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Developer Definitions: Front End Developer

We recently shared an overview of the difference between types of web and mobile developers. This is the first of the Developer Definitions series by Treehouse that will expand on and dig deeper into each of those developer roles, what skills you need to become one, and ultimately help you decide which role is right for you.

Developers are essential. These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a business that doesn’t rely on the web to communicate with its customers in some capacity, and developers are the key to building, maintaining and optimizing this. As a result, the demand for people to fill valuable developer roles is everywhere. Amidst the tech buzz, you’ve likely heard the term “front end developer”, but may not know the full scope of who a front end developer is and what they do.

This post should bring clarity.

Who is a front end web developer?

When we refer to the front end of the web, we’re talking about the part of the web that you can see and interact with. A front end developer is responsible for designing and building visually appealing websites with their intended users in mind. The functionality of a website is then built by back end developers. We’ll share more on those roles later in the series, but in the meantime, here’s a helpful overview of the difference between front and back end.

What character traits are best suited to front end?

There are certain character traits that can be associated with being a good developer. The first step towards being successful is to be a lifelong learner as you’ll need to constantly expand your coding skill. If you’re intrigued or passionate about the web and understanding how it works, you’re already on the right track.

As a developer, you also need to be able to balance working independently and with a team. That may include working with other developers, clients or even people from an entirely separate part of a business. You may work closely with people in the same office, or remotely from the other side of the country. Regardless, self discipline and a collaborative nature can both be vital to your success.

Our VP of Engineering, Tommy Morgan – who has over 10 years of experience working as and with developers – recently shared his thoughts on the characteristics of a good developer. These included  being inquisitive, empathetic, pragmatic, flexible and having an analytical mindset as key traits. Channel these qualities into the work you do as a developer and you’ll excel. Check out Tommy’s article for an explanation of each characteristic.

Developer and Treehouse teacher, Nick Pettit also weighed in with what he considers additional valuable traits:

“A front end developer needs to be interdisciplinary and open minded. Inspiration for design or new programming techniques can come from anywhere.”

– Nick Pettit

What do you need to learn?

The majority of Treehouse students start learning with no previous coding experience and each must go through the process of identifying which type of developer role best suits them. Take Ian Rushton for example. Ian was working as an optical assistant when he decided to pursue a career as a developer. He chose front end web development as it was “an interesting and rewarding topic. It covered a wide array of areas to learn and develop in, while still allowing [him] to have creative input and expression.”

As Ian touches on, creativity definitely factors into Front End Web Development. It’s your responsibility to build, expand and optimize a website, which involves a lot of creative thinking and problem-solving.

As a front end developer, you will primarily use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, which are the three most common coding languages that all modern websites are built with. HTML (hypertext markup language) is what you’ll use to create the structure of a web page. CSS (cascading style sheets) is the language you’ll then use to style the web page with color, layout, font sizes, font styles, and more. JavaScript then adds the behavior and interactivity to your web page.

All three of these languages will be valuable to you and you should be confident using them. But, as front end designer, developer and Treehouse teacher, Guil Hernandez adds, “JavaScript is the most valuable language to master. It’s the most popular programming language in the world, and it has a thriving ecosystem of tools, frameworks and libraries. With JavaScript, you can build apps that run on the client side, server, even native devices.”

What else can you do to set yourself up for success?

While you’re learning to code, practicing and applying your skills as often as you can is essential. As Nick explains, “never stop building projects it’s the only way to really learn how to apply your existing knowledge to new situations. That’s why Treehouse has always taken a project-based approach.” Push your skills further by challenging yourself to build a personal project, or why not try to replicate a website you admire? As long as you’re coding, you’re growing.

With such a rapid and global industry, you do also need to accept that you can’t master it all at once. Focus on one language at a time, familiarize yourself, become comfortable with using and understanding it. Add new skills, but be sure to keep existing skills sharp, as programming languages evolve, so should you.

Once you’re ready to apply for your first entry level position or even later down the road when you’re leveling up your career you need to be able to showcase your skills and work, which is where a professional portfolio comes in. As a developer, your portfolio will be the most powerful tool you have to show potential employers and clients the breadth of your skills and abilities.

Committing to constant learning and expanding your skills will help you to excel as a developer. Once you’re employed, the learning doesn’t stop there. Soak up as much knowledge as you from your peers and developers with more experience. Ask questions and for feedback on your work. There is a strong sense of community and support among developers and they’re always open to helping one another.

Hopefully, you now have a better picture of who a front end developer is, what they do, and whether it’s a role that is right for you. Once you’ve made your decision and are ready to embark on a new career as a developer, check out the Treehouse Front End Web Development Techdegree.

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