Crack the code

The skills and qualifications that will stand you in the best stead moving forward in the web or software world.

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By  Matthew Wade Published  June 6, 2007

Whether you're a student trying to decide on the course to take at university, or an adult interested in changing career and heading into the web or software world, it's important to understand the skills and qualifications that will stand you in the best stead moving forwards.

To get an up-to-date picture of what's what, our team spoke to employers, trainers and programming professionals in order to bring you what we feel should be a valuable and current guide. What we'll cover here is:

Becoming a web developer
Becoming a web designer
Becoming a software developer

1. Web Designer

The web designer's role is the least code-based of the three here, however some very basic coding knowledge can help the designer understand how a site works and so help them work better with their web colleagues.

Web designer is predominantly a creative job, in that the designer is responsible for arranging the various on-screen web page elements the user sees (text, banners, graphics etc.), including producing or editing the graphics themselves, and slotting these together to create an enticing yet useable site.

The web boss of our Windows Middle East web portal,, advises that all potential developers and web designers start with some grasp of HTML, a recommendation supported by Manoj Xavier, the chief technology manager of IT training company Executrain.

University or not?

As far as design training goes, web design degrees are still, in this region, nigh on impossible to track down. It's all about an ‘eye for design' so to speak and then having the requisite web savvy and, crucially, design software know-how.

"Web designing is totally independent of your background or degree," Xavier claims . "No-one writes HTML today, as all the automatic tools are out there. It's about inner design quality. Any software tool can be learnt. So it's not really about what tools, it's more about graphical skills. You have to understand colour combinations, shades etc., what fits together and what works. It's not enough to copy and paste bits from the internet; a web designer is an artist that uses software packages."

As far as improving your ‘eye for design' goes, this is difficult to be taught, however to test your aptitude to this end it might be worth offering to do some free voluntary work at your town's best web design agency (this writer for instance got his very first break in journalism via that route). Alternatively, if you are destined for university, consider a graphic design degree that features online or web elements (or at least potentially useable faculty links).

Aside from a grasp of basic HTML then, what are the packages the web designer should become a master of? Well, generally speaking, it's largely an Adobe thing. Xavier of Executrain, Mazen Ilyas, CEO of the UAE's award-winning web agency Cactimedia, and our own ITP guru advise considering the skills outlined in the box below.

In addition to design skills and package prowess, in the real world of web design business, a crucial additional skill is end user thinking, as Cactimedia's Ilyas explains:

"Today on the web you can get lots of tools and help. It's really about getting a design template and integrating this with the back-end programming. What's key however is that web designers understand the importance of functional design. This is our focus - making websites that look good but work better."

Required skills

Adobe Photoshop (ESSENTIAL) - the default software design program used by almost every type of graphic or web designer.

Adobe Flash (RECOMMENDED) - a software tool for creating animated web graphics. Whilst Flash-filled websites are less popular these days, due to the user frustrations they can create, occasional graphics can really add flavour.

Adobe Dreamweaver (RECOMMENDED) - this easy-to-use page layout tool is used by some web designers, if they tend to put together a whole site themselves for instance, as a freelancer might do. However it's not necessarily used by those working in agencies, who will just carry out their design duties using Photoshop and then let their web developers handle the layout side of things.

Adobe Fireworks/Illustrator (OPTIONAL) - for creating and optimising images (Fireworks being particularly web focussed).


Graphic design degree (OPTIONAL) - Possibly relevant but far from essential. Work experience and skills more valuable.

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