What is a Front End Developer?

One of the most common questions people ask when they are first meeting you is “So what do you do?” When it comes to my job as a Front End Developer, this can be a long and drawn out answer. In the end I typically end up answering the question as “I’m a web designer.” In actuality, however, I’m not a web designer, in fact the term web designer can referrer to lots of people, whether they are a UI designer, a front end developer, UX designer, etc.

I got to thinking about this concept of what it is to be a front end developer by listening to the first episode of ShopTalk hosted by Dave Rupert and Chris Coyer with special guest John Snook. They were discussing how one learns to be a front end developer and expanded into a broader discussion of what the title means. They touched on languages like HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and even got into a little about best practices and performance testing.

It just so happened that on the same day, a friend was telling me that the company she works for is looking to get into web, and would like to hire some freelancers. She sent me a job listing she put together ( she’s a film/video editor ), that pretty much summarized everything you see when you go on craigslist. The job listing was asking for someone who could design, code, develop, and maintain sites on an on going basis. I explained to her that the web is a little more complicated than something just one person can handle. I continued to explain that asking for such a person is like asking for a “filmmaker” who can shoot, edit, act, direct, etc a movie by themselves. Sure its possible for one person to create a movie, just like its possible for one person to design, code, and develop a website… It’s just that the result isn’t going to be that great.

Its apparent that there is still a stigma present in our industry that our jobs, front end, design, developer, server administration, etc are all things that “the kid down the street can do” and do cheaply… 8 Gram Gorilla recently posted an article imploring the industry to develop same sort of certificate to separate the casual users from the career driven professionals.

Below is my attempt to summarize what a front end developer is in the form of a job posting.


Front End Developer

Company seeks hard working, motivated, deadline driven individual to develop interactive web sites. Applicants should have multiple years experience writing custom (X)HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Expertise writing semantic, modular front end code using HTML5, CSS3, and W3C coding practices a must. Understanding of the concepts of progressive enhancement, mobile first and future friendly design highly encouraged. Experience with Sass, LESS framework and HTML5 Boilerplate a plus.

Additional requirements include:

  • Familiarity with browser testing and debugging
  • Expertise in performance optimization using tools such as YSlow or PageSpeed
  • Ample experience navigating Photoshop and saving images for the web.
  • Custom Themeing in WordPress, Drupal and/or Magento
  • Basic understanding of PHP
  • Uses of custom written JavaScript
  • Understanding of OOP
  • Contributions to OpenSource projects on GitHub a plus
  • A firm grasp of SEO / SEM best practices

Applicants should write a email cover letter with a link to their portfolio and related work.


So what do you think? Would you add anything else to the list? What do you say when people ask what you do?

posted in: Front End Development
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3 Comments
  1. Pam Selle

    Love it. Only thing is if the additional requirements are in order – is the most important at the top? And open source is two words, my friend. 🙂

    I actually was in an urgent care office and they *needed* to know my position (retrospect: why?). I said “I’m a developer.” Dr. “I don’t know what that means.” Me: “Well, put down that I’m a software engineer.”

    There’s so much in-industry talk about titles, but outside, no one knows what the hell we’re talking about.

  2. Gordon McLachlan

    A great job description that I think pretty aptly sums up the role and requirements of a good front end developer.

    I’m hoping that with time, as the web matures, people will become more aware of what’s involved in good, high quality web work and will stop trying to find a single person who can do everything. Although they exist, like you said, they are likely a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none… or some sort of web savant 😉

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