This feature first appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Within the walls of the Palazzo Apostolico in Vatican City is one of the most famous sanctums both in all Christendom and, indeed, the entire western world. The Sacellum Sixtinum, more commonly known as the Cappella Sistina or the Sistine Chapel, famously serves as the gathering place for the College of Cardinals whenever a papal conclave is held to appoint a new pope to lead the Roman Catholic Church.
The first thing that most people would probably tell you about the Sistine Chapel, however, is that it's the place where that one guy named after the ninja turtle decorated the ceiling. Michaelangelo — who, incidentally, got the gig because two rivals were hoping he would screw it up and embarrass himself — painted, in four years, more than 300 figures across 500 square meters of chapel ceiling.
People in general tend not to create massive works of art on that scale anymore, and few works of art are viewed by roughly 5 million visitors each year. The closest contemporary equivalent, oddly, might be the website. Some sites are visited by as many as 5 million people per day, and just as Michaelangelo's work covered up an existing deep blue backdrop adorned with golden stars, many companies frequently commission teams of designers and developers to give their old sites a fresh new look.
Given the relatively high degree of automation and templating that is part and parcel of web design and development in 2020, one might reasonably expect to find dwindling availability of jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, on the other hand, projects growth in the field over the next 10 years at 13 percent.
That means an estimated 20,900 more jobs will be created just in the United States by 2028 — a level of expansion described as being much faster than average. The pay is pretty good, too: BLS research pegs the median annual salary for those who design and create websites at $69,430, or $33.38 per hour.
What is a web designer?
We reached out in our recent Web Design and Development Certification Survey to find out what the profession looks like from the perspective of those on the front lines. Once upon a time, a web designer was someone with a strong visual and conceptual flair whose primary job was to create and maintain the overall look and feel of a site. How much have things changed in the past 30 years?
Even though their work is perhaps not likely to be studied by generations of future historians and art critics, most web design and development professionals are personally invested in what they do. A notable 75 percent of those who responded to our survey either agree (25 percent) or strongly agree (50 percent), that site design and site creation requires the guiding hand of a skilled individual.
By contrast, just 8.3 percent of survey respondents have strong feelings in the other direction, adhering to the view that software tools and templates do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to site design and creation. The prevailing view, in other words, is that while automation is part of the process, creating an elegant and functional website still requires a heavy dose of the human touch.
The job doesn't end once the site goes live, of course, but the expectation of reliable performance in the future has more to do with designers and developers than you might expect. Nearly 77 percent of survey respondents either agree (41.1 percent) or strongly agree (25.6 percent) that designers and developers are generally expected to handle routine website maintenance.
More to the point, when there's a breakdown or bug, it's not a problem to be referred to someone else. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed either agree (50.1 percent) or strongly agree (16.6 percent) that designers and developers are generally expected to troubleshoot and fix routine web site problems on their own.
Point-and-click vs. homebrew
There are a number of companies in 2020 that sell or license software designed to help you build a website and, on an ongoing basis, publish content. Not so long ago, however, many media companies, especially large ones, built and serviced their own proprietary content management system (CMS) platforms.
While platforms like Wordpress and Medium have broad and diverse clientele, however, there are firms out there that still make their own sausage from their own grinder, so to speak. About 49 percent of web design and development professionals who responded to our survey work for an employer that uses an in-house, custom-built CMS.
It's at least somewhat surprising that there are that many designers and developers out there who get a regular paycheck from a direct employer. It used to be the case that every large company had a team of people to manage its website. Even today, only 16 percent of survey respondents are self-employed — but the trend arrow is definitely pointing in that direction.
A notable 67 percent of designers and developers who responded to the survey either agree (58.3 percent) or strongly agree (8.3 percent) that, in the future, most people in their profession will be self-employed as consultants or contractors.
As hinted at already, web design and development professionals in 2020 are expected to do more than just create strong visual schemes. Before a website is deployed, there's UI and UX work, apps to be coded and integrated, and a unifying visual theme to be outlined and created. There are a variety of site maintenance chores, including site debugging and repairs, and the next redesign is always at least under consideration.
There's quite a bit of work to be done, and only so many hours in the day. Are we pushing the current workforce too hard? Maybe not. Surprisingly, fewer than 20 percent of those surveyed either agree (8.7 percent) or strongly agree (8 percent) that they are overworked. A notable 58.3 percent of respondents took a neutral position, while the remaining 25 percent disagree that they have too much on their plate.
While most certified web design and development professionals may not feel that they are sprinting to keep up, an impressive majority do agree that the tasks they perform are complex and require focus. More than 90 percent either agree (60 percent) or strongly agree (31.3 percent) that their work is challenging.
We did ask one question that touches on the broad issue of compensation. Generally speaking, are certified web design and development professionals satisfied with their current compensation? An unusually high 75 percent either agree (33.3 percent of respondents) or strongly agree (41.7 percent) that their current salary is satisfactory. Only one-quarter of those surveyed are either of a non-committal mindset (roughly 5 percent) or actively dissatisfied (about 20 percent).
Certification solidifies skills
Given the catch-all skill set required of today's web designers and developers, certification is less broadly demanded here than in some IT sectors. Only about 10 percent of those surveyed were required to have a design or development certification when hired for their current job.
Even in cases where certification is not required, however, it could be a factor in any hiring decision that gets made. Asked to estimate the impact of certification on being hired at their current job, roughly half of web design and development professionals said it was either influential (24.1 percent) or very influential (25.9 percent), with an additional one-third reporting that certification was at least somewhat influential.
It's also true that many choose to get certified with an eye on future employment. Setting aside the popular rationales of gaining skills and increasing compensation, we asked those surveyed to name the two most important benefits of getting a certification.
Two of the top four responses are directly employment-related. The most popular choice is Gain greater confidence in my own skills, followed by Gain qualifications for a future job. Gain advanced access to technical data, narrowly edged ahead of Improve or confirm qualifications for my current job.
Workplace and education
Nearly every business or organization has to create and maintain a presence on the web in 2020. To judge by our survey audience, however, a sizeable chunk of the web design and development jobs available are focused in three workplace sectors: business services or business consulting (42 percent of those surveyed), computer or network consulting (25 percent), and education (8.5 percent).
Other popular employment sectors include finance (8 percent of respondents), real estate (7.1 percent), and aerospace (6.4 percent).
For teens and young adults who are considering web design and development as a potential career, definitely don't rule out higher education. Among survey respondents, 40 percent pursued their formal education far enough to hold a bachelor's degree, while 35 percent went one step further and claimed a master's degree.
There's more information to come from our survey. Over the coming months, we'll be posting additional findings online at CertMag.com, where you can also find ongoing dispatches from our 2020 Salary Survey.