Most of us have heard the term front-end. However, if you were to explain how it differs from the back-end would you be able to do so without any confusion? Front-end and back-end development are inseparable, one cannot function without the other, yet they aren’t the same thing. In today’s piece, I’m going to focus on what it means to be a modern front-end developer. Let’s begin.
What is front-end development?
When you visit a website or open your favorite app, every element you see, i.e., buttons, animations, images, etc. were created by a front-end developer. They’re responsible for turning lifeless lines of code and website designs into fully functioning products. Their work title gives away what they do in terms of software, as front-end engineers combine the logic and functionality with the front, i.e., the user interface.
What does a front-end developer do?
The work of front-end engineers is multidisciplinary, as they work closely with a number of other team members. Particularly, backend developers, who are responsible for the “backstage” of the site or app, i.e., its server-side application logic, and designers, who provide front-end developers with the designs.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common responsibilities and daily tasks:
Coding the design and website structure (both its functional and aesthetic facets)
Deciding on the technical solutions that will help translate designs into a functional product. For example, when I used to be a Project Manager, I remember one of the front-end engineers working on a heart-throb animation. They’ve received prototypes from the designer and made sure that the interactive element worked exactly as planned
Making sure that the website is responsive, i.e., works well on various device types and screen sizes
Building reusable code components, which make building the front-end faster in the future.
So, next time someone asks you “what does a front-end developer do?”, you’ll have a thorough answer!
What are the necessary front-end developer skills?
What front-end engineers need to be skilled in, comes down to two key factors – the project they’re working on and their seniority level. In the first case, the developer might need to be proficient in, say, Angular, as that’s the framework the company has been using. And when it comes to seniority, you wouldn’t ask a junior and a developer with 10+ years of experience to take the same sample coding test, right?
That being said, here are the most common front-end developer skills you’ll want to tick off your hiring list when screening your candidates.
This section will be a tad technical, but bear with me – I’ll try to explain the exact technologies as simply as possible.
CSS and HTML5 – an absolute must for any front-end developer. And any aspiring junior, too, for that matter! In a nutshell, HTML is the markup language used to display information on websites. It helps serve up static, ‘raw’ information, like text, forms, buttons, etc., without styling. Here’s where CSS takes over, functioning as a language that adds the visual layer to the site’s info. The modern front-end developer must have advanced CSS and HTML5 skills, supplemented by a number of other hard skills that I explain below.
Angular, a framework that operates on the basis of TypeScript
React, a library that lets front-end engineers build interfaces by leveraging UI components
jQuery, another popular JS library that lets developers simplify work on the HTML Document Object Model (known as DOM). As of mid-2022, it’s used on 77% of all websites. So, at least a quarter of website projects will call for this skill.
Git. Git is a popular version control management system used by both front-end and back-end developers. It’s also a total must-have, even for beginners. By using Git, your front-end engineer can keep track of all the versions and changes that have been applied to the code. If need be, they can also use it to reverse any changes they’ve made – for example, to delete a bit of front-end code that has messed up the website or a single feature.
Asynchronous programming. Just like Git, your front-end developer needs to understand how to code asynchronously. So, in layman’s terms, they need to be able to work on different bits of code separately, before merging them into the main code.
Understanding of graphic design concepts & tools. While front-end developers aren’t responsible for the design, per se, they need to be comfortable using tools like Adobe Illustrator, InVision, Sketch, and others. This stems from how the whole software development process is structured. Designers share the prototypes and visual specifications with front-end devs, who then code the screens according to the designs.
Creativity – while front-end developers don’t need the same level of artistry as designers, they still have to be able to think creatively in order to build and deploy websites. To make sure that the end product is visually appealing and in line with UX and UI designers' vision, front-end engineers have to select the best solution. And there usually is more than one option available. This is where front-end development becomes an art.
Adaptability – technologies change fast and new solutions become available. Front-end developers have to stay up to date with all tech novelties, and quickly pick up new ways of working in order to remain relevant. This requires good adaptability skills. If engineers can’t let go of outdated technology, the product they build might eventually be outperformed by more innovative competitors.
Good listeners – front-end engineers aren’t lone wolves, they’re part of a bigger team that includes UX/UI designers, graphic designers, and back-end developers, among others. To bring concepts into life, they have to be good communicators and even better listeners. Part of their job is to collect requirements from clients and fellow team members and ensure they have a deep understanding of user needs and problems.
