[Career Talk] Graphic Design to Web Design

Hey Codecademy, I’m a graphic/visual designer and I’ve been learning some HTML and CSS on your site. I’ve had fun so far! I’m considering whether going into a web design or front-end development track is right for me, and if I need “full stack” skills. Everyone is talking about full stack like it’s the thing to do with coding. I’m more interested in the design aspects :art:, though, in building websites and not necessarily making apps or whatever. :iphone:

  • I don’t have any math or computer science background… is that going to hold me back?
  • How important is it to get a degree or certification in this stuff?
  • Can I survive largely on my portfolio and what I can make and less on my (not coding-related) work experience?
  • …how exactly do I make a transition into this sort of thing?

Hey Jane! We’ll break up your questions into a few segments to answer them.

do I need to be full-stack

Full-stack developers are more versatile at work, and they understand how to make the things that a user sees (front-end or client-side) and the things they don’t (back-end or server-side) that combine to make pretty much everything you’ll find on the web. That’s one of the reasons why full-stack is in certain scenarios more valuable to an employer, because you can in one person have the skillset you need to do most jobs, but there are plenty of jobs for people who specialize in one but not both. Here at Codecademy we have multiple front-end engineers and web designers. The more applicable skills you have, naturally the more valuable you are and the more you’re probably going to get paid. That being said, it’s very useful for any front-end developer to know some back-end and vice-versa, but it’s not required. If you don’t like the “making apps or whatever,” don’t feel like you have to in order to get a job in code. If your skills and passions are on the design side of things, and if you don’t like server-side as much… do what you love! Your visual and graphic design background give you a leg up in making websites look beautiful, that is an asset!


getting a degree

This is one that, as you might expect, comes up a lot around here! Degrees are often listed as a requirement for jobs as a filter to make dealing with loads and loads of applicants easier, even when a hiring manager in question would in fact be perfectly fine with hiring someone without a degree for that position. You can sometimes even think of it as outsourcing part of the vetting process - a degree means that A) a college admissions team selected that person B) that person worked hard and smart enough to pass a series of tests. A “better” college or higher degree shows this person passed some stricter vetting and worked longer/smarter. So, if you see a job that says "CS or other programming-focused degree required or some such… keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that you must have that degree to get the job – it’s often more of a shortcut for a hiring manager or HR team to slim down their applicant pool rather than a quote-unquote “real” requirement. This isn’t to say degrees aren’t valuable, or that all job openings that “require degrees” don’t actually require degrees (you can’t be a doctor without a MD!) but if you think about what a degree represents, are there other ways to show that you have something similar?

The problem then is in A) getting someone to take a serious look at your application without a degree B) competing with other people who may have a degree. That being said, it’s always a task to get your application looked at, and it’s always a task to get a job vs. other people who have arguably “more qualifications” than you. For those, things like having a warm intro from a mutual connection helps with the former, and your interviewing skills + portfolio + other unique qualities about you help with the latter.

Oh and Jane take a look at this article too. Salient point there:

“…People who weren’t applying believed they needed the qualifications not to do the job well, but to be hired in the first place. They thought that the required qualifications were…well, required qualifications. They didn’t see the hiring process as one where advocacy, relationships, or a creative approach to framing one’s expertise could overcome not having the skills and experiences outlined in the job qualifications. What held them back from applying was not a mistaken perception about themselves, but a mistaken perception about the hiring process.”


“When it comes to applying for jobs… of course, it can’t hurt to believe more in ourselves. But in this case, it’s more important that we believe less in what appear to be the rules.”

When you see a job description and you think you can do that job (and do it well), apply for it!


If you keep pumping out great projects, it almost gets difficult to avoid getting a job offer someday.

  • Keep your LinkedIn up to date and fleshed out - recruiters often use this to find talent
  • Make your own personal / portfolio website for you to showcase all your work, including your graphic design as well as obviously your code work
  • This site should itself be some of your best work in design & code
  • Throw in a good about me section that includes some of the greatest hits from your résumé
  • Link to this site everywhere (as in on your LinkedIn, in your Twitter bio, etc.)
  • Keep putting content out on GitHub
  • See if at your current job you can get involved in some more digital or web projects - it can often be easier to start making this transition at a place where they already know and trust you and your work
  • Consider freelancing in order to build up a portfolio not just of what you can do but a background of how well you work with others on web projects

With regards pro bono work, I wouldn’t generally recommend it. It’s like, charge less maybe, but without the carrot/stick of cash, lots of those early projects fail and hurt the ability to grow. When I was starting out and charging $600 for a banner… it was peanuts, but it meant something to me, the semi-unemployed junior dev. So getting approvals for work was like the thing. It helped me learn to invoice, work with clients, the whole thing. All that ensured I stuck with it through hard problems.

You can / should also reach out to recruitment agencies / firms, go to meetups and conferences.

Check out this thread for some more info.


hi i’m kyle, i come from a design background and focus on front-end work here at codecademy! i’d say being a full stack developer is the thing to do because it means you’re versatile. it will take dedication to pick up all the skills you need to build an entire web application, and demonstrating an ability to do so in your portfolio is typically all you need to get a job as a full stack developer.

being a designer with some coding skills makes you versatile too. developers love the help if you can code up some styles or interactions well enough to save them time. i’d say keep exploring HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and if you feel excited by what you’re learning, don’t stop! stick with what you like, and you’ll do great work.


Hey Jane, I’m Brian, I run hiring and recruiting at Codecademy, so I can speak from experience in what I need to see in order to give someone an engineering job offer. :slight_smile:

Historically, getting a bachelors demonstrated a certain pedigree that employers found important. Today, especially in the engineering world, that is no longer true. While being college educated helps add legitimacy to a resume, it is no longer a pre-requisite to get an interview or get hired. Individuals like Mark Zuckerburg and Steve Jobs have proven that if you possess the grit and determination to succeed, you can do so without completing a university degree.


Another thing to consider is that for international students, a computing degree is essential if you’re hoping to get an H-1B visa to come and work in the US.

You do have the option of using “equivalent experience” in lieu of a degree (3 years experience = 1 college year), but the general opinion is that it’s almost impossible to get your application past immigration officials without a degree.

Obviously, in the current climate, visa rules continue to change, so it’s just something to bear in mind, rather than be a complete deal-breaker when deciding to whether or not to pursue a degree.