Why I don’t want to be a front-end web developer

The job title isn’t representative of my skill set

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.

These are, of course, tongue-in-cheek observations. What I’m trying to say is that a full-stack developer can be strong in all of these areas with minimal exposure and experience. These are not specialist skills. This generalisation I think applies to JavaScript development too. After 3 months of constant exposure to AngularJS, for example, you should have a good (if high level) understanding of how it works, how to use it, when to use it, and most importantly, when not to use it.

I don’t want to be a front-end developer because I have broader range of skills and I don’t want to undersell myself.

From a consultants perspective

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.

Front end development is moving too fast

Sorry but it is. It feels like every day there is some new shiney JavaScript framework or “must have” tool that I “must have” (although if I really “must have” it is often debatable). The web is becoming more and more mature as a platform and I see this trend continuing, but we’re still some way away from being there. Yesterday all the cool kids were using PHP, then ASP .NET MVC, then AngularJS/KnockoutJS/WhateverJS. Tomorrow, ReactJS will (probably) be the framework of choice (or perhaps Aurelia will emerge as a viable competitor).

There is also and endless list of web development tools; Visual Studio, Code, Sublime, Webstorm, Dreamweaver (joking, who uses that?!), Eclipse, Netbeans, arguably Notepad++, VIM, EMACS … and infinitely more.

The net result is that I’ve spent literally hundreds of man hours learning FrameworkX (and probably a decent amount of money too) just for it to be superseeded or even die a painful death literally overnight. (Silverlight…remember that?, AngularJS 1.x according to many). It often feels like despite my best efforts, and regardless of how many hours of effort I put into my own education, my skill level is actually declining.

The pace needs to slow down and things need to stabilise before I can even consider specialising as a front-end developer.

I don’t want to be a front-end developer because I can’t (and don’t want to) half kill myself trying to keep up with the trend setters.

Front-end developers are probably not designers

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.

  1. You are either a logical thinker aand prefer to write code
  2. 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.

Front-end developers earn less money

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.

Summary

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.

Agree or disagree… leave a comment.

23 Comments

  • Matthew Felgate

    June 26, 2015

    I share your frustrations!

    Reply
  • Eric Wooley

    June 26, 2015

    There are also a lot of skills associated with being a developer, that you aren’t expected to have as a front end developer, for example: advanced data structures, algorithm analysis, databasing, unit testing (luckily that is starting to change), Object oriented design principles, etc..

    Company X might want some of these and company Y might want others, but no one really expects a front end dev to be familiar with all of them, often times it doesn’t care if they know any of them.

    I do think that this will change in the future, front end devs are going to need CS degrees before long, especially as more and more gets pushed to the front end.

    I also think that front end devs are going to become just developers as things like ASM.js, Web Assembly, NW and cordova become more mature. Making GUI’s without a DOM is a pain, being able to make nativish apps that are cross platform, and easy to develop, will overcome most of the traditional GUI frameworks that are available today.

    Reply
  • Jose Gonzalez

    June 26, 2015

    I understand your pain. I started with ASP.NET Webforms *shutters* but I do full stack (in my day, this was considered a regular developer).

    “Employers are hiring front-end guys and expecting them to be good at writing code and designing pretty websites.”

    This has always been my battle. People see my HTML/CSS knowledge, and they think I can do Photoshop, and pretty things up. No, I’m a coder. I like coding more than pretty things up. Wasn’t there a job called a web designer? When did the line blurred between a web developer (aka coder) and a web designer?

    Reply
  • Vishal Parikh

    June 28, 2015

    whether fornt end or backend its mater of skill,interest and logic both front and backend you requires skills and logic.if you are working cms devlopement backend is almost ready like in wordpress but in many cases you have to develop things from scratch like plugin or some backend features.

    Reply
  • Talon

    June 30, 2015

    Git gud.

    Reply
  • Senju Chidori

    December 9, 2015

    I feel ur pain bro, If I wanna shout out..

    I’d say HEY WEB DEVELOPERS STOP, OR JUST STOP CREATING ALOT OF FRAMEWORKS…, why cuz ur all making us developers go LAZY and a waste of time, why COmpanies r getting millions and we front end guys are getting paid LOW…

    Big duds building frameworks building a name for themselves and guys like me still learning there frameworks can’t keep up.. what the shit…. should I have to learn that framework were i can do front end natively… with my eyes closed.. 😀

    my advice bro, good choice don’t become like me getting beating up wasted. any ways for front end be strong at JS just JS NATIVE JS fuck frameworks those are just for fast pace for company uses inorder to get there sales up. we the poor guys should be wise on the trends dont get to affected..

    focus on back end coding

    The word FRONT END and BACK END should disappear and the reamining should be called CODERS.. those who Agree.. Smile.. hahahaha

    Reply
    • jmackhh

      January 15, 2016

      This is some major old school thinking. As developers its our responsibility to be constantly learning, researching and building. If you’re involved in the community (which you should be if youre a developer) then youre aware of the latest and greatest at all times. If you feel like you don’t want to do that, then you shouldnt be a developer.

      Back end coding is still very relevant, but in 2016 our mobile devices have the computing power of what most servers did 5 years ago. Our laptops and desktops have 2 to 3 times that.

