Rarely, in any field of human endeavour, has the landscape changed so dramatically and so consistently, over such a short period of time, than in the realm of software technologies. And this trend is showing no signs of abating and in fact may be accelerating.
Software Engineering, which is a complex discipline, requires the mastery of various skills, such as coding in multiple languages, following best practices, version control systems, testing, and adhering to the principles of engineering. To engineer something, is to create a product whose value, robustness, ease of maintainability and upgradeability, among other things, is measurable and testable.
Engineering allows a certain level of quality to be attached to a product. In software development, the difference between code which is engineered, and code which is just written, is the difference between how much you want that code not to malfunction and cause a catastrophic system failure. Would you want a graduate programmer to write that airplane control functionality, or a software engineer with 20+ years experience and a wealth of tools at his/her fingertips to code, collaborate, fully test and verify system integrity?
Luckily, software engineering is big business nowadays, and all safety critical systems rely on engineering skills being utilised and following industry best practices. Software can be collected, analysed and compared, leading to better quality robust code. In software, safety is measurable. However, web development, which is even more of a recent creation than software engineering, was once a long long way behind its bigger and more powerful brother. HTML was all one needed to know to put up a fancy website; quick and cheap, with all the risks associated with that level of quality. The stakes have increased as each year of the Internet's existence saw its usage grow, but luckily things have changed recently for the better.
Yet something is happening which is causing concern. The growth in the Internet's popularity, means that more and more tools and services are going online. Personal data, private data, financial data - all of these are critically important to the end user, yet handled relatively causally online, without the rigor which software engineering would ensure. Web technologies were rarely utilised to the same level of professionalism and accountability which more traditional software systems were familiar with. The end result is a hackers paradise and websites which are relatively vulnerable and hard to maintain.
Version Control Software such as GIT is now par for the course with larger websites. For bigger applications making use of languages and packages such as Java, build systems (Gradle, Maven, etc) can be deployed along with Continuous Integration tools such as Jenkins. Test suites are still relatively underdeveloped and utilised, but progress is being made. The end result is that website creation is moving away from the previous quick and dirty approach to a more engineering-centric development process. And everyone benefits from that.
Next time you think of hiring a web developer, you might want to consider whether or not you wish to hire someone to code your site, or someone to engineer it. Your clients' data security and your own business model, may critically depend on it.
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The pay has risen substantially, in part due to the fact that desktop tools which required engineering expertise, are now being ported online. Java is a big player in this particular area, so swotting up on the Java skills is a good idea - especially as Android is based on it.
I tried to create a website and app for Android last year and I was a bit surprised at how much everything has changed since I last wrote some software. You are so right, it has developed into a big field now. I reckon loads of website designers from yesteryear are now totally out of their league as more and more of the big players with degrees in software engineering jump into this area. Is the pay commensurate with the increased skillset required to pull off a proper website deployment?