Exactly What You Need to Know to Become a Front End Developer in 2022
What do front end developers have to know? Check out the 7 most in-demand job skills from real job listings!
Over the last 10 years here at Skillcrush, we’re so proud to have trained more than 20,000 students in technical skills, and our job search program has a 90% success rate of placing students in jobs!
In our experience, front end development is a great way for career changers to break into tech, get hired, and get paid. A 2020 Stack Overflow survey found that front end engineers in the United States made an average of $110,000 per year while Zippia estimates that there are currently over 80,000 front end web developers currently employed in the United States.
If you’re looking for a lucrative career in a growing industry, front end web development could be your dream job.
In this post, we’ll walk you through what a front end developer is, what they do, and the languages, frameworks, and tools you need to learn to become a successful front end engineer.
Table of Contents
- What is a front end software engineer?
- What do front end web developers do?
- The languages and tools you need to become a front end software engineer
- What frameworks and tools do front end web developers use?
- How do I get started as an entry level front end developer?
What is a front end developer?
Often, a front end web developer makes sure that there are no errors or bugs on the website as well as makes sure that the design appears as it’s supposed to across different platforms and browsers. All of these tasks are important for a good user experience.
The code front end developers write runs inside the user’s web browser (aka client-side) while a back end developer’s code runs server-side, using open source environments (like Node.js) or programming languages (like Python).
For example, if web development is like a car, the front end would be the car body, paint, and interior color (aka all of the visual aspects of the car) whereas the back end is the engine and the gearbox. The user interacts directly with the front end (you can touch it and swap things out and change them without it changing the engine itself) while the back end makes everything run in the background. Now you know something about web development and cars — thank us later!
Full stack developers are comfortable programming with both front end and back end languages.
What do front end developers do?
Bring web designs to life and maintain the website’s user interface
This means building out the navigation, layouts, and buttons that a web designer has carefully laid out and making sure that all of the design elements work properly while looking the way that they’re supposed to according to the designer’s UX/UI research.
Not only that, but front end web developers also make sure the website runs properly. Companies want users to have great experiences on their sites, which means that they need front end developers to make sure that the user interface is always working properly by fixing any bugs or errors that users may encounter.
For example, when you’re on Reddit and when you go to upvote a comment, nothing happens, that might mean there’s a bug with the upvote button, which a front end developer would try to fix. (And if you see a cat error though, that’s probably not the front end developer’s fault :)).
Implement mobile-first or responsive design
In the US alone, more people access the internet from their mobile device than from a desktop computer, so it’s no wonder that responsive and mobile design skills are super important to employers! Responsive design means that the site’s layout (and sometimes functionality and content) change based on the screen size and device someone uses.
When you visit a website from a desktop computer with a big monitor, you’ll see multiple columns, big graphics, and interaction created specifically for mouse and keyboard users.
Rather than tailoring disconnected designs to each of an ever-increasing number of web devices, we can treat them as facets of the same experience. We can design for an optimal viewing experience, but embed standards-based technologies into our designs to make them not only more flexible, but more adaptive to the media that renders them. In short, we need to practice responsive web design.
Before responsive web design, people used to always build out separate pages for mobile devices. The same website would appear as a single column optimized for touch interaction, but using the same base files on mobile. Responsive web design changed that experience. Instead of using the same files, developers now create different designs for mobile.
Mobile design can include responsive design, but can also mean creating separate mobile-specific designs. Sometimes the experience you want a user to have when visiting your site on a desktop computer is entirely different from what you want them to see when visiting from their smartphone.
In those cases, it makes sense for the mobile site to be completely different. A bank website with online banking would benefit from a separate mobile site that lets users view things like the closest bank location and a simplified account view (since mobile screens are smaller).
Ethan Marcotte first illustrated the need for responsive design with this website picture
Fix bugs and errors that pop up on the website
Imagine building your wonderful web experience and suddenly the computer glitches, and keeps glitching. Such was the scene in a Harvard classroom in the fall of 1947, when a literal moth was discovered in a computer’s hardware. A young programmer named Grace Hopper was among the crew of those who discovered the moth and is credited with having coined the term “bug” to mean “a glitch in the code.”
As a front end developer, being familiar with testing and debugging processes is vital.
Unit testing is when you evaluate individual blocks of source code (aka, the instructions that tell a website how it should work). Each programming language has a different method and structure for testing these blocks of code.
