Basically, as a web developer, you get to build and maintain websites. What exactly that looks like varies widely depending on what you want to do with it.
...the point is that no two roles are the same! We'll get deeper into specific possibilities soon.
Web development is awesome for many reasons, but most importantly because you have the power to actually build things. Your whole job is to create something functional from nothing and that requires an interesting blend of problem solving skills and creativity. When you have a cool idea for a site or a product, you no longer need to wonder how much it will cost for someone else to build it -- you can sit down and start building.
Another benefit of being a web developer is that you are in high demand and so, though you'll work very hard, you're generally able to command a comfortable salary and a healthy work/life balance. You will typically work 40 hours per week, though a freelancer might have far more flexibility with her time and a startup developer might be drinking lots of late-night coffee. If there are problems with the site, you might be required to work outside-normal hours regardless of the role.
Web development is a profession that rewards people who are natural problem solvers and who enjoy building things.
Because there are so many different types of web development roles, you should be able to find the one which fits you best. If you're naturally more inclined to tackle difficult conceptual problems, you might find yourself drawn to the more server-side roles. If you really enjoy making good looking and useful websites, you might find yourself drawn more to front-end roles. We'll explain the distinction between the two shortly.
It's important to understand who you're building the sites for in the first place. Usually, you've got someone (the Client) who pays you to build a website which is designed to interact with people from out in the internet (the Users). Sometimes, for instance if you're building a site for your own business, you act as your own client. If you're working for a tech company, the client is the company itself (e.g. Facebook pays its engineers to build Facebook).
As stated above, roles vary widely but this is a typical workflow in a freelance role:
One thing you may have noticed from the above descriptions is how much web development focuses on projects. It's not a job where you do the same thing every day -- part of the fun of building stuff is that you get to build something different once the first thing is done.
Many of these projects are much bigger than just a single person. As a practicing developer, you'll probably work in a team with other developers to solve specific problems that make up the larger solution. Because of this, developers have created great communities which encourage collaboration and communication.
Want to learn more about web development communities or what makes a good developer? Check out the next lessons!