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10 Most Sought-after Skills in Web Development

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In a time of economic crisis, web developers and freelancers everywhere have started chewing their fingernails. However, no matter how bad the economy worsens, there will always be work in certain booming fields of web development.

As the moderator of the Freelance Switch job board, there are certain types of jobs that are constantly in demand. Here are the 10 skills that are or will be in highest demand for developers. If you are proficient in these skills, you'll be in a great position to find work and weather any economic downturn.

1. Framework knowledge

It seems that frameworks are one of the next big things. With the meteoric rise to fame of Rails, Django, and other MVC frameworks, developers have learned that they can build websites much faster with the help of these tools. Frameworks help you cut out much of the repetitive tasks that normal custom programming would require. Having knowledge of the top frameworks (Rails, Django, CakePHP, Symfony, and a few others), can give you a whole other dimension to your skill set.

2. Widget development

Widgets have changed how web development has been done in the past couple of years. With the advent of widgets, data has become more portable, interactive and most importantly, viral. It's in almost every web startup's business plan to include a widget or two at some point, mainly because it helps increase their audience and puts more eyeballs on their content.

Widget development requires knowing Javascript and/or flash, not to mention knowledge of the regular language that the parent site is built in.

3. Custom CMS themes

Designers and developers can always find work creating or customizing a CMS theme. As the popularity of CMS like Wordpress and Drupal have risen over the past years, so has the demand for creating themes for the software.

Many people use CMS to power their personal or business websites, so this work is always going to be around. A decent website needs a unique and usable design that reflects well on the brand behind it.

4. CMS Customizations and plugin development

CMS are great because it gives site owners with little technical know-how the ability to change aspects of their site on the fly with the help of modules. While most CMS platforms have a long list of modules to offer, many businesses and personal sites need more, and custom modules or plugins are the perfect solution.

Developers can have thriving businesses in CMS development and customization alone. Here are a few (and by no means all) of the top CMS platforms that could use plugin development and other customizations:

5. PSD to XHTML services.

Another one of the more popular skills needed is converting Photoshop files (PSD) to XHTML files for template use. Because designers don't always know how to convert Photoshop layouts into template files, a CSS and XHTML ninja can always find work. Because of the array of browsers now in common use and the niggling differences in how they render sites, you want to be a web developer who can build-out sites that display the same in any browser. This kind of design to code service is the most sought after of them all.

6. Javascript Plugin creation

Much like the rise of CMS and MVC frameworks, Javascript frameworks are just as popular. These Javascript frameworks are built with the ability to add custom functionality in the form of modules. If you're a developer who knows how to build custom Javascript modules for frameworks like jQuery or Dojo, you'll have plenty of work available. Here are some of the most popular Javascript frameworks you might need to get a handle on.

7. Facebook/MySpace applications

Facebook and MySpace have both opened up their platform to allow developers API access, and the demand for social network apps has been huge since then. A whole new industry for web development sprang up overnight, and hundreds of applications are now added on a daily basis. The social media application platform has been found to be very viral and potentially very lucrative.

Some of these applications are built to make money or drive brand awareness, but ultimately the applications can be very successful and viral if they're done properly. A solid developer can make a decent living creating Facebook and MySpace applications.

Social networks like Facebook require that you learn their own language of syntax, like the FBML (Facebook Markup Language), so there is a small learning curve to this skill.

8. iPhone applications

Yet another platform-specific skill set, building iPhone applications can be very profitable, and much like the social media applications, a great skill for any developer to know. Making an iPhone app that is accepted into Apple's platform has an excellent chance at making great money or receiving tons of downloads.

This is a great thing for web developers because companies are starting to see the value in developing iPhone and other mobile technologies, and consequently will be wanting more and more applications developed in the future.

9. Ecommerce integration

Business web sites are always going to need ecommerce integration. Essentially, if you can take a language or framework (PHP or Rails) and fuse it with a payment gateway (like Paypal or Authorize.net), you'll do well for yourself. I'm predicting that we're going to see more paid services than free, ad-supported services being developed in the near future, as less money is being doled out to startups.

As the economy turns sour and the ad industry starts to get a little tighter, websites that use a subscription-based revenue model will start to become more common. Having the knowledge to piece together integration with online banking services like Paypal and Google Checkout will be great skills to have.

10. Flash and Actionscript Knowledge

Flash animation can do a lot for a website. Flash can be used to create videos, interesting navigation, fun animated sequences, widgets, and many other useful things on the Internet. The flash technology can add a very professional dimension to any website, and large websites and corporations always pay to have their sites look professional, and often commission Flash animated interfaces to showcase their products. With search engines working on ways to have Flash communicated better with them, this is a skill that's sure to boom as the search technology advances.

Conclusions

Learning frameworks is one of the best way to increase your skill set and potential work as a freelancer. Whether it's a Javascript framework, CMS, or MVC framework, taking the time to learn a new skill can be a huge advantage to finding work. Also, website owners pay big bucks for development that allows them to make money, because they see it not as a regrettable expense, but as an investment in future profit. Services like ecommerce integration, creating iPhone apps and flash knowledge will also be much-needed skills, and people will always pay for those skills.

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Glen Stansberry is a web developer and blogger who's struggled more times than he'd wish to admit with CSS. You can read more tips on web development at his blog Web Jackalope.

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