What's should a self-taught web programmer do to end up doing it as a career?

Or, if I was to decide I’d had enough of the job I’m in, and had by that time acquired a fairly decent competency in a handful of the most commonly used web technologies, what would you recommend I do next?

At the moment I am fairly content in my Job. I get paid fairly well. I get to use my web programming some of the time (it’s not my main job function). But I have almost zero respect for my employers which has led me to spend my time at work learning web programming (and design) technologies so that when the time comes I have some skills to advertise to prospective employers/customers.

I feel I don’t get enough practice though. I tend to be motiviated to do something if the thing has a definite reason to exist. In other words I find it very hard to do something just for the sake of doing it. I’ve worked on my php gallery for instance, but I fully understand that there’s not much point in its existence unless I can make it into something MUCH bigger (and then the problem reverses itself - It becomes too much for one person who has a job and other commitments) so I tend to work on it in short bursts and not very often.

As an also web programmer, what kind of things have you got yourself involved in in order to keep your hand in, as it were? And what advice do you have for me or someone in my position?

I’ve changed careers a few times and in one incarnation was a programmer/analyst. I have no idea what the market is currently like but you can probably get an idea from the relative number of job listings for the type of job you would want.

I got my first programming job via temp work, but I knew people who had spent thousands of dollars at vo-tech type schools who had trouble finding entry level work. Practical experience rules and is, I believe, what employers look for.

However the one thing I learned is that no matter how much you love doing something, the real world will find a way to make you hate it. I loved coding. But a big part of that was that I started out in places where you had a lot of old school programmers who really into the technical stuff. Lots of ex-military. But as I moved around to different jobs either as a consultant or employee, I found that most people were in the field for the money and had no interest in nuts and bolts beyond what was necessary to do their jobs.

My point though is that there are any number of duties you would have doing something like web design full-time as an occupation that you don’t have to deal with now. Maybe you will enjoy some but others you probably will hate. For example, most programmers don’t like dealing with users because they never get solid specs from them. It’s always hit and miss. You code something that matches what you believe they said they want only to find out that you completely missed the mark.

Another annoyance is dealing with shit code from other programmers. You can spend weeks going through someone else’s crap trying to find some method to their apparent madness.

Then there’s the question of scale. Do you want to do this for small businesses and be a one-man shop (apparently not from your post) or do you want to be part of a larger organization in a job with a defined scope. Those are completely different animals in terms of the kind of temperament that you would need.

I would join a couple forums that deal mainly with web design and spend a lot of time lurking to get a feel for the types of things that they have to deal with. If you come away still thinking that it looks like something you want to do, then great. If not, then you might have saved yourself a lot of regret.

I worked 15 years as an IT teacher and loved coding. After a career change I became a software architect for NSN. Nice job, but it sort of killed my hobby. My advice is that you use your spare time in something else. Some day this something may become your work. But if you insist on coding, maybe mobile programming. Smaller screen is a challenge.

Tell me where you work and to whom I should send my CV.

I wish I were kidding.

I was a video game programmer for almost a decade before realising that I hated it. I kept telling myself: “This is a job that lots of people want to do. The problem can’t be the job…”.
I still do game dev as a hobby but it’s a different world doing it professionally.
To the OP, I think there’s never been a better time for self-taught developers to enter the industry. For web developers, I would put a link to a webpage front and centre of your resume. On the webpage, have an interactive version of your resume, showcasing some scripting, style sheets, how you might design a shopping interface etc (ok, web programming isn’t exactly my specialist subject)

If you’re wanting to find something in PHP or another backend language (I say backend as opposed to HTML/CSS/Javascript which figure into frontend visuals) you need to have examples of your work. The apps don’t need to be pretty (leaving default browser styles is okay) but you need to have some solid examples that show you can program. I’m a frontend monkey so I don’t get to look at resumes or anything, but the people who do here say that if you don’t have any programming examples that a person can look at it’s hard to assess you and more likely to get you passed over. Even better if you submit the code itself as well. Yes, people submit resumes without any examples of their work. And yes, if you have done limited stuff at your current place of employment, a link to the page and a description of what you did on it is awesome.

What do you consider web programming? Do you do Java, Perl, something else? Scripting? just HTML? Web Transactions?

Not to imply you don’t know your stuff, but I have a MS in Electronic Commerce and I have found most self taught web programmers are extremely limited and when I hire someone I need a well rounded programmer that uses techniques, processes, and documentation that I assign. This includes a well defined requirements phase and a good analytical Design process.

It’s hard because I used to be able to make a nice, and I mean NICE bit of change doing small time websites. But now-a-days it’s not the same. First of all Facebook and other social sites make it so people don’t want their own sites, they want to be part of something bigger.

People now want interactivity and a LOT of it on their sites. This is very time consuming. You will need others to help you. You can’t code one site and then if your other customer wants his looked at, pass him over. So you’re going to have to have someone else to back you up.

The BEST way to do this is Craigslist. Make an example site of what you can do. Think SMALL. You want to go after business with NO Internet presence and convince them into making a small website.

The more interactive your site is the harder it will be for you in the long run if you go it alone.

So create an example site, think small, get a google voice number and put an ad on Craigslist. See what kind of response you get and what people want from you.

Craigslist is your best option, experiment around with different ads and see what the market is for your local area.

Network. Network. Network.

I have been in your exact same position many years ago.
Decide what you want and go for it, be it web coder, web designer, web developer, database administrator, server administrator, or whatever.
Make sure you notice the distinctions between all of the above and decide which arena is your core skill set. The boundaries are dynamic and what one does as a coder, or designer, or developer can always translate to other areas which may or may not be worth your time.

But I digress…
Take every opportunity to express your desire. If you have the “right-stuff”, you can learn what you don’t know at that point in time.
IT work is a continually learning experience and if you have the grasps on the basics you will do fine.

I have always said during interviews and/or casual conversations: “No, I am not conversant with that particular technical aspect/program/code/whatever, but I can be in three days. Because this is what I do and I love it.”

Oh yes, that reminder once again.
Network. Network. Network.

That goes for any kind of job search be it janitor, or CEO.

Just my two cents. Best wishes, and go for it!