How to Become a Java Developer: Everything You Need to Know
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are more than 1,469,000 software developers around the country. According to data from 2021, 35.35% of those developers use Java, one of the world’s top five most widely used programming languages.
Naturally, learning Java and becoming a Java developer is a smart career choice for anyone interested in software development.
In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to become a Java developer. We’ll break down the skills you’ll need, the job responsibilities, and what you can expect your employer to pay you.
What Is Java?
Before we explore everything you need to know to become a Java developer, you’ll need to understand what Java is.
Java is a programming language developers use for mobile, software, and web development. A small team called ‘The Green Team’ initially conceptualized Java in the early 1990s. That team included James Gosling, who later became known as the ‘Father of Java’ for his work. Gosling developed Java while working as an engineer at Sun Microsystems (a subsidiary of Oracle today).
Java was initially designed to be:
- High Performance
- Architecture Neutral
Currently, there are four different editions of Java:
- Java Card, which people use to develop programs for devices with small processing capabilities (like SIM cards and ATM cards)
- Java Standard Edition (Java SE), which people use to develop programs for desktops and servers.
- Java Micro Edition (Java ME), which people use to develop programs for mobile devices (like iOS and Android phones).
- Java Platform Enterprise Edition (Java EE), which people use to develop large-scale applications.
What Is Object-Oriented Programming?
Java is an Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) language, meaning it organizes design around objects (as opposed to functions and logic). An ‘object’ is an entity with a unique identity (i.e., a label), characteristics (sometimes called ‘state’), and behavior.
There are four critical principles of OOP development. These include:
- Encapsulation is a condition that’s achieved when an object’s state is private, enclosed in its class (a template with similar properties that developers use to create objects), and public functions can’t access it.
- Abstraction occurs when objects only expose the key details you need to work with them (making your program easier to develop).
- Inheritance occurs when objects are structured into parent and child structures, sharing common logic without needing to be the same.
- Polymorphism is a way to use child classes like their parent class without altering the child class.
When using OOP, many developers also rely on the SOLID principles of development (coined by Robert Martin or ‘Uncle Bob’). The SOLID principles include:
- S: The Single Responsibility Principle says a class should only be responsible for one problem (unless the problem is solved with interconnected subsystems).
- O: The Open-Closed Principle says that you should extend but not modify entities (i.e., functions, modules, and classes).
- L: The Liskov Substitution Principle says that you should be able to replace superclasses with subclasses without breaking your code.
- I: The Interface Segregation Principle says that you should create a separate interface for each client.
- D: The Dependency Inversion Principle, which says that higher-level modules shouldn’t support lower-level modules.
Java Developer vs Software Engineer
New developers also confuse Java developers with software engineers, though these professions are different, too. Java developers are highly specialized professionals that (usually) only work with Java projects.
Alternatively, software engineers have a broader skillset to work on different programming languages and projects. As Java developers and software developers have similar roles and skills, many professionals transition between the two roles for variety, a new challenge, or to learn new skills.
Now that you understand the basics of Java, you’re ready to learn more about Java development as a career.
What Is a Java Developer?
A Java developer (sometimes called a ‘Java engineer’ or a ‘Java dev’) is a specialized IT professional working with Java. Java developers are responsible for developing software, websites, and applications using Java.
Before you become a Java programmer, there are many vital things you need to consider, including whether you find the day-to-day work life of a Java developer exciting and whether you have the skills to fill the roles and responsibilities of a Java developer. This section will cover each of those considerations.
What Does a Java Developer Do?
The everyday work life of a Java developer depends on whether you are an entry-level, mid-level, or senior developer.
Entry-Level Java Developers
As an entry-level Java developer, you will likely enter the profession with limited professional experience. Naturally, you will spend your time:
- Developing your Java programming skills
- Writing basic code
- Fixing basic bugs
- Performing testing
- Helping your team plan Java projects
- Creating end-user documentation that helps users navigate the system
Mid-Level Java Developers
As a mid-level Java developer, you will have 2 – 5 years of professional experience and be highly knowledgeable about your business’s IT architecture. As your skills are more advanced than an entry-level Java developer, you will spend your work time:
- Writing more complicated code
- Fixing more advanced bugs
- Performing (or overseeing) testing
- Planning Java projects
- Creating end-user-documentation
- Working with vendors
- Managing junior developers
Senior Java Developers
As a senior Java developer, you will have 5+ years of experience, a deep understanding of your business’s IT systems, and expertise on various projects. You will likely spend your work time:
- Planning, consulting, and reviewing sophisticated Java projects
- Overseeing work done by junior staff members
- Working with vendors
- Overseeing the financial side of development
What Are The Responsibilities of a Java Developer?
