What is front end development?
Front-end or client-side development is a relatively obscure Internet discipline. Historically, this role has been known under several aliases, htmler, web designer, coder, frontender and so on, but its core functions remain the same while expanding with the progress of the Internet. It is a hinge role that requires both aesthetic sensitivity and programmatic rigor.
To many people, client-side development might be perceived as ‘making things pretty’ and, while it is a valid comment since we do make things look good, as good-looking things sell better, there are many other technologies that fall within this field that might be usually overlooked. -http://www.guardian.co.uk
What is front end developer?
Certainly from the perspective of the user, front end is the most important aspect.
Front-end web developers, the “artists” formerly known as web designers are the bunch of people in the company that make sure that the data coming from the back end gets displayed on the browser. They also make sure it looks as closely as possible as the design, that , CED came up with, and that the user can navigate through it, accessing the data.
Role of front end developer?
Markup - structure of the page is the foundation of websites, essential for search engine optimization, vital to place the document with the right hooks for the classes and the ids that will provide the style and the interaction that the reader will ultimately use.
Style - Css, cascading style sheets, a core functionality of front-end development, the styles that lay out the page and give it both its unique visual flair and a clear, user-friendly view to allow readers, who never linger on pages we would like to think they do, some help to read or skim the contents quickly. Design means both how something looks and how something is structured, and in a good design, both come together.
Cross-browser, cross-platform, cross-device functionality - The browser on your computer is to remain the most advanced and feature-rich client application to access the web for a long time, but that doesn’t mean that ‘snacking’ with mobile browsing, or netbooks, etc, isn’t a rapidly growing in presence and importance.
Accessibility - Commonly accepted to be exclusively for people with disabilities, It could be argued that whether visual, auditory, motor-related or just cognitive, we all have a disability of one type or another, ask around and you’ll find the full body-abled human to be more of an ideal than a reality.
Templates and CMS, web frameworks – The technical flesh and bones of dynamically generated websites as part of an MVC or an MVT or some other software architecture. Whether it’s a php backend with Drupal or Magento or Python and Django, front-end developers build and maintain this files and their objects and methods, variables, loops, boolean and conditional statements.
Usability – Information architecture has blossomed in the past few years but as the people who build the site interact with the clients, the graphic designers, the backend developers and product managers, front-end last-stop position should mean flagging up details, suggesting improvements as well as taking part in usability testing.
Research – This is a list of things that have gone mainstream in the past two and half years: APIs, js libraries, touch and gestural computer interfaces, micro blogging, social networking, video content. Keeping up to date with the latest trends in design, code and innovation on the web is a primary task of front-end development, as no other discipline related to the Internet (except perhaps marketing) changes so rapidly.
Why front-end developers are so important
or should i say How Web companies undervalue their front-end web developers
The roles of web developers and web designers have been around for over 15 years now, and the role of a client-side or front-end web developer started to mature into a distinct entity around 10 years ago, as the content-presentation-behaviour layer paradigm became embedded in people’s working methodologies (and, with the introduction of Google’s then-new search algorithm, when the need for cleanly structured, easily indexable pages became, for businesses, not just an aspiration but a necessity). Unfortunately the perception of the front-end developer’s role remains somewhat coloured by an early association in observers’ minds with the other, loosely related role of the web designer. The role of web designer is an extremely important and valid one, but it is very different to that of the web developer, and the lack of a clear distinction between the two, in some people’s perception, is unhelpful and does both roles an injustice.
The web developer (sometimes also called a client-side developer, front-end developer, web architect or front-end engineer) has a huge skill set and a job description to match. They are often expected and required to excel in many disciplines, and have good working knowledge of many others. They exist at the point where art, design, interaction, programming and behavioural and performance analysis intersect. Given the time, support and ambition of a good business, being a web developer can be an extremely fulfilling job. However, the role of a web developer is often misunderstood within even the most progressive and well-meaning of businesses.
The danger can be that front-end developers, working in a user-focused area, are seen as performing a superficial function — applying a polish to the heavy lifting done by another developer, say, or that dread comment, “making things look nice”. Let’s be clear, making things look nice is the sole responsibility of the designer. When front-end developers spend much of their time deploying underlying data received from a backend database into their views, or pages, they might mistakenly be thought of as merely translators or interpreters, transferring a graphical image — the Photoshop-ed design — into markup and style rules, purveyors of what is sometimes almost mockingly referred to as a ‘black art’ of making pixels lay out correctly onscreen. While this perception is perhaps unfortunate, it is understandable. It is a particular problem where a development workflow is — some might say artificially — segregated into database infrastructure/domain modeling/server side workflows/front-end workflows. In smaller organisations a front-end developer has the opportunity, if she wishes, to input into any of these areas. In larger organisations, the increased granularity of functional areas means those opportunities are greatly reduced, and as you can see from the segregation model above, the front-end development work comes at the end of a long chain of events and decisions which essentially shape and restrict the front-end developer’s choices.
