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I am an immigrant software developer in Canada and I have just started to look for jobs. Things are very, very different from back home and one of the many questions popping in my head is:

I have developed a couple of websites from ready-made templates (with the client's acknowledge); to be more specific, I usually paid for HTML templates from those many marketplaces and adjusted them to the client's need by inserting and removing components, changing style sheets, selecting stock photos, etc. In some of them, that was everything; in some other cases, I needed to add/change some functionality using JavaScript/jQuery, PHP, Java EE, etc.

Finally: could I say that I have "developed" those websites on my resume?

I am afraid that by saying so and putting some URLs in my resume I will led to the expectation of a good "graphic designer", which I am not. I am just a software developer with a sense of design good enough to not ruin designers' work. Ideally I would be very descriptive about what was done in each website, but I do not have enough real estate in my one-page resume and those websites were not my most important work so I don't feel like I should do a portfolio.

Your advice is very much appreciated!

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If you don't feel like you "developed" websites, then you already know that putting it on your resume is overselling the work you did.

So, instead of exposing an opportunity for a future interviewer to discover a weakness, find a way to put the work you did (which is very important!) in the best possible light without misrepresenting it into something that might harm your prospects.

How about, "improved websites by modifying existing work to meet new customer needs"? I'm sure your can improve upon that sentence, and if you have some way of quantifying it in numbers, even better, like so "Added five new features to an existing website, improving traffic 20%".

But again, if you didn't collect the numbers, don't make them up. Someone will ask, "What were these features?" Or, "how do you know your features improved the traffic?" After all, the interviewer's job is to ask questions about you so they can decide if you are a good fit, and they mostly know you by the resume you gave them. You should be prepared to answer any obvious question on any point you put on the resume.

  • Once an interviewer figures out you haven't done something that your resume states you have, they will then wonder if the other parts of the resume are false too. And, if you do land the job, and then they find out you don't have the skills you implied you had, you just gave your new boss and company that awful feeling of having been tricked. They'll repay you for tricking them, and it won't be pretty. Besides, there is plenty of work to be done for people who improve upon existing works. Nearly every website that exists could use some improvement! – Edwin Buck May 7 '16 at 4:57
  • Thank you very much for your answer, @Edwin. I just want to clarify that the question is not "could I trick them or not?" but more "what is 'developing' a website?" I see many job posts for "Web Developer"s in which one of the requirements is to know how to make HTML based on PSDs, which means that this "Web Developer" does not do the graphical design part. Does this disqualify him as developer? It seems like a very blurred line, you know? – voll May 7 '16 at 6:03
  • @voll I didn't get the impression you were out to trick someone. What I hoped to do was to make it clear that even if you didn't try to trick someone, as long as that someone feels tricked, they will still treat you as if you intended to trick them. By being more specific about what you did, you avoid the likelihood of confusion. Done well, you can also sell the skill of improving existing stuff, which is more valuable to established businesses. – Edwin Buck May 7 '16 at 6:06
  • @voll I wouldn't get hung up on the phrase "developing a website" as it means different things to different people. To a business manager, it means paying people and coordinating deadlines. To a graphics designer it means picking color pallets and standards for icons, text, and layout. To a programmer it means HTML layout and server side handling. In short, it is a phrase which means too many things, so it doesn't express much information. Yes, we like the word "develop" instead of "improved", "worked on", "planned", "created", etc. but sometimes the simple words say more. – Edwin Buck May 7 '16 at 6:09
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I see no problem with the saying you "developed" these websites.

Because, frankly, you did develop them. Good developers rely on existing tools and products where available, rather than reinventing everything. And from your description, your contribution to these sites was significant, as you did more than just slap some content in a ready-made template, but modified and extended things to meet the client's needs.

Furthermore, "web development" doesn't necessarily imply that you did the graphic design. These are often two distinct roles.

Finally, it is common in the field for people to do exactly what you did and call it web development. So, I don't think there is any risk of this being perceived as misleading.

However, make sure you are clear about what you did.

I assume you used Wordpress or similar. If so, state that, and also state that you adapted existing templates. I would probably have this in a general section that highlights your web development skills and experience. The list of websites you have developed will then be interpreted in light of this.

Besides making it clear that you built on existing content, this is also a chance to highlight the positive things you did. "add[ing]/[changing] some functionality using JavaScript/jQuery, PHP, Java EE, etc." goes beyond what many people in CMS-based web development do, so you want to make sure these things are higlighted.

  • I do this as well. If I get an interview, I explicitly state that I started with a template, then expand on what I changed or features I added on the client side (javascript), and how I implemented the back end. – silencedmessage May 9 '16 at 14:01

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