As a Java developer, your specific daily responsibilities will depend on your employer’s needs. However, most Java developers perform similar role functions, including:
Working With IT Vendors
As a Java developer, your employer may expect you to work with the vendors that provide your business with infrastructure, software, and platforms (i.e., Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendors). Specifically, you may need to:
- Develop relationships with existing vendors
- Develop criteria for new vendors
- Research vendor options and watch the market for new technology
- Evaluate offers and negotiate on your businesses behalf
- Prepare Request For Quote (RFQ) and bid documents
Liaising With IT Team
As a Java developer, you work closely with your business’s development team. This means you will need to attend regular standups and meetings, help colleagues with problems, and help your team plan and manage your projects. You may also consult with users, managers, and other teams about your Java projects.
Throughout your time as a developer, you will continuously develop code in Java. You may use this code in a new project, ongoing updates for an existing project, or bug fixes.
Once you’ve written code, you will need to test it with code review tools to identify potential issues. Your employer may expect you to perform a range of rests on your code, including functionality testing, static code testing, unit testing, and single-user performance testing. You may also need to participate in pass-around testing. Pass-around testing is a way development teams ask for feedback by emailing their colleagues their code before deployment. You can see an example of pass-around testing in the image below.
As a Java developer, you will need to deploy code to deliver it to users successfully.
Debugging Software Problems
As no project is ever perfect, Java developers are responsible for resolving errors in their programs. Specifically, you will need to diagnose problems, develop a solution, and deploy that solution.
In many organizations, developers receive requests to debug problems found by other team members and users – so you will be expected to liaise with others throughout the debugging process.
Understanding Program Architecture
If you are an experienced developer, you will need to understand your business’s programs, IT infrastructure, and program architecture in-depth. Understanding program architecture is crucial, as it’ll inform how you develop new projects.
As developers must update programs to ensure they’re functional and secure, you need to develop regular updates. You will need to plan, design, test, deploy, and collect user feedback on the update to build efficiently. If you work in a large business or busy industry, you may need to manage multiple updates simultaneously.
Preparing End-User Documentation
As you will understand your project intimately as a developer, your employer will expect you to develop end-user documentation to help people use your program. This documentation includes installation guides, user manuals, release notes, and training manuals.
Monitoring Application Security and Performance
Finally, your employer will expect you to track your projects continuously. Continuous monitoring allows you to spot potential errors, track usage statistics, and identify things you could change to improve the program for users.
How Much Do Java Developers Make?
As Java developers are highly skilled and perform diverse responsibilities, becoming a Java developer can earn a good salary. According to Salary.com, the average Java developer salary in the United States is $96,297 annually (as of October 29th, 2021).
Half of all Java developers working full-time earn between $80,975 and $107.886 a year for their work. This deviation is due to a few factors, including the developer’s education, years of experience, their business (and its profitability), any management responsibilities they have, location, overtime, and bonuses.
If you want to see the full range of Java developer salaries in the US, take a look at the bell curve graph below.
For comparison, the average web developer earns between $60,000 – $75,000 a year.
What Skills Are Needed to Be a Java Developer?
If you want to become a Java developer, you will need to master some essential skills. That includes developing your:
Java Development Abilities
As a Java programmer, you will need to create code from scratch for a range of web-based and non-web-based projects. This means you will need to understand Java and use it to create new projects, updates, and fix bugs. You’ll also need to know:
- The differences between Java Card, Java SE, Java ME, and Java EE
- How to use common Java frameworks like the Spring framework and the Hibernate framework
- How to use development suites like DevKinsta
Code Testing Skills
As you will need to test your code before deployment, you will need to learn how to perform functionality testing, static code testing, unit testing, and single-user performance testing.
Many Java programs use SQL (Structured Query Language) when building and using databases. You will also need to understand how to use SQL. Ideally, you should also familiarize yourself with Oracle 12c, Microsoft SQL, and MySQL database systems.
Project Management Skills
As a Java developer, you will need to follow the Systems Development Lifecycle (SDLC). Naturally, you should understand how to take a project through the six phases: planning, analysis, design, implementation, testing and integration, and maintenance. You should also familiarize yourself with the waterfall and agile approaches to project management.
Project Architecture Skills
As you will need to design and build projects from the ground up, you must know how to construct a project’s architecture to be logical, consistent, and extendable long-term.
Vendor Liaison Skills
As many Java developers liaise with IT vendors, you will need good verbal and written communication skills. Ideally, you should also develop your negotiation skills and build rapport with others, making liaising with vendors easier.
