Why I don't want to be a front-end web developer
Jun 25, 2015 · 5 minute read
As a front-end developer, you portray yourself as having a narrow set of skills. This probably isn’t the case. I did a quick search on a popular job forum for front-end developer jobs, and there is a clear recurring theme as to what skills are required to be a mid-level/senior front-end developer;
- (X)HTML (5), CSS, SASS/SCSS, LESS.
- Backbone, Angular, Knockout.
- Responsive web design (I’m assuming Bootstrap knowledge, Foundation etc).
- Adobe Photoshop, Magento.
- Knowledge of source control and some form of client side unit testing.
My perception of these skills;
- HTML has remained relatively unchanged since it was invented in 1990. If you don’t agree, just take a look at the source code for the first web page. HTML is easy, whatever the flavour. That’s actually is greatest strength, no barrier to entry for new developers.
- CSS is easy to learn, impossible to be great at. Thankfully tools such as SASS/SCSS and LESS are eliminating the pain. A web developer of any skill level and experience can learn to use these CSS pre-processors in 60 minutes or less. They’re simple. They just work.
- If you’re good at responsive web design, this is a valuable skill. Thankfully, if, like me, you’re not strong with design… front-end frameworks, such as Bootstrap and Foundation, help most developers sweep this skill gap under the rug.
- Photoshop is in a world of its own. Its ridiculous level of complexity is only matched by its mind boggling feature set. Kudos if you can even get it to install and run.
- Source control. All you need to know; git push and git pull.
Portraying yourself as a front-end developer might make sense in the short term. Developers in general at the minute are in high demand. In the UK especially there is a clear skills shortage, so presenting the image of being an expert or specialist in this field might help you land a lucrative role. Rather than pitching as a front-end developer, however, I see more value in pitching yourself as a front-end developer with extenstive full-stack experience. That way you’re still ticking the boxes on the potential employers checklist, whilst making clear that your skill set goes much deeper.
I’ve found through experience that generally technical people fall in to one of two categories. I agree that this is not true in all cases.
- You are either a logical thinker aand prefer to write code
- You understand how to make things look beautiful.
Typically you don’t get too many coders with excellent design skills and vice versa. Speaking personally, I’m a strong coder and always have been. I can scrape by when it comes to design, usually be utilising frameworks such as Bootstrap or Foundation, but I don’t excel at this. There is a perception that front-end developers are good coders and good at design (take a look at the aforementioned job advertisement skill list, specifically the mention about Adobe Photoshop knowledge). Employers are hiring front-end guys and expecting them to be good at writing code and designing pretty websites. I think this is a mistake and the roles should be seperate. I don’t want to be a front-end developer because I’m not a strong enough designer, and don’t claim to be. Employers have unrealistic expectations about what they will get from a front-end developer.
Its true. Developer vs Front-end Developer £10k difference. That’s quite a gap. And that’s just one example. I don’t want to be a front-end web developer because I want to reach my full earnings potential.
I don’t want to be a front-end developer because I don’t want to undersell myself, because I want to reach my full earnings potential, and because I don’t want to half kill myself trying to keep up with industry trend setters.
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About the author
I am Jon Preece, an experienced full stack website and software developer from Warrington (UK) currently working in and around Manchester (UK).
Throughout my 10+ year professional career I have worked in many sectors, including; e-commerce, financial services, marketing, healthcare, travel and accountancy. Get in touch via Twitter.