Web or Mobile Apps - Where Should Coding Newbies Start?

23 May 2024

The two most popular paths for coding beginners today are web development and mobile app development. Both have their unique pros and cons in terms of concepts to learn, tools involved, career prospects, and market demand.

Web Development: Building the Interactive Internet

When you visit a website, whether that's an online store, blog, web app, or other internet property, every visual element and interactive feature you experience was built by web developers using three core languages:

1. HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) provides the structural foundation by defining elements like text, headings, lists, links, media, and other content containers on the page.

2. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is used to control the visual presentation by specifying things like layout, colors, fonts, backgrounds, and animations.

3. JavaScript allows the creation of dynamic, interactive functionality through programming. This ranges from toggling menus and sliders to rendering data visualizations and processing user inputs.

Those are the minimum essentials required for any website to exist and function on the modern web. However, most professional web development scenarios today use more advanced tools and frameworks like:

• Content Management Systems like WordPress or Drupal for easily building/managing websites
• Frontend frameworks and libraries like React, Angular, and Vue for building more robust interactive applications
• Backend languages and frameworks like Node.js, Ruby on Rails, ASP.NET, and others for constructing the application logic powering websites
• Databases like SQL or NoSQL for storing and retrieving website data

So in terms of learning curve, you're looking at starting with the core HTML/CSS/JavaScript base, then upskilling into at least one additional web framework or backend language and database as you gain experience.

A big perk of web development for beginners is that the upfront cost is extremely low. You can learn the fundamentals for free using online documentation, video tutorials, ebooks, and sample code. All you need is a computer and text editor to start coding on small projects.

Web Dev Career Paths and Outlook

Once you reach an intermediate proficiency level with web languages and tools, you'll have a variety of potential career paths available:

• Frontend Developer: Focused on building the visuals and user experiences of websites and web apps using HTML/CSS/JavaScript frameworks.

• Backend Developer: Using languages like Python, Java, Go, Ruby, etc. to construct the application logic and backend services powering websites and communicating with databases.

• Full Stack Developer: Cross-skilled professionals who work across the entire web stack, building both frontend and backend components.

• Site Reliability Engineer: Ensuring the infrastructure, servers, and development operations (DevOps) pipeline reliably supports websites at scale.

There are also many specialized web development roles around areas like UI design, UX engineering, web animations, web performance, accessibility, testing, and more. The field is quite broad with tons of potential to carve out a niche based on your strengths and interests.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, overall employment of web developers is projected to grow 8% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. As businesses increasingly emphasize digital and mobile channels, the need for professionals to build and optimize websites will drive steady demand.

Average pay for web developers is also quite lucrative at around $73,760 per year, according to the BLS. Total compensation can climb into six-figure territory for developers working at major tech companies or cultivating specialized skills and experience.

App Development: Building Mobile Experiences

Whereas web developers are focused on building software for browsers and websites, app developers work within the specific frameworks and programming languages tailored for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

The two dominant platforms app developers build for are:

• iOS applications using Apple programming languages/tools like Swift and XCode
• Android applications using Google's supported languages and frameworks like Kotlin, Java, Android Studio, and others

So to get started as an app developer, you'll need to pick one of those two "lanes" to start. Both have plenty of overlapping core programming concepts, but the specific tools, languages, and platform guidelines differ.

Other than those primary mobile platforms, some developers also work in hybrid/cross-platform app development using tools like React Native, Flutter and Xamarin that allow sharing codebase across both iOS and Android.

Those looking to break into app development often begin by mastering the fundamentals of general-purpose programming languages like Python, Java, JavaScript, C++, C#, Swift or Kotlin. Once you've grasped basic programming concepts and logic, you can then move into learning iOS or Android frameworks and tools more specifically.

Unlike web development which has a strongly frontend vs backend paradigm, most mobile app developers work across the "full stack" of app features. They aren't as separated into UI/UX and application logic roles except at very large app companies.

So app development has a more compressed, generalized learning curve compared to web development in that sense. But tackling mobile app development for beginners still requires becoming proficient in multiple languages and dev environments.

Getting Started Building Apps

As a total novice with no coding experience whatsoever, app development may initially seem more intimidating compared to web development due to the tooling overhead and lack of visible underlying code to learn from.

With web development, you can simply right-click and inspect elements directly within your browser to glimpse the structure and styles powering the experience. But apps run in sandboxed environments on devices that obscure the raw codebases.

That said, basic mobile app development concepts can still be learned from the ground up using documentation, model project samples, online courses, and tutorials. You don't necessarily need an actual device to start coding simple apps.

Free tools like Android Studio (for developing Android apps) and XCode (for iOS apps) provide simulated device environments for testing apps during the development process. And there are ways to decompile many public mobile apps for learning purposes.

Career Paths and Outlook for App Developers

Compared to the breadth of web development roles, mobile app developer career paths are a bit more narrowly defined into:

• iOS App Developer: Focused solely on developing apps for Apple's iOS/iPadOS/watchOS/tvOS ecosystems using Swift, Objective-C, XCode, and iOS SDKs.

• Android App Developer: Builds apps for Google's Android ecosystem using Java, Kotlin, Android Studio, various Android SDKs and frameworks.

• Cross-Platform App Developer: Specializes in using tools like React Native, Xamarin, Flutter and others to build apps for both iOS and Android using shared codebases.

• Mobile Game Developer: A specific app development skillset centered on building games leveraging mobile hardware capabilities, game engines like Unity, and other gaming frameworks.

While smaller app companies and startups may employ generalized "app developers," larger tech companies like Google, Apple, Meta, Uber and others tend to have very specialized roles and teams for each major mobile platform.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects mobile app developer employment growth of around 22% through 2030, much faster than other occupations.

According to PayScale data, the average mobile app developer salary in the United States currently ranges from around $68,000 for entry-level roles up to $137,000 per year for senior app developers. iOS developers tend to command slightly higher pay premiums than Android developers in many markets.

Ultimately, there's no objectively correct path that suits every developer's goals, strengths and learning styles. The wisest approach as a coding beginner is to explore the fundamentals of both web and app development before locking into one discipline.

Take an introductory course or two in each realm. Get your feet wet with some basic projects to see which areas naturally click more. Tinker around with frontend web dev using HTML/CSS/JavaScript. Then try your hand at app development basics using a tool like Android Studio or XCode.

So what are you waiting for? Start coding TODAY!

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