Career: What it’s like to be a web developer

Lyziane Cantin thinks you should try coding. The 23-year old moved to Toronto from Saint-Raymond, Quebec, and took a class in web development; it was a backup plan to supplement her photography work. She has since worked her way up to become a Senior Developer/Photographer at Propeller Studios.

She Does the City asked her what being a developer is like.

SDTC: What does a typical day look like for you?

LC: I have a lot of trouble getting up every morning. I’m far from being a morning person. First thing,  I go through emails. Most of them are newsletters; I have no idea when I signed up for 30, 000 newsletters! I don’t get many emails from clients since I work more on building the sites than on making the changes requested by clients. Then I start doing actual work on a site with a tight deadline. It’s mainly a lot of staring at code, and reading and re-reading lines to find what I did wrong. What step caused the bug? Is it secure and fool-proof?

That’s the more PHP/Javascript (functionality) part of the work. I do also a lot of styling (how the elements appear on the website) with HTML and Sass (Sass is a improved way of creating CSS). Sometimes I am asked to “Lyzify” projects. That’s when I need to style a project that we don’t have an initial design for.  I re-organize elements on the pages to make them more user-friendly, and make it look pretty. I make sure the look I create is maintained throughout the site.

I’ve been told I’m lucky to be able to think on both sides: the coding and the design. Also, I randomly help or answer questions from other people on my team. I became the oldest employee fast so I need to share my knowledge. Often, I can’t answer but I’m a great Googler!

At the end of the day, that’s when I wake up. I get way more efficient. So I keep going until I lose my focus. On Mondays and Thursday nights I take classes in woodworking and advanced SQL. Back home, I put some music on and  do some cleaning or read a bunch of articles online. I usually look up stuff: classes I think about taking, projects I would like to make, stuff I want to buy online. When I realize I’m still facing a computer, I get up and hopefully play a little bit on my drums (but I suck, so my motivation is low.) I will remember that I need to have dinner at some point and make myself toast & peanut butter. Then watch TV (if I’m into a show at the moment) or just go to bed.

What made you want to get into this line of work?

I was filming my friends non-stop when I was in high school. I would make videos where I would put scenes I filmed on top of a song I liked. After high school I went to CEGEP (publicly funded pre‑university college in Québec) to study Cinema. Bad decision. I spent way more time in the darkroom than thinking about cinema. I switched and learned photography professionally. When I finished, I was scared and felt I didn’t know enough. I decided to move to Toronto (mainly for a fashion photography class with Struan) but I did the whole Ryerson’s Chang School certificate. Only I didn’t have enough classes to be full-time (which I needed in order to get the bit of money the government would loan me). So web development became an option again. I wanted to be able to make my own portfolio website anyway.

When I finished photo school and web dev school, once again I didn’t feel ready to face the competition of the photography world. I was going to move back home to recover from my anxiety. Luckily, the teacher in one of my web classes offered me a job where I could do both web developing and photography. It was a good boost of confidence. 

What attributes should a person cultivate to do this job well?

I want to know everything and try everything – that’s very useful for a dev. It makes me look out for new tools and solutions we can introduce at work. I’m good at finding the answer when I don’t know something. Also, problem-s0lving skills are important. Not necessarily math, but anticipating what will come next, and gauging accordingly.

Attention to detail is very important – if you don’t type your code properly, anything can break it.. If you forget to close a tag, that’s it, your code won’t work. You have to write exactly what the code is.

What’s your favourite (and least favourite) part of the job?

I love having co-workers around. They might find me annoying sometimes but I don’t mind. I like when people are talking and sharing ideas. Its always interesting. What I don’t like is the emailing. I just can’t do it. I try really hard to check my emails regularly but I often lose track of time while coding. Just last Monday, I looked up thinking it was time for lunch; it was already 4:30 p.m. I missed my own lunchtime.

When did you know this was the right job for you?

Development is more my backup plan – I have this crazy student debt, and apartments in Toronto are ridiculously expensive. I really like doing dev stuff though. There’s always new things to learn, better solutions and improvement to make. And you end up with a product you created yourself. I’m proud to show my sites when I can.

How can someone interested in this field get started?
My own training was started at Ryerson with Web Development and Design at the Chang School. Anyone can start online, though. Web developing is really easy to learn online. check out here to start.

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