Object-Oriented Programming Knowledge
As Java is an OOP language, you should understand the four OOP principles and the SOLID principles of OOP development.
How to Become a Java Developer
If you’re interested in becoming a Java developer, you can take six simple steps to build your skills and become a Java expert.
Let’s cover those steps now.
Step 1. Learn Java
First, you will need to learn how to code with Java. There are many great ways to learn Java, including podcasts, short courses, books, and tutorials. If you are looking for a tutorial, we recommend using The Java Tutorials by Oracle, as it is free and comprehensive. The Java Tutorials cover topics like:
- The basics of Java design
- How to create Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) with Java
- How to use the Java platform’s features
- How to deploy applications using Java Web Start and Java Plug-in
You could also use subreddits like r/LearnJava to connect with other budding Java developers. On the r/LearnJava subreddit, you’ll find Java resources, book recommendations, and posts from people looking for feedback on their code.
Step 2. Improve Your Java Project Management Skills
As you learn Java, you should also start improving your project management skills. During this step, you should focus on planning, designing, and building small-scale projects with Java. Managing small projects will help you develop your system architecture and management skills (as well as give you some projects to show potential employers during job interviews).
If you are looking for something to boost your resume, you could also complete a Java certification program. Oracle offers several Java certifications (though they can be expensive).
Step 3. Join the Java Community to Learn From Your Peers
Next, you should join the Java community so you can learn from your peers. Joining the community is a great way to improve your problem-solving skills and technical knowledge.
Watching other developers resolve problems will also help you learn to think like a developer. While there are many great Java communities online, we recommend checking out:
Step 4. Practice Your Skills and Develop a Portfolio
Next, you’ll want to practice your new Java skills and build a portfolio to show potential employers. You should aim to create several Java applications for your portfolio (including at least one web application). These projects don’t have to be sophisticated or perfect, as they are simply a way for you to demonstrate that you can develop a range of applications with Java.
Your portfolio doesn’t need to be over-the-top, either. Ultimately, the best developer portfolios focus on two key things:
- Introducing the reader to you through an “about me” section that describes your experience, skills, and interests
- Showing the reader your skills through a collection of 1-3 projects that you’ve created. To get the most out of these projects, you should include a short description of the project, screenshots of the development process, and a live link to the final project.
Step 5. Build Your Resume and Apply to Become a Java Developer
Once you’ve mastered Java and built a few small applications, you’re ready to redesign your resume and apply for a position as a junior Java developer.
When designing your resume, make sure you include your new Java developer skills. These may consist of Java development skills, code testing skills, SQL knowledge, project management skills, vendor liaison skills, and OOP knowledge. You should also add any ‘soft skills’ you have. Soft skills help people succeed at work and include communication, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.
You can find Java jobs on Indeed, LinkedIn, IT Career Finder, Monster, and ITJobBoard.net.
Step 6. Focus on Continuously Improving Your Java Skills
Finally, you should make sure you focus on continuously improving your Java developer skills in your new role. Growing your skills will help you succeed in your computer science career long-term, as you will be able to take on larger and more sophisticated projects.
What to Look For When Hiring A Java Developer
Each developer brings unique skills and expertise to work, but some key attributes make great developers stand out. So if you’re looking to hire a Java developer, make sure you look for someone with these attributes:
Someone Who is a Team Player
As Java developers must work together to resolve issues, launch new programs, or update programs, you’ll need someone to work in a team. When hiring a developer, look for someone with a history of uplifting and supporting their team members.
Someone Who is a Problem Solver
As Java development requires redesigning and fixing code that isn’t working, a good developer can review their code, find errors, and fix problems quickly. When hiring a developer, look for someone who thrives on feedback and can demonstrate excellent creative problem-solving skills.
Someone Who Can Continue to Learn
As Java development requires a lot of technical knowledge and expertise, the best developers are always learning. When hiring a developer, look for someone who can continue to grow their skills on the job.
Someone Who Can Manage Themselves
While Java development is a team sport, Java developers complete many of their daily tasks alone. Naturally, when hiring a Java developer, look for someone who can manage their schedule, stay focused, and deliver work with little oversight.
From 2019 to 2029, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that software developer jobs will grow by 22% – which they describe as “much faster than average.” Naturally, becoming a Java developer is a fantastic career choice if you want to be part of the software revolution.
To be an excellent full-stack Java developer, you need to learn Java and build your expertise in database management, object-oriented programming, and project management. You’ll also need excellent communication and problem-solving skills as Java developers solve technical issues with the rest of their business’s IT department.
So what do you think? Is Java development for you?
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