What Makes a Great Web Developer?

What makes a web developer great? I think most people think about this the wrong way and get too focused on technical skills. Here’s my reasoning:

What Most Web Developers Get Wrong

The standard advice is that a great web developer is defined by how technically skilled he is. Ask most seasoned developers this question and you’ll get responses like:

  • “Deep knowledge of HTML and CSS”
  • “Excellent debugger”
  • “Knows PHP like the back of his hand”

And, so on.

But, to me, those things aren’t what make a great web developer.

Certainly, your technical skill is important… but that is a pre-requisite. Technical skill isn’t what makes you great… it’s what makes you a developer.

What makes you great are your “soft skills”.

  • Are you focused?
  • Are you driven?
  • Are you detail-oriented?
  • Are you reliable?
  • Do you communicate well?
  • Are you easy to work with?
  • Do you learn new things quickly?

These are the questions whose answers define greatness.

Michael Jordan is known as one of, if not THE greatest, basketball players of all time. On the court, all of us marveled at his athleticism and his ability to deliver in crunch time.

But talk to his teammates or his coaches…

And, they’ll tell you it was Michael’s competitiveness and work ethic that made him special.

Teammates routinely talk of how fiercely competitive he was even in practice. That he was the first to arrive and last to leave.

How he would spend hours practicing at his house before going to the gym for his regular practices with the Bulls.

It wasn’t the mechanics of Michael’s jump shot or drive to the lane that made him great… it was the work ethic and competitiveness behind it…

  • That made the jump shot great…
  • That made the drive to the lane unstoppable…
  • That made him devastating in crunch time…

It’s the same with web developers. Your technical skill isn’t what makes you great. No. Your technical skill is a by-product of your greatness.

WHO you are is what matters.

So, how do you cultivate greatness in yourself?

Recognition is a start… but it also requires commitment.

  • Are you willing to spend hours obsessing over a line of code to make it perfect?
  • Are you willing to embrace the “buck stops here” responsibility your clients will expect from you?
  • Are you willing to learn whatever is necessary in order to deliver like you said you would?

From there, it’s focus.

  • Can you block out all the external distractions and get to work delivering quickly and “in flow”?
  • Can you temper the internal distractions that would stop you?
  • Do you know who you are and the art you want to give to others?

Finally, it’s work ethic.

  • Are you willing to push your limits?
  • Are you willing to be the first to arrive and the last to leave?
  • Are you willing to put in whatever hours are necessary in order to deliver?

Commitment, focus and work ethic.

Those are the things great developers… no… great PEOPLE are made of.

My challenge to you from all this is to take a moment and think about the commitment questions. Be honest with yourself and figure out if you’re really truly committed.

Because when you ARE committed at a deep level, finding the will power to be focused and work hard comes naturally.

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John Morris


I’m a 15-year veteran of freelance web development. I’ve worked with bestselling authors and average Joe’s next door. These days, I focus on helping other freelancers build their freelance business and their lifestyles.

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