On November 4th A List Apart hosted their latest online panel, “The State of Front End Development”. At Spry Digital, we love any chance to get together as a team, eat some great food, and learn how to improve at our craft, so we turned the panel discussion into a lunch and learn, something we do just about every week.
On the panel were some of the leading Front End Developers in the US today, like Una Kravets (@Una), Rebecca Murphey (@rmurphey), Jina Bolton (@jina), and Marco Rogers (@polotek). The panel was moderated by Chris Coyier (@chriscoyier) of css-tricks.com.
They all work on some of the most interesting and complex front end development problems around for companies like IBM and Salesforce, and startups like Clover.
The entire hour long panel is embedded above, but if you don’t want to take an hour to watch the whole thing, we’ve recapped it for you here.
What Is It You’d Say You Do Here?
The other point of contention was on related-but-definitely-distinct disciplines like User Experience, Visual Design, Optimizing Performance, and server side programming languages like Ruby, Python and PHP. The consensus was that good Front End Developers definitely do not have to latter day webmasters, or full stack engineers, but need to be aware of the issues and concerns that other designers and developers might to bring to a project.
I really liked hearing that; one of the reasons I joined Spry Digital is our belief that crafting great, nimble web products is a team sport.
This conversation about awareness of different disciplines led to a great discussion on the usefulness of “Front End Developer” as a title. The panelists didn’t come to a conclusion – there’s both the problem of the title not being very descriptive of the work and the problem of it not being terribly indicative of the technical skill a front end developer might have. One panelist quipped that the job title front end developer could include both “someone who can barely use jQuery and someone who could recreate jQuery”.
If the title isn’t meaningful, does it matter whether you are a generalist, or should you specialize in a specific framework or technology? Fortunately this question was easier to answer: not only is front end development broad enough to include specialization under it, but most of those specialities are in demand. If you have or are willing to develop a speciality, you can basically pick where you want to work and the problems you want to solve.
Piggybacking on the conversation about technical skill was a conversation about what determines a Junior Front End Developer from a Senior Front End Developer. Unanimously the panel agreed that years of experience doesn’t play a determinative role in whether someone is Senior or Junior. Rebecca Murphey did comment however that experience does yield know-how in solving problems and working with colleagues. What most of the panel agreed on was that a Senior Developer has to be able to multiply the effectiveness of the team. This can happen in many ways, whether by teaching Junior Developers and improving their skills, or helping the team work better together. In fact, some of the panelists suggested that the only difference between a Senior and Junior Developer might be their ability to be a “force multiplier.”
Sine Qua Non
All of the panelists agreed that a healthy intellectual curiosity and a willingness to embrace changing technologies, standards, and practices was necessary for every front end developer, regardless of seniority.
It was a great panel that really helped me and our whole team at Spry think a little bit more clearly on what Front End Development is and is not, and what we should be expecting from Senior Developers as we continue to grow as a company.
A smattering of the tweets I live tweeted out during the panel:
Other people’s best tweets:
Have your own thoughts about what it means to be a Front End Developer? Share your comments with us below.