AI website builders are on the rise, which begs the question: Are web developers safe? Is web development still a viable career path? If you ask us, of course web development is still a relevant profession because:
- There’s still a huge demand for web developers
- AI tools are no replacement for real people
Programming, the process of figuring out instructions to give a computer so it can get things done, is becoming more efficient with AI advancements. Web developers have new AI tools that can streamline the way they build, strategize, and maintain websites. But it takes real people with human empathy to find creative solutions and perform more abstract and conceptual tasks.
“AI is powerful, but I haven’t run into a situation where I felt it could take over my position,” says Jessica Foster, a full-stack developer from the Midwest. Jessica learned to code in 2019 and has been a web developer for the past four years. She also hosts a YouTube channel where she shares career advice and tips for aspiring web developers.
Ahead, Jessica explains why AI won’t replace web development anytime soon and why, no matter how tech evolves, you’ll always need real people at the helm of this tech trade.
What AI website builders can and can’t do
Companies like Wix and Hostinger are developing AI website builders that build dynamic and aesthetically-pleasing websites instantly based on written prompts. While the tech is impressive, it has limitations. “You can get all these different templates, but [the AI] might reuse the same templates for different purposes,” Jess says. “You’re not getting anything that’s super customized and stands out, and you might still need to bring in a designer to tweak the templates until they feel unique.”
Using predesigned templates for websites isn’t a new concept, but generative AI tools present new legal and ethical considerations. For example, generative AI models may replicate content that’s similar to the data it was trained on. This runs the risk of gradual uniformity, Jess says. If more websites are built with AI, and those websites are used to train other AI, this can eventually result in a lack of ingenuity or innovation.
If you want to make it as a web developer, you need to showcase a variety of fresh and innovative websites in your portfolio. Your web developer portfolio should demonstrate that you can adapt to different clients’ needs or tech stacks, you have a diverse skillset, and you’re constantly learning the latest technologies. Building unique apps with distinct features and functionalities helps illustrate both your technical and creative ability — and gives you an edge over AI website builders.
AI doesn’t have people skills
A web developer is responsible for creating software solutions to solve problems and advance business goals. On a typical day, they might have to review wireframes, code collaboratively with other developers, or meet with project managers to update them on the status of their work.
That means web developers need to know how to present their technical and stylistic choices in a way that nontechnical stakeholders can understand. “If I’m talking to you, I can kind of see where you’re going with something, even if you don’t know the actual terminology, and we can get to that end goal,” Jess says. “What are you looking to do? Who’s your audience, and what’s the main thing they need to accomplish on your website? There are so many different moving parts that AI hasn’t really conquered yet.”
Another aspect of web development that requires a human touch is user experience (UX). You need a solid understanding of your users’ needs and preferences to offer a good user experience. Web developers work with UX researchers and designers to conduct interviews, run surveys, and host focus groups to learn more about their target audience. AI might be able to pull relevant insights from its training data, but it can’t connect with users one-on-one to figure out what they really want. If you want to learn more about UX, check out our free course Introduction to UI and UX Design. You can also learn about UX research methods in the course Learn User Research: Generative and Learn Design Thinking: Ideation.
The nuances of collaboration and critical thinking can’t be replicated by AI tools (not yet, at least), because AI doesn’t “think” the way we do. Programs like ChatGPT can sound human, but they don’t really understand what we’re saying — they just perform unfathomably complex calculations to generate an output that fits the prompt.
Learn how to use AI for web dev
The bottom line? Most people who use the internet have a relatively rudimentary understanding of what it takes to build a website. (Those of us who were coding MySpace and Neopets in the 2000s can attest that you can pick up HTML/CSS basics quickly.) Even if AI tools can create a slapdash website for you, it takes technical acumen to know what to ask for, how to write prompts, and how to interpret and adapt the AI-generated output appropriately.
Web developers should embrace these new AI tools and learn to use them to stay ahead of the industry. “You should definitely learn about prompting,” Jess says. “These tools aren’t going away, and they’re only to get stronger and more implemented.” As with other fields in tech, the potential of AI tools is limited to the extent of your background knowledge and ability to craft effective prompts.
Along with site builders, there are multiple AI tools that can generate effective code (like ChatGPT and GitHub Copilot). But instead of replacing developers, these tools are making their jobs easier. From writing code to testing and debugging, there are tons of ways developers can use AI.
And if you need help building the soft skills that’ll help separate you from AI, sign up for Codecademy Pro and register for our upcoming webinar series on the most critical soft skills you’ll need for a tech career (and how to build them).