The Forgotten Front-End: Development Question and Concern

Yesterday I wrote about my struggles learning JavaScript. It has been a journey to say the least. Today I was inspired to write about my personal experience and understanding of the forgotten art of front-end development in a major corporate environment. As a designer who feels fairly proficient in the front-end I feel like this is a skill and job role that is overlooked. This is merely an opinion, and if you feel this not to be true…please, share. However, allow me to bring you into my world for a second and share my thoughts with you.

A Front-End Dev as I Understand It is…

As someone who’s kind of new to development my understanding and knowledge as to what a front-end developer does might be incorrect. As I understand it, someone who is a front-end developer should have a:

  • Proficient understanding of web markup, including HTML5, CSS3
  • Basic understanding of server-side CSS pre-processing platforms, such as LESS and SASS
  • Proficient understanding of client-side scripting and JavaScript frameworks, including jQuery

This is a person often regarded as being someone who has a wide range of talents consisting of technical detail and a broad understanding of user experience and design. This is someone who must be able to translate designs into functional, beautiful, aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly interfaces.

If this is true, how come people with ONLY these skills are highly disregarded in favor of the full-stack developer?

All Devs Are Created Equal Apparently

I often wonder if the people in charge of hiring understand how valuable a true front-end developer can be. I work for a company that places all of their development resources under the title of Software Developer. The job description contains a list of requirements that seem endless. Many of the skills include server-side and database knowledge, but don’t require strong HTML/CSS knowledge. My assumption is that they require it, however they just expect whoever they hire would already have these skills because come on, it’s JUST HTML and CSS…right? Easy peasy.

Designers Required to Code? Not Really

Then there’s the designer job role. Don’t even get me started on that. Everyone is labeled as a “Creative Designer”. Who needs to understand specialties, apparently we all do the same things. The interesting part about this job description is that it DOES require HTML and CSS…it claims that these skills are necessary, however they often don’t allow designers to play in the code. Most designers don’t want to anyway, and that’s understandable. In fact, in spite of the requirement, MOST of the designers hired actually have little to no knowledge of HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

The Problem with ALL of This Is…

With all that being said we now get to the problem. There is a huge disconnect between design and development. Designers love to comp things up, no matter how feasible their beautiful designs might be from a technical standpoint. They might disregard what it takes to actually implement their design. Sometimes this can be good, because operating within constraints all of the time constricts innovation…but, everything doesn’t need an innovative solution. Then there’s the devs. They want to get the product out the door. Does it work? Check…ship it! Does it look nice? Is it a good experience? Does it match the comps that went through usability? Probably not…but hey, close enough, right? WRONG! VERY WRONG!

This is where having a true front-end developer is helpful. I have positioned myself as that within my department to no added personal or financial benefit. When dev teams and design teams don’t speak the same language a true front-end developer can be a mediator to bridge the gap. When your primary developer is concerned with more of the heavy lifting regarding the logic and algorithms a true front-end developer can take on the HTML, CSS, and possibly some of the interaction design work. This helps to ensure that the user-interface isn’t just beautiful on the comps, but is also beautiful on the final product. I believe companies often dismiss the importance of getting the UI and UX right in favor of getting things done fast to have more gold stars to place on their quarterly reviews…and that just simply is not okay. The people who suffer as a result of this are your end-users.

Stuck in the Middle

When a company realizes they have someone who can play both of these parts they will utilize their talents. Rather than hire them as a front-end developer they will keep them in their same role, with the same title. You do development work, but unfortunately your knowledge might not be considered robust enough by their corporate standards to justify placing you on a developer pay scale. If you’re labeled a designer you often get conflicting advice from your superiors. I’ve been told everything from, “you should stop coding and focus on more designerly tasks”, and, “coding is not going to help your career progress”. Even with that being said, when teams ask for a designer with coding skills they always place me on those projects. It truly is baffling and confusing, however, since I don’t plan to do the corporate thing forever it’s okay for me to live in the middle. I could never stop coding and ensuring that what gets shipped is made of the highest quality. If you find yourself in this boat you shouldn’t stop coding either.

Where Does that Leave the Unicorns

I love focusing on the front-end, but since my passion for coding grows by the day, and since my company doesn’t often open front-end developer positions, I’ve been focused on becoming a full-stack developer. I’m actually okay with that because I know this knowledge will serve me better in my career personally and professionally going forward. It is my belief that companies should have dedicated people in this position. This is a role that I feel is often overlooked. Perhaps it’s to save money by having someone who can theoretically do it all. Maybe it’s just seen as a nicety and not a necessity. Whatever the case, if you want every part of your project handled with care then it is important to have people with the necessary skills and attention to detail on both the front-end and the back-end. The product will be better and the pressure on your project delivery teams will be reduced.

Conclusion

It’s ashamed that true front-end development is often overlooked. If you find yourself feeling like I feel then don’t fret, just keep learning until you can snag that full-stack developer job. I still encourage you to remain passionate for the front-end though, that is the part that everyone will see and interact with. Making sure you get that right is important, never lose sight of that.

Do you feel that true front-end development jobs exists, or is someone with only front-end skills valuable when you might be able to get a full-stack dev? I’d be curious to know your thoughts in the comments.

As always, have a blessed day!

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