I believe that there are three focuses or styles of Web developer:
- Content Developer
- Designer / Graphic Artist
- Coder / Programmer
Content developers write the Web page content and they may also be graphic artists (for graphical content sites like photo galleries). I always put content first, because when it comes right down to it, that's why people visit Web sites, not for the pretty design and not for the whiz-bang coding, but for the content. If a Web site doesn't have awesome content, it won't have customers for long.
Content developers have to worry about having good writing skills or drawing or photography skills, good spelling and grammar, and a strong understanding of how to use the tools available to them like Content Management Systems.
If you're not a writer or photographer, or you want to get into Web development to work on designs or programs, then you should consider one of the other focuses: design or programming.
Web Designers and Web Graphic Artists
Web designers and Web graphic artists are the people who make the Web sites look nice. In the three layers of Web design they work on the style and presentation of the pages. These are the people who worry about the position of elements on the page and all the design specifics like color or balance.
Most Web designers use WYSIWYG Web editors and if they write any code it's Cascading Style Sheets. I recommend that designers learn the basics of HTML so that they can fix minor problems as they come up, but it's not vital.
If you're more interested in how the Web pages work, or making them do fun or fancy things than you are in how they actually work, then you should focus on being a Web coder or Web programmer rather than a designer.
Finally there are Web programmers. Some people feel that learning and using HTML is programming while others get very upset at this assertion. Chances are, if you get upset at the idea of HTML being a programming language, then you are a programmer at heart. Content developers and Web designers tend to feel HTML is programming, while Java, Perl, and PHP coders do not.
The best way to determine which language would be best for you to learn is to read job postings in your area or in the area where you think you'd like to work. This is because popular programming languages seem to vary by location. For example, in the Silicon Valley in California, you couldn't walk three yards without tripping over a JSP developer, but ASP was very hard to find. However, up in Seattle, Washington (Microsoft country) non-ASP programmers need not apply. Ruby and Python are getting very popular with "up and coming" firms, but many established firms prefer the security of using established company products like ColdFusion or Java. PHP is popular because it's widely available and Perl because it's versatile.
Focus on Your Passion
Once you know what type of developer you are, you should focus on that discipline. If you're going to be a graphic designer, learn as much as you possibly can about Photoshop and how to manipulate and design graphics that work well for the Web. If you're going to write Web content, hone your writing skills. And learn the techniques that set a great Web writer apart from the pack. If you're going to do design, make sure you're familiar with the basics of design and not just Web design. And if you're going to be a programmer, learn your chosen programming language(s) inside out.
Be sure to test what you know on the real world. You'll get more work if you are doing work. There's always more to learn, and while some universities are offering courses in Web development, it's not something that you'll need to get work. If you prove you can do the job, you'll get work. And focusing on one part of the job that is your favorite will allow you to become an expert at that. Remember that a Jack-of-all-Trades is a master of none. And you want to be a Webmaster.