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The ever-changing world of web development

Santorini by Caitlin MurphyBy Caitlin Murphy - Web Developer.

Kate joined our growing team in January as a part-time web developer after a 2-year break from IT, and today she shares her thoughts about the rapidly evolving world of web development and the main changes that occurred during her time 'out'. 

I started working as a developer at Orantec at the beginning of the year and during my first 6 months here I've learnt so much. Being part of a small company means I get to work on all aspects of each project, and so since starting I've had input at the UX design stage, I've managed to get my outdated CSS skills up to scratch, I've learnt some new image manipulation techniques and I've got up to speed on the latest development approaches, while getting to liaise directly with clients, things I missed out on when working for a larger company. This is also my first ever blog post that I've written! Another benefit is that our clients vary between small start-ups and international companies, so the technical work is very diverse, ranging from small HTML/CSS websites through to CMS driven e-commerce websites all the way up to large software management systems. Working part-time I'm lucky to get such variety and having taken a two-year career break to look after my two small people it's a great feeling to get back up to date with fast-moving technologies, something that daunted me and made me consider alternative careers. It's hard enough keeping up to date with ever-evolving web-technologies as it is without being out of the loop for two years!

Cross-browser compatibility

So now that I'm back I've learnt that some things never change but other things have made life much easier for a developer, one of which is cross-browser compatibility. Gone are the days of creating a perfect-looking site in one browser only to look at it in another browser (usually the dreaded IE6...) to find with horror that it looks a total shambles. That's not to say things never look slightly different in each browser, but it's not the minefield it used to be. This is largely due to the advent of HTML5, the latest version of the HTML standard, which not only improves cross-browser compatibility but also has many new exciting features, including audio and video elements, making Flash a thing of the past.

Mobile devices

Another development is the media device: the relatively recent explosion of hand-held devices, such as iPhones and iPads, has had a big impact on the web industry, meaning developers have to make their websites responsive so they can be viewed on a great range of sizes, often having a different, much simpler design on the smaller mobile devices. This for me has been one of the most fun bits as I can create different experiences for the user depending on the size of the device they are using, all by changing a few lines of CSS!Responsive website design with Orantec

Single Page Applications

The third biggest change is with the development frameworks. When I first started developing websites 15 years ago, PHP and ASP were the main languages I used (at the time seeming like a massive progression from static html pages to dynamic database driven websites) and the code and HTML were intermingled on long, flat files. The dawn of .NET meant this progressed to a more segregated approach where the server-side code and the HTML were separated into front-end and code-behind files. Lately there’s been a huge trend of web application code migrating from the server side to the client side, giving Javascript a new lease of life. Coincidentally, in terms of system architecture, multi-tier architecture has become popular where the code is separated into a data-storage layer, a business logic layer and a presentation layer, allowing for one or more of the layers to be easily updated or replaced. A combination of these approaches has led to the latest big development in the web world: SPA's or Single Page Applications. This is where an entire web application sits on a single page, which offers fluid UX and responsiveness while minimizing traffic and round-trips to the server. We are using this approach for the booking management system for one of our clients and I am still getting my head around it!

In conclusion, I’d say it's an exciting time for a web-developer, and I'm glad I got back in here before things moved too far on, as I may well have opted out of the world of computers and followed my other dream: to be a fine artist - the other extreme where things have hardly changed in the 20 years since I did A-level art!

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