, than I will focus on the reason for this comment, the best place tutorial/book with which to learn OOP for PHP.

    Full Disclosure: Loved my Macbook Pro, its what the group I recently worked with used for Cloud Server Systems Administration and support worldwide used ~ and it was a great machine. Its a bit pricey for my personal tastes.

    $1,655.00; Laptop: ZaReason Verix 530 4 core, 8 threads, 1TB SSHD (Hybrid HD + 8GB cache) with Triple Channel Memory, 16GB DDR3-1600 RAM. Always max out the memory on any laptop, hand-held and tablet as you will need it and regret it if you do not. Personally I recommend maxing out the hard disk as well in all three cases. And with Linux hand-held, tablets make sure it has a Micro SD and/or USB slot (Micro SD in Adapter works fine here) for moving your work from one device to the other.

    ($155 – $250 for a 22″ to 34″ Monitor or 60″ LED LG $699 see comment: You will want that second monitor, Anything made by LG is a plus and you can get any type of cable from Monoprice (Especially if you buy Apple products). They have everything you could want, especially if you go down the Apple hardware path.

    For monitors, I recommend LG, Samsung, Sony, in that order. If you bought an Apple computer, your 2nd Apple Monitor could cost you $600 – $1500, still will be worth it. Remember I am focused on Linux, not Windows, not Apple. You will pay more for the Sony than the LG without any additional benefit. And they do NOT need to be ‘smart’, don’t waste your money. Did you know that you could purchase a 60″ LED (LG of course for $699 on sale) TV and turn it into a TV wall with free software if you are using a Linux computer? (Don’t have the name of the code in front of me, it runs on your PC and/or laptop and uses a core of a quad core machine to drive the screens. My understanding is you can determine how many cores to use on what with this software, but only on Linux computers. Not Windows, and probably not OS X. This is on my wish list.)

    I recommend LG as I have NEVER had a problem with any LG monitor and its all I have used since 2000. Though I would look for LED vs LCD today, either 120 hz or 240 hz, not 60 hz. Fast refresh rates and very good large resolutions can be realized. Best of all they are all 1080p, no interlaced screens (1080i) for me or only 640p thank you very much.

    $70 on sale, $149.00 retail; Chair: You will want a chair that totally supports your lower back, I highly recommend the Corvair (http://www.staples.com/Staples-Corvair-Luxura-Task-Chair-Black/product_934100), can be purchased at a Staples near you (SKU # 934100, from bottom of chair, Instructions say 22425 or 23097 don’t remember which one specifically). Totally supporting the lower back while programming, assuming you sit up straight is critical to successful long hours of PHP programming. And learning PHP, especially OOP PHP will take many long hours, but is well worth it. Your back may be different, go to staples and sit in them and decide. While the leather chairs look good, they don’t support the lower back as well.

    Which brings us to the reason for this comment. OOP PHP:

    $4 – $10 used, $1 used via Amazon, $3 for shipping; (ISBN 0-672-32619-1) I highly recommend SAMs Teach Yourself PHP in 24 Hours by Matt Zandstra. The chapters are each about an hour long if you take the time to actually put the code in and play with it, as you should if you are learning. The chapters on OOP, will take you a little over an hour and are excellent. The examples are the best I have found anywhere. Get basic OOP down before you worry about new additions to the PHP language. Also Matt Zandstra really helps you understand it. I would start here before searching online for any other tutorial. Once you do you will quickly weed through the tutorials online that focus on a specific framework instead of just helping you to learn OOP PHP in general.

    Avoid tutorials that force you into .NET PHP (Windows specific PHP coding) or focus on only one framework, you want to learn OOP PHP without ancillary confusion as a starter. Any PHP above 5.0 will do. Before you code professionally, you will need to come up to speed with the newest version of PHP. Here the Documentation on http://www.php.net will help. There are good examples in that documentation as well.

    Don’t worry about Python (though Google will not hire you without it) or anything Ruby, ???, etc… just focus on PHP and get it down solid. It will be time well spent.

    Also ignore the detractors and haters that have their own OOP bias, whether it be C++ or Java. You are learning OOP PHP, just focus on that for now.

    One of the great things about Linux and plain PHP, you do not have to load up so much BS extra code that a laptop or hand-held could not run the code that you write due to memory bloat.

    Think outside the box, with PHP CGI you don’t need a server. You run PHP from the command line. Yes you can run code without LAMP or WAMP (Windows specific). Nothing wrong with figuring out how to run PHP without a server, say HTML 5 + CSS3 + PHP CGI. Yes running PHP code remotely without an active network connection, .NET will never allow you to do that.

    Talk about seeing Linux, your hand-held and your tablet with new eyes. Think about it, learn and than do it. And don’t let anyone tell you it can not be done, history is littered with the bodies of those fools. Find out for yourself. CODE!

  9. I’m surprised no one has mentioned this, but you must be living on an alien planet if your internet connection is 30Gbps :-)

  10. 3 grand isn’t actually that bad. I spent a grand on productivity tools this year alone. I run ubuntu because I do almost all back end work, so its nice to develop in the same environment you’re producing for. I spent 1,300 on my laptop, $80 on WebStorm 8 as my main IDE, $70 on sublime text as a script/query/everything else editor, I pay for my own testing environments on Digital Ocean for certain projects, sometimes I use web IDE’s like Cloud9 for small contracts. Its nice because they can see what I’m doing and I can walk tech savvy clients through my code to show them how things are working using live collaboration. Seeing as most of my clients aren’t local.

    Just keep in mind you can write all this off on your taxes.

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