In such cases the development workflow is one-way, negates the developer’s architectural, organisational and behavioural skills and occurs late in the development process. This chronology minimizes the opportunity for the front-end developer to have effective input into, and feedback from, the interaction design they are now expected to code. This is a sad state of affairs and undoubtedly leads to frustration, feelings of being undervalued or ignored, and an extreme cases disenfranchisement and resignation, either in the figurative or practical sense. A good business will understand how highly-nuanced user behaviour is, and value skilled interpretation and shaping of that behaviour in the interests of improving their digital offering.
The modern web developer has huge amounts of value to offer a business. Indeed the type of professional you often find in this role encapsulates the very best the web has to offer:
- up-to-date knowledge of available and emerging technologies
- extensive experience of implementing de facto web standards and programming patterns
- database configuration and data manipulation
- implementation across multiple platforms and legacy software applications
- provisioning for mobile devices
- data aggregation
- graphics sourcing and creation
- search engine optimisation (SEO)
- a thorough understanding of the aesthetics and parameters of designing for the web
Further, the best web developers have wealth of knowledge and understanding around interaction design, user needs, hierarchies of data, navigation systems, user journeys, wireframing, design brief interpretation, focus group and usability testing and the art of a finely polished product. Largely gone are the days of HTML-monkeys, spending days on end converting Photoshop comps to pixel-perfect layouts. A web developer’s role is broad: from developing in what Yahoo!’s Nate Koechley calls ‘the world’s most hostile development environment’ — the browser — and ensuring cross-platform and cross-browser consistency, to working with art directors and designers and remaining true to their vision, to considerations and implementations of accessibility, usability and the overall user experience. A web developer is responsible for everything that sits on the client side of the web stack — the content, presentation and behaviour layers. Few other roles touch so many other key aspects of a business as does a web developer’s. Good businesses realise what an asset they have in their front-end web development team, and welcome their input into the product development process. Even better businesses have a User Experience team which encapsulates all those values, skills and judgements necessary to make great websites. Members of those teams are part of a feedback loop that results in great products, not just acceptable implementations of the first good idea that came up.
Large businesses and organisations move slowly. They may find it hard to understand they have developers whose skills and interests cross the boundaries their job descriptions impose on them. In addition, large businesses like to modularise their development teams into clearly segmented areas for planning and accountability. End-to-end developers don’t really fit this business model. Web development, certainly rapid prototyping at least, is moving away from monolithic relational database installs and towards schema-free, fluid data repositories like CouchDB and MongoDB. Many other layers of the application stack are now capable of being managed by a web developer. Most developers of this ilk, who are able to own the whole process from from domain and model definition, through to server infrastructure and on to a useful and appealing user experience, are running their own consultancies or are employed by the more enlightened web properties. Some examples of this type of person are Jeff Croft, Dan Rubin, John Resig, Jeffrey Zeldman, among many others. Functionality, data storage and interaction are increasingly moving to the client side (HTML5, Gears, RIAs, iPhone and Android web apps). The web stack sits on top of any technology, making the web developer one of the most versatile members of any business, let alone the technology department.
One further, worrying, complication is the lack of clear career progression for front-end developers. Once you’ve spent a year or ten working in every nook and cranny of every browser out there until you can code progressively enhanced web pages blindfolded, what next? Economics and management structures mean there’s only so many architect or senior engineer roles to go round. The other option is to specialize in something and move forward from there. Current trends would seem to be leaning towards a big need for performance specialists in the next 5 years, as the client side moves ever further towards accommodating distributed, complex web applications. Page views will also continue their inexorable rise, placing stress and demand on infrastructure, databases and hardware, and thus even greater stress on a fast, responsive user experience.
Know your value
What does this mean if you’re a front-end or client-side web developer? Know your value. What are your skills? Are you a developer, an engineer, a User Experience architect or an Interaction Designer? Advertise your value. Shout about it. Don’t be knowingly undermined or ignored. Create a User Experience team within your business. If they’ve already got one, join it! Your job is incredibly important, and your present employer needs to realize that, as they stand to benefit.