Guide to Becoming a Frontend Developer: Job Skills and Responsibilities
Most of us interact with multiple websites and mobile apps every day. We click buttons, log in and out, and add products to our cart without thinking about who made it all possible.
But every time we interact with a website or app, we enjoy the work of a frontend developer.
That sounds like a fantastic job. But is it worth becoming a frontend developer in 2021? And how do you even get started?
This article tells you what you need to know about what frontend developers do, the skills they need, and how you can get the job.
Are you an employer looking to hire a frontend developer? We cover that too.
What Is a Frontend Developer?
A frontend developer uses code to implement a website or application design.
What Is Frontend Development?
Frontend development is the development of the website’s user interface. Anything that the user can view or interact with (like the layout, images, menus, or login form) is considered the site’s frontend.
The other primary type of web development is backend development. The user doesn’t see a backend developer’s work, but it makes the website possible. The backend of a site includes servers, databases, backend logic, and APIs.
You’ll also hear the term full-stack development. Full-stack developers are generalists who do both frontend and backend development.
What Does a Frontend Developer Do?
A frontend developer builds and maintains the frontend of a website or application. Examples of the parts of a website they work on include:
- Navigation features
- Search box
- Login page
- Social media integration
What Are the Responsibilities of a Frontend Developer?
A frontend developer is responsible for building a website or application that provides an enjoyable user experience. That means it looks good and functions the way it’s supposed to.
Frontend developers usually aren’t responsible for the design of the site. However, they will work closely with UI and UX designers to turn their ideas into reality.
Once the site or app is built, frontend developers are responsible for maintenance, testing, and ongoing developments like feature upgrades.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Frontend Developer?
You’ll need other skills, too, but the same skill set required will vary from job to job.
The list below covers some of the most common skills required for frontend development jobs. Knowing as many as possible will make you the best candidate for a broad range of positions.
HTML and CSS
HTML and CSS go hand-in-hand and are the building blocks of website design.
HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. It defines the structure of a web page. For example, you’ll use HTML to indicate where headers go, where to put a paragraph break, and where to insert an image. All the text and images you’re seeing on this very page are all thanks to HTML.
CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets, and it deals with style. For example, CSS might dictate the background color or font. You can use a single CSS stylesheet to define styles across a site (i.e. multiple pages at once).
A good frontend developer is experienced with HTML and CSS and can quickly understand how to use them together to create a design.
Luckily, HTML and CSS are pretty easy to learn. But truly mastering them can take time.
Once you’ve picked up the basics, you can practice your coding skills by looking at existing websites and trying to clone the layout and features you see.
There are over 83 libraries in existence, each of which has a specific purpose. For example, Chart.js is a library that allows you to create charts and graphs for your website easily.
When you use a library, you’re in charge of the flow of the application. You decide where in your code to call a library component.
With frameworks, you’re plugging your code into the framework. Instead of your code calling the library, the framework calls your code at designated points.
Node.js is often mistakenly called a framework or a programming language, but it’s a runtime environment for frontend and backend development.
Node.js is popular because it makes web development more efficient. It allows programmers to create the frontend and backend of an application using a single programming language.
You might have to use Node.js in your frontend developer job, so it’s a good thing to learn. You can download and install it yourself so that you can practice.
Ajax is about asynchronous development. That means that you can update the web content on a portion of a webpage without reloading the entire page.
A typical example is auto-complete. When you start typing a search query into Google, the search engine will offer you auto-complete options. It can do this without reloading the entire search results page.
Other Programming Languages
CSS also makes use of frameworks. The most important one is Bootstrap.
As a frontend developer, it’s helpful to have at least a basic knowledge of Bootstrap. There are many online courses and tutorials available but don’t dig in until you’ve developed a strong understanding of HTML and CSS.
Content Management Systems (CMS)
A Content Management System is software that helps users create, edit, and manage content on a website without the need for technical skills.
For example, you can type up a blog post and add it to your site without worrying about the HTML and CSS used to display the post.
WordPress is by far the most popular CMS. Others you’ll come across include Drupal, Joomla!, and Ghost.
As a frontend developer, you’ll often work on websites that use a CMS. Working knowledge of these platforms is a marketable skill.
You may also be able to do some work creating new themes for WordPress or other Content Management Systems.
RESTful Services and APIs
An API (Application Programming Interface) allows an application or service to access a resource within another application or service.
For example, a developer might want to integrate weather data into their website. They could use an API that reaches out to a weather service and gets the data.