Debugging is simply taking all of the “bugs” (errors) those tests uncover (or your users uncover once your site is launched), putting on your detective hat to figure out why and how they’re happening, and fixing the problem. Think of it as being a human Raid.
Different companies use slightly different processes for this, but if you’ve used one, you can adapt to others pretty easily.
Because testing and bugging contribute in large part to a positive user experience, they’re critical skills for a front end web developer to know.
Development is all about creative problem solving and getting your program to work — from figuring out how to best implement a design, to fixing bugs that crop up, to seamlessly connecting your front end code work with another software engineer’s back end code.
For example: you’ve created a perfectly-functioning website front end and you hand it over to the back end developers to integrate it with a content management system (CMS). All of a sudden, half your awesome features stop working – what would you do? No really, what would you do?!
A good front end web developer will view this as a puzzle to be solved rather than an absolute disaster. Of course, an excellent, senior-level front end developer will anticipate these problems and try to prevent them in the first place!
The languages and tools you need to become a front end developer
What languages do front end web developers use?
1. HTML and CSS
HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are the most basic building blocks of web coding. The 2021 Stack Overflow survey found that 56 percent of professional developers use HTML and CSS extensively in their work. Without these two skills, you can’t create a website design — all you’d have is unformatted plain text on the screen. In fact, you can’t even add images to a page without HTML!
HTML was actually only invented in the 1980s even though computers have been around for much longer. Tim Berners Lee developed his first hypertext system, “Enquire,” in 1980 for his own use. With a background in text processing, real-time software and communications, Tim started the WorldWideWeb project at CERN in 1989.
What frameworks and tools do front end engineers use?
If you don’t know what a framework is, it’s a pre-built structure that is designed in accordance with programming best practices, and lets you get started on a coding project quickly without having to do all the setup yourself.
Think of building websites and web apps like building a house — when you set out to build a house, you could create all of your own building materials from scratch and start building without any schematics, but that approach would be incredibly time-consuming and doesn’t make a lot of sense.
It’s more likely that you would purchase pre-manufactured building materials (wood, bricks, countertops, etc.) and then assemble them based on a blueprint to fit your specific needs.
Coding is very similar. When you set out to code a website, you could code every aspect of that site from scratch, but there are certain common website features that make more sense to apply from a template — if you need a wheel, for instance, it’s a lot more sensible to buy one than it is to reinvent it. And that’s where frameworks come into play. You’ll never have to start from scratch again!
5. CSS Frameworks
6. Experience with CSS Preprocessors
Preprocessors are another element that a front end developer can use to speed up CSS coding. A CSS preprocessor adds extra functionality to CSS to keep our CSS scalable and easier to work with. It processes your code before you publish it to your website, and turns it into well-formatted and cross-browser friendly CSS. Sass and LESS are the two most in-demand preprocessors.
7. Experience with RESTful Services and APIs
This has been a long journey into front end web development, and we wouldn’t be surprised if you’re looking for some rest!
Actually, though, we’re going to talk about a technical REST: REpresentational State Transfer. It’s a simple set of guidelines and practices that sets expectations so you know how to communicate with a web service, which is any type of service you can access through a website.
For example, when you go to weather.com and look at a widget that displays the temperature, it asks the web service (for example, NOAA) what the weather is at a specific location. The web service will reply with the information, communicate it with weather.com through the web, and weather.com displays the result.
When you call a RESTFUL API, you’re sending a request to a specific address to retrieve information. Let’s say you wanted to write an app that shows you all of your social media friends in the order in which you became friends. You could make calls to Facebook’s RESTful API to read your friends list and return that data. Your API call can be as simple as “https://www.facebook.com/friendslist?user=janedoe×tamp=true” and it will return Jane Doe’s friend list and when you became friends.
As a front end web developer, you could call Twitter’s API as well (Twitter also uses RESTful APIs). The general process is the same for any service that uses RESTful APIs, only the data returned will be different.
RESTful APIs make a web service perform better, scale better, work more reliably, and be easier to modify or move.
How do I get started as a front end developer?
If you’re pumped about working as a front end engineer but not sure where to get the skills, you’re in the right place.
Skillcrush’s Break Into Tech program includes access to our Front End Developer Career Track, a program designed to give you all the skills you need to start working as an entry-level front end developer within a year.