      It’s time to grow up and shift some of that computing power off to the client.

      If you are against front-end development or trying to be a road block for it within your company, then you are stuck in your ways and you need to re-think your career choice because off loading some of that computing power to the end users is where the future is taking us, and you have no control over that.

      Reply
      • dorian

        May 22, 2017

        actually you are wrong, i used to do component level repairs of mobile phones and tablets etc, however today you will find up and down the high street, rookies not doing repairs just replacing modules in the phone or tablet i.e. lcd, touchscreen, charging block unit, speaker etc, thus what was once an art form.learn JavaScript not frameworks.

        Reply
  • Rebecca Berry

    January 27, 2016

    Well HTML/CSS and JavaScript are really the only core technologies. Other commonly used frameworks and libraries are based on those technologies and can be easily picked up as long as you’ve mastered the core “holy trinity”. Companies will likely test only that before hiring you, like this HTML/CSS/JavaScript coding test for example. So that’s what you need to know to be a front-end developer.
    As for the pay gap – that does massively suck.

    Reply
  • Jimmy11

    February 25, 2016

    Become an Android developer and live happy.

    Reply
    • Dox

      December 13, 2016

      lowkey, i was thinking this. I am currently kind of learning front end and android dev…..android dev/java is pretty complex tho.

      Reply
      • Dippy Magoo

        January 9, 2017

        Java is actually a pretty easy language to learn. Give yourself the credit and learn what a powerful language it is and what you can create with it.

        Reply
  • Jimin

    March 10, 2016

    Angular and other similar front-end frameworks are making front-end development a lot more relevant, if not crucial for real-time applications. I don’t see why JavaScript needs would pay less or indicate less qualifications.

    Reply
    • Richard Isom

      May 29, 2016

      I think because JavaScript is one of those “Easy to learn, impossible to master” languages that most people will say they are good at, or feel they could master it before the actual interview.

      AngularJS really changed my perception of the complexity of front-end development.

      Reply
  • Prattle On, Boyo

    June 1, 2016

    So you pick a niche and take it from there – what’s the problem? Uncertainty as to which you would rather be -developer or designer- are certainly very comfortable issues to be experiencing as compared to which should you pay with the limited amt of $$$ you’re getting from unemployment that will run out within 6 months because your job was outsourced to Mexico:
    A) Rent
    B) Cancer Treatments
    C) Food

    Compared to those options, your ‘problem’ with front-end development is miniscule.

    Further, front-end web development is in high demand currently – you can- at this moment- essentially write your own ticket. Quit complaining and focus on what your strengths are rather than finding fault at every step.

    Reply
  • Black Hole Sun

    July 3, 2016

    ‘Sorry but it is. It feels like every day there is some new shiney JavaScript framework or “must have” tool that I “must have”’
    so true… 😀

    Reply
  • Sowmya

    November 25, 2016

    Hi,
    Angular and other alike front-end frameworks are building front-end development a very strong discipline, if not crucial for concurrent applications. I feel JavaScript is one of those simple to learn. Become an Angular developer and live joyful.
    Thanks,
    sowmya,
    AngularJS Developer

    Reply
  • Dippy Magoo

    January 9, 2017

    5 years ago I stopped altogether designing and developing websites. Like it was said above. Employers were always asking too much and expecting too much even after I explained to them what was what. There was a time when I was great at design but those days are long since past me. I got into coding and since there were so many frameworks to chose from I couldn’t keep up. So I almost gave up on being a coder altogether too.

    However, somethings have come full circle for me. While I no longer design website anymore. I have embraced being a code and digital artist. This makes me happy. The best part is the languages that I have learned and I am learning, Java and C++.

    Since narrowing my focus I have been able to make the right career choices and focus my attention on what is in demand and what works. I no longer fall into the hype that everyone keeps falling for.

    Reply
  • Chris

    April 28, 2017

    I would really divide front-end development on two parts: CSS/HTML and JavaScript.

    So the JavaScript is really overloaded with different frameworks. The first major one was jQuery, but since that time we every day can see some startup introduces new frameworks. Nowadays Angular plays the most significant role, but it’s really for rich applications. Most of all websites are still ok with jQuery.

    CSS has also a lot of frameworks, but I guess the Bootstrap is leader. I remember how hard was to implement the design. So you hired developer which coded from scratched and not always that work was clean and well done. Now you just take bootstrap as base and apply your design. Twitter made a HUGE gift to all web-design industry.

    Reply
  • jenny j.foy

    May 15, 2017

    lots of folks are switching from angular to react, you may believe that a huge difference in wiring. On a big codebase, 300-115 PDF switching might be not even going to happen until it surely needs to.

    Reply
  • Rudolf

    July 12, 2017

    The author mentioned some important points and did some intelligent conclusions but in one point I need to deny in strong way. A frontend developer doesnt earn less money than a backend developer, because I have worked as both and sometimes the demand for experienced frontend developer are much higher than backend developer. Why? Because of the point you have mentioned. Frontend technologies changes more frequently so that is more difficult to get a good frontend developer who use current technologies than a learn resistant java developer who code the same way since 10 years.

    Reply
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    August 9, 2017

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  • Jessica Barnes

    August 24, 2017

    Yes! that’s true prediction but you can’t change the industries.

    Reply

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