Have you ever wondered who is responsible for the design of the websites you use every day? Who was behind the design of Facebook? Who decided this site should have a footer? Behind every website is a front end developer who builds the part of a website that a user sees.
Whereas web designers are more concerned with designing a site, a front end web developer will turn those designs from sketches into a functional website.
In this article, we’re going to dive deep into the front end web development career path. We’ll talk about job responsibilities, the skills you need to know, and how to become a front end web developer. We’ll also look at the job prospects for this type of web developer.
What Is Front End Development?
Front end web developers are responsible for the part of a website that the user sees. This is called the front end, or the client-side. The front end covers everything from text and images to menus and navigation bars.
The main responsibility of a front end web developer is to create a functional user experience. Users should be able to easily navigate through a site and accomplish their goals. Users should not encounter any errors or inconsistencies as they use a site.
Front End vs Backend vs Full Stack Developer
Front end, backend, and full stack are all different fields in web development, and developers employed in each of these disciplines have unique responsibilities.
Backend web developers are more concerned with the part of a website that a user does not see: the brains behind the operation.
This may include writing the code that processes payments on a site or writing the code that decides what content a user should see when they load a page. To accomplish this goal, they’ll use programming languages like Python, Ruby, and PHP to build an application.
Full stack developers are what you would call a “jack of all trades” developer, or a generalist. They have experience with both the front end and backend of a website.
Front End Engineer vs Developer
The terms “front end engineer” and “front end developer” are often used interchangeably. While their responsibilities are similar, there are a few subtle differences between these coders.
Front end engineers are more involved with the reasoning for the front end of a site. They’ll spend most of their time analyzing the architecture of a site and figuring out, with help from other developers and designers, how a website should be implemented.
Front end developers, on the other hand, are responsible for writing front end code. Their code should be maintainable and perform well at scale. Front end developers need to understand the design principles behind a site, but they don’t spend as much time analyzing them. Instead, front end web developers turn design mockups into code.
Front End Web Development Skills
There is a range of skills that you’ll need to be a successful front end web developer. The exact skills that you’ll need will depend on where you work and what projects you’re working on.
Below, we’ll break down a few of the top skills that come up in job descriptions for front end web developers.
HyperText Markup Language, or HTML, is used to describe a structure of a webpage. HTML lets you specify where text, images, and other pieces of content go on a website.
Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS, describes how elements should appear on a web page. CSS lets you define styles like the color of elements on a page, their position, and how text should appear on a website.
Using jQuery, you can easily manipulate CSS on a web page, change HTML elements, add effects and animations to a site, and stream data to a web page using AJAX.
Version Control Systems (VCS) are used to manage changes to a software project. Examples of these systems include Git and Mercurial.
VCS systems are important because they let developers see how a project has evolved. Every change made to each file in a project is tracked. Alongside each record of a file change is who made the change to a file and when it was made.
Having this record means that it’s easy to see how a project appeared at a particular point in history. It also makes reverting a project to a previous version easy if you make a mistake.
Front End Frameworks
React, for example, makes it easy to build an interactive web application. React has features that allow you to render the right parts of a web page when data changes on a website. React also lets you split your project into components so that you can reduce repetition in your codebase.
Using React can trim hours or longer away from a project because it is ready to use out-of-the-box and provides a range of features you may use throughout the development of an application.
Web Design: User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX)
Front end developers do not need to be web design experts. Web design is its own field. With that said, having a strong knowledge of web design is key. The two core parts of web design are User Interface (UI) design and User Experience (UX) design.
User Interface design refers to creating the look of a web page. A user interface designer will decide where elements such as buttons, text, and images appear on a website.
User Experience design, on the other hand, is concerned with the whole experience a user has on a website. UX designers analyze and research a product to determine any points at which users may be confused. They’ll then figure out how these problems can be addressed so that users have a seamless experience when they use a website.
Nowadays, people use mobile phones, tablets, and monitors in a range of sizes to view a website. This is where responsive design comes in. Responsive design is concerned with building a website that renders effectively on a range of different devices.
This involves understanding the different types of devices on which a user can view a site and designing and developing unique experiences for people on those devices. After all, showing the desktop version of a site on a mobile device may work but it’s not exactly elegant.
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are used in a range of contexts in web development.
Often, backend developers create APIs which power the logic of a site, such as user authentication and payments. Front end developers must then query these APIs so that they can interact with them.
APIs also let you interact with external services. For instance, the Google Sheets API lets you retrieve data from Google Sheets that you can use on your own website. This means you can build integrations on top of an existing website.
As a front end web developer, you’ll probably use APIs on a day-to-day basis as a way to access data that you will display on the front end.
No matter what type of coder you are, you need to have some debugging skills. After all, no developer writes perfect code every time. There are almost always mistakes that need to be corrected before a site is launched.
You’ll need to know how to break down a front end problem into different parts and solve the problem effectively. You should be capable of thinking critically about problems, testing potential solutions, and evaluating the effectiveness of the solutions that you create. You should then be capable of choosing the best solution to a problem.
You’ll need more than just technical skills to be a successful front end web developer; soft skills are an essential part of any job.
As a front end developer, you’ll need to be creative and adaptable. Websites are one of the most creative mediums of communication. You should be able to come up with unique ways to display information on a site. What’s more, you should be willing to listen to others’ suggestions and adapt your websites as trends and specifications evolve.