RESTful APIs are a type of API that conforms to the constraints of the REST (Representational State Transfer) architectural style and allows for connection to RESTful web services.
As a frontend developer, you won’t need to write your APIs for others to call (that’s a backend job), but you should know how to call an API and display it meaningfully on your site.
These days, visitors to a website use a wide variety of browsers and devices.
It’s not enough for a website to look good on a laptop screen when mobile devices account for 54.8% of global website traffic.
Some websites will have separate versions for desktop and mobile versions, but more commonly, you’ll need to build the site to be mobile-responsive.
A responsive website is designed to render well on any device, window, or screen size.
It matters whether a website is mobile-responsive. 45% of consumers will abandon any piece of content displaying poorly on the device they are using.
Since there’s no such thing as a website that doesn’t need to work on mobile anymore, understanding responsive design principles is a non-negotiable skill for a frontend developer.
Responsive design is accomplished through HTML and CSS. It’s not intuitive, but many online courses and resources are available.
Cross-Browser Testing and Development
A website needs to look good and work right on any browser. While Chrome is the most popular browser, developers shouldn’t overlook Safari, Edge, or Firefox.
Part of your job as a frontend developer will be to ensure that your work looks good on any major browser. That means understanding the differences between browsers and testing your designs on them.
You can read up on cross-platform development on popular coding resource sites. You should also practice. When you do projects on your own, please don’t neglect to test them in multiple browsers.
There are also tools available to help you do cross-browser testing. A few that have free versions include:
Version Control Systems
A version control system helps you keep track of changes made to your website’s code. You can use them to revert to an earlier code version if something goes wrong.
That can save a lot of time in case of an error. Instead of finding the problem and manually undoing it, you can roll back the project to an earlier version.
Version control systems are also essential for collaboration. They allow multiple users to work on the same project without conflicting versions.
Git is the most popular version control management system and will be needed for many development jobs, whether frontend, backend, or full-stack. Get started learning by installing Git and creating an account on GitHub.com.
How to Become a Frontend Developer
These days, it’s possible to learn coding on your own using online resources.
40.39% of current web developers took an online coding course, 31.62% learned from online forums, and 59.53% used other online resources like blogs or videos.
To learn web development, check out sites like:
It’s possible to teach yourself code, but that doesn’t mean your formal education doesn’t matter. Many frontend developer jobs prefer or even require that you have a related degree. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to make sure your web development portfolio speaks for itself.
So, how do you create a portfolio if you don’t have work experience?
One way to show off your frontend development skills is to build websites and applications independently. Create a tool related to your interests or see if anyone you know needs development work done.
Are Frontend Developers in Demand?
Becoming a web developer is a great career move. We can expect to see 8% job growth in the next decade. That’s around 13,400 job openings per year — much faster growth than the average profession.
Both frontend and backend developers are in demand, but there are slightly more job openings for frontend developers. On Indeed.com, there are currently 14,600 open frontend developer jobs in the U.S., while 12,300 are available for backend developers.
What’s the Average Frontend Developer Salary?
According to Glassdoor, the average salary for someone with a frontend developer title is $86,088.
That’s not the whole story, though.
Web developer salaries can vary wildly depending on the type of company, the skills needed for the job, your location, and your experience level. You can expect to make a higher salary if you stick with it for years. People with the title senior frontend developer make an average of $107,276.
What to Look for When Hiring a Frontend Developer
Many web developers are out there, but the truly talented ones are hard to find.
When hiring a frontend developer, here’s what to keep in mind.
Every frontend development job is different. Go into the hiring process to understand the exact mix of skills you’re looking for.
That said, web development is a constantly changing field. If you’re going to be working with this developer long-term, their commitment to learning new skills is even more important than their current skill set.
You can test candidates’ technical skills by giving them a short coding test. If they do well, it’s also helpful to assign a small (paid) test project. Use it to evaluate their attention to detail, the creativity of their solutions, and how well they communicate with team members.
In addition to coding skills, a good frontend developer understands the importance of the user experience.
Frontend developers create the elements of a website that users interact with. They aren’t UX designers themselves, but a good frontend developer knows how to make a positive experience for website visitors.
Your frontend developer should also have strong interpersonal skills. They’ll work with other team members and stakeholders and communicate effectively about projects.
Becoming a frontend developer is an excellent career move.
It’s a job you can teach yourself online, the potential salary is high, and there’ll be demand for your abilities for years to come.
Learning frontend development now? Check out these 60 excellent web development tools.
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