Being detail-oriented – front-end developers are creators, they’re responsible for how the site or web app looks and feels. And since it directly impacts the user experience, every little detail matters. I bet you witnessed a situation where a designer prepared a project and handed it over to the dev team to code, but the final product ended up looking differently, to say the least. Being detail-focused, allows front-end engineers to build products, which perfectly reflect the designer’s vision.
Job ad example for a front-end engineer
Let’s now take a look at a job ad posted by Meta to get a better understanding of what it takes to become a front-end engineer and what their main responsibilities are. It seems like nearly everything I discussed above is reflected in the Meta ad. To become a front-end developer one needs a good combination of tech-savviness, collaboration skills, and an understanding of product design concepts. They are also responsible for optimizing the performance.
Notice how, at the very bottom, Meta mentions that they prefer candidates who already have a working knowledge of React. This stems from the fact that Meta invented this popular JS library years back. Still, they are open to candidates who are proficient in other libraries. A smart move, given the fight for top talent!
Front-end developer vs back-end developer – key differences
Now that you’ve got a good understanding of front-end developer skills, let’s see how their work overlaps (or entirely differs) from back-end engineers.
Responsibilities in the software team
Front-end developers must understand the steps in the design process and engage in design-related conversations with UI/UX specialists. After all, they are responsible for implementing visual components on the website.
Meanwhile, back-end developers work on the server-side of things, making their interactions with designers much less frequent. They focus on databases, scripting, implementing algorithms, and solving system and website architecture issues.
Front-end engineers implement changes in the visual layer of the website (for example, by fixing bugs reported by users). For this reason, they often check in with design teams to make sure that their work won’t affect the intended design. This is not to say that the work of back-end engineers doesn’t affect the front. It just won’t be that apparent to website visitors. Their work can impact the website’s security, support, and content management system.
Front-end developers wear the accessibility and responsivity badge proudly on their chests. They need to make sure that the website works well for all users, on mobile and desktop. For this reason, they need to safeguard any back-end changes that could affect how data is displayed or drawn for users. For example, how quickly search data appears on screen, how long it takes for data input to be processed, etc.
Frameworks & libraries
The most popular front-end development tools are jQuery, Angular, and React. Meanwhile, the most popular backend development tools are MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQLite (according to StackOverflow).
The average salary of front-end developers in 2021 was $103,981. On the other hand, the average salary of back-end developers was $$118,813 per year.
And speaking of salary, this deserves a deeper look.
Front-end developer salary – how to attract top talent
A front-end developer’s salary will depend on a few factors like their experience and seniority level, the country they’re based in, and the industry they work for.
If we look at the US for example, the average salary for a front-end engineer stands at around $88,672 per year. This excludes an extra payment of $12,698 per year, which accounts for bonuses, commissions, profit sharing, etc. It’s worth pointing out that the United States offers some of the highest rates globally. Interestingly, even within the country, the pay can vary by as much as 40%, depending on the area. For example, it costs two-to-three times more to live in New York than in Boise, Idaho. That’s why if you decide to seek talent in some of the biggest tech hubs in the US, like San Francisco or San Jose, be ready to pay a premium.
Here is how a front-end developer’s salary differs on a per-country basis. The disparity between the US and Ukraine is huge. Bear in mind that a lot of great tech talent is located in Europe, which is significantly cheaper than the United States.
If you’re curious how the front-end developer’s salary varies depending on the company, then here is a quick overview from Glassdoor. Out of all the businesses listed below, eBay seems to be the most generous. It’s important to be aware of the market rates since good tech talent is scarce. If you fail to offer competitive salaries, your developers might start to look for other options.
It takes art and science to become a front-end engineer
Front-end developers are the wizards who turn complicated lines of code into beautiful, fully functional products. It’s a role that not only requires advanced technical skills but also a large dose of creativity and a good sense of aesthetics. No wonder graphic designers become front-end engineers or the other way around.
If you’re looking for the best tech talent then check out MVP Match. Not only will we find you a front-end developer who will perfectly fit your project within 48 hours, but we will also take care of all the paperwork for you. There are no hidden costs, and the longer you work with us, the less it costs you. Give us a shot.