You’ll also need to be a good communicator. You should know how to explain complex technical topics in terms that people without programming experience will understand. This is because not everyone with whom you’ll work will know how to code. You should also be able to keep people up-to-date on your progress so other developers can see how a project is doing.
Good front end web developers are also good at working in teams. This goes hand-in-hand with being a good communicator. While you may spend a lot of your days writing code, you’ll need to work with other front end developers to build a project.
You’ll also need to talk with back end web developers to figure out how to integrate their work into yours, and you’ll need to work with designers who will tell you how a page should appear. That’s not to mention all the other people with whom you may interact, from project managers to quality assurance engineers to customers.
How to Become a Front End Developer
How do you become a front end web developer? That’s an excellent question. If you enjoy solving technical problems and have a creative mindset, front end web development is an excellent career path to pursue.
Below, we’ll break down a few steps you can take to start your journey to become a front end web developer.
Step 1: Start with Books and Online Courses
A good place to start learning front end web development is from books and online courses.
There are thousands of online courses out there that teach web development. Many of these courses are immersive, which means not only will you spend your time watching videos, but you’ll have projects to work on. These courses are great because you’ll be able to “build as you learn.” This will help you reinforce the knowledge that you learn.
While books are not for everyone, there is a massive selection of books from which you can choose. Books are great if you want to delve deep into a particular area of web development. For instance, some books are written for beginners who have no coding experience; other books dive deep into topics like accessible web design.
Step 2: Attend a Training Program
In the software industry, training programs have been optional for a while. With that said, going to a formal education program can help you beef up your skills and learn about best industry practices that you may use in your work.
Some coders opt to attend college to study computer science. This will give you a well-rounded look at a range of different areas in computing, from how computers work to what algorithms software engineers use in their work. The downside of college is that college courses are not career-oriented: they are mainly focused on theory.
Other coders decide to attend coding bootcamps. These are training programs that typically last under a year and prepare you to become a programmer. A front end web development program will teach you all the industry-relevant skills you need. What’s more, you’ll probably receive some job assistance to help you bridge the gap between training and employment.
Step 3: Build Projects
There is no better way to refine your skills than to build projects. As you start to learn new technical concepts, ask yourself: What can I build with these ideas?
If you’ve just learned about layout design, you may want to challenge yourself to create a blog; if you’re learning about accessibility, you could try to optimize one of your first projects to make it more accessible.
Projects are a valuable investment of your time because they encourage you to think about technical concepts more broadly. Whereas classroom environments focus specifically on how each topic works, projects force you to figure out how to apply those skills.
Step 4: Create a Portfolio
Once you have worked on a few projects, you’re ready to build a portfolio.
While technical resumes are an important part of the job search, portfolios offer something that resumes do not—the ability to show your skills in action, rather than to just tell an employer about them.
When you finish a project, add it to your portfolio. This could be a website, a GitHub profile, or a PDF with all of your projects. In fact, you could even code your own website using your front end web development skills.
As you learn new skills, update your portfolio. This is important because it means that when you are ready to start your job search employers will be able to see an accurate reflection of the skills that you currently possess.
Step 5: Start the Job Search
After you have built your skills, you’re ready to start the job search!
The best place to start is by asking friends, family members, and other coders if they know of any opportunities. This is valuable because you’ll have an entry-point into those jobs. Someone will be able to provide a personal reference that goes a long way in the software industry.
You can also use sites like Indeed, Glassdoor, and AngelList to scout out jobs. This approach can help you identify jobs that are not within your network for which you may be qualified. What’s more, these sites require that employers post extensive job descriptions so you’ll have no trouble evaluating the opportunities that you find.
Tapping into your network and using job search sites are only a few of the many techniques job seekers use. Some developers participate in developer communities where job opportunities are posted; other developers attend events like online hackathons, which are a great way to meet new people who may be hiring.
Front End Developer Salaries and Job Outlook
Front end web developers, like most programmers, earn impressive salaries. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a front end web developer in the United States is $76,929 per year.
The salary that you can expect to earn will depend on several factors, like the place in which you work and your seniority. Senior front end developers, for instance, earn $103,344 on average per year, which is significantly more than the average front end web developer.
What’s more, the average front end web developer in San Francisco earns $112,171 per year, whereas the average developer in Indianapolis earns $62,958. Even after adjusting for cost-of-living, it’s clear there are significant differences depending on where you work.
Front end web developers enjoy impressive job prospects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in web development are expected to grow by 13 percent by 2028. This growth is reportedly “much faster than average,” according to the Bureau.
This growth is expected due to the increasing presence of Internet technologies in our lives and in business. The BLS does not break down their statistics specifically for front end web developers but the overall trend is clear—front end web development will be a lucrative career for many years to come.
Should You Become a Front End Web Developer?
Should you become a front end web developer? That’s up to you.
Front end web developers spend their days translating designs into code. They’ll get to know the inner-workings behind why a site is designed in a particular way. They’ll then use this knowledge to build a functional and aesthetically pleasing experience.
For developers who enjoy creative work, front end web development could be an excellent career. Not only will you be coding other people’s designs but you’ll also be given some say in the overall creative direction of a website.
If you are more interested in the “brains” behind a website, then backend or full stack web development may be for you. Whatever you choose, one thing is for sure—careers in web development all afford lucrative salaries, great career prospects, and unique responsibilities.