Have you ever wondered exactly what a front-end developer does? What skills you’ll need to go down that career path? In this edition of our career insights series, we’ve taken an in-depth look at exactly what a front-end developer role entails, with an added insight from a professional freelance front-end developer.
What is the front-end?
The front end is basically the front layer of your website. It includes the design, content, and functionality – in other words, all the things that users interact with: Fonts, buttons, tables, menus, colors, etc.
The front end links the graphic user interface (GUI) with the execution of actions.
If your laptop were a website, your keyboard, display, mouse, and all other buttons would be the front-end. Those are the things you see, click, and touch. Anything on the inside – like your hard drive, video card, and processor, is the back end.
The Role of a front-End Developer
Now that you know what a front-end development is, answering this second question is pretty easy. The job of a front end developer is to create anything the user interacts with.
Apart from that, front end developers must be constantly thinking about how people interact with websites or how they look for things – that’s quite a lot of tasks.
Front end developers must be analytical, creative, and have a good technical base to create interfaces that work.
What are the responsibilities of a front-end developer?
- Maintenance and optimization of websites and user interfaces
- Create tools and elements that improve the site’s interaction on different devices or browsers
- Manage and optimize software workflow
- Implement Onpage SEO practices
- Improve user usability with new features and processes
- Transform a UX/UI design (sketch, mockup) into reality
- Improve web loading speed
- Ensure web accessibility
Looking for a front-end developer?
What skills will you need to succeed as front-end developer?
The skills you’re going to need as a freelancer working in front-end development generally fall into two categories – your tools and your overarching skills. Let’s dive into the most important ones:
#1 HTML (HyperText Markup Language)
HTML will probably be one of the first things you learn how to use. It will provide the first building blocks of your website, its initial structure. Using HTML, you will be placing images on your website, determining fonts and putting up hyperlinks. HTML is one of the two most important components you need to build a website.
#2 CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)
CSS is the second basic element. This is where the layout happens – it is where you decide how the elements of HTML will be displayed. Colors, backgrounds, transitions, and animations are all things you will be doing with CSS. Using these two components, you will be able to create a basic website.
#4 Front-end Frameworks
Besides these regularly used languages, you will need to go deeper and learn how to work with frameworks, which will help you code quickly with libraries and ready-made structures.
#5 Responsive and UX/UI design
Having a responsive design is one of the most important things for front-end developers. Responsive design is how you make sure that your site functions and looks good regardless of the device a visitor might be using – whether it is an iPad, a phone, or a big desktop computer.
Besides, they need an eye for design as well as a good understanding of user interface design (UI design) and user experience (UX).
#6 Performance optimization
Front end programmers also need to know how to optimize the performance of a website. It’s not just about looking good, you also want a website to load fast. If it doesn’t, chances are a lot of people are going to click that big red X button before you have the chance to show them your fancy design.
You’ll also have to test your performance, which you can help yourself with tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights.
#7 Testing and debugging
And last but not least, testing and debugging are essential front-end developer skills. Bugs happen all the time, mostly where you least expect them. There are different ways to look for bugs and remove them and you will have to know several if you want to catch them all.
However, remember that every programming language and also every company has its own testing and debugging procedures, so it’s not something you can learn once and know forever.
Project providers: Who needs a front-end developer?
We already said at the beginning that front-end developers are in charge of the appearance of a website. Now, everybody needs a website so the chances for a front-end developer are unlimited.
This profile is in high demand in many fields and industries. Some of the more popular are:
- Marketing agencies
- Graphic design studios
- Software and engineering companies
- Retail and e-commerce
Take on a new development project
Background and Education
Front end developers usually have a degree in computer engineering, computer science, programming, or systems analysis. However, as more and more resources become available on the Internet, there are also many self-taught front-end developers who have learned by themselves.
For example, you can read Hugo’s story and how he taught himself programming.
Fron-End development is a great niche for freelancers and many developers decide immediately after their studies to become self-employed and work with SMBs directly creating their websites without intermediaries.
Are you thinking about how you can be a front-end programmer? You just need to have the will, a taste for design and be prepared for constant learning. In the development world, everything changes very fast so you have to be up to date with the latest trends in programming languages, etc.
Creating the perfect portfolio as a freelance front-end developer
When creating a freelancer portfolio as a front-end developer, the first thing to look at is making sure you’ve got the basics down. Tell people who you are, what you do, and why you should be the one they contact – tell them that on the first page or make sure they know where to click to find that info. But, really, all portfolios should do that.
To have a great front-end developer portfolio specifically, there are a few details you’ll have to consider. First of all, most people have no idea what front-end means. Explain it to them. There is no worse thing than dealing with clients who contact you with jobs out of your scope, be specific.
Finally, and maybe most importantly: Focus on showing, not telling.
As a front-end developer, your job is to create good-looking, smooth, and well-designed websites. So make sure your portfolio website fits those criteria.
Furthermore, include your best projects – you can have a list with hundreds of skills. But letting potential clients see something that you’ve created and you’re proud of is worth much more than all the skill lists.
“Your job is to create good-looking, smooth, and well-designed websites. “
Salary and Hourly Rates
If we analyze the salaries of the front end developers in the US we will see that the salaries start at about $48,000 and can go up to $109,000 (with an average salary of about $72,000). In Germany, the salaries range from 40,000 to 70,000 euros.
A front end developer salary depends on several factors such as experience, workplace, or size of the company hiring. And also on the specific technologies that the developer masters.
How much does a front-end developer make?
What’s the hourly rate of a front-end developer?
On average, freelance front-end developers will charge you around $40/hr. (freelancermap index, June 2020)
Real insights from a Front-End developer
Now that we know that without Front-End developers and designers the pages of the internet wouldn’t be that nice and enjoyable to surf, it’s easier to understand why this profile is so in-demand. But what is a day like in the life of a Front-End developer? Is it the career path that you should pick?
To learn a little more about it we asked Ivana Kruljac, a passionate web developer from Croatia currently living and working in Germany, about her experience and story. Here are her answers:
1. What drove you to choose your career path?
I studied computer science at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, so it was a natural path for me to work in the IT industry. Ever since I’ve been using the Internet, I was curious about how to create a website and wanted to know what was behind the visible part. Funny thing is that the first contact with code wasn’t until in my 3rd year in college. Until then, I was learning mathematics and robotics. A friend and I bought a book which was about how to create a webshop basket in PHP from scratch, so we were just typing the code and watching what was happening on the browser. Back then there wasn’t so much literature on the Internet.
2. What misconceptions do people often have about your job?
In my experience, people are still not so familiar with the terms front-end and backend. Most people still think that if you’re developer, you’re doing the “whole package”. 10 years ago that could be the case, but nowadays with new technologies on the way and the complexity of applications, this is a totally different story. Front-end Developers are in the middle, between Designers and Backend Developers. They are an intersection. Of course, there are a lot of Front-end Developers that do UX/UI or backend stuff but it should not be taken for granted.
“Most people still think that if you’re developer, you’re doing the “whole package”
3. What personal tips and shortcuts have made your job easier?
For us, developers is important to update ourselves on a daily basis. That means read a lot and research a lot, because technology is growing and changing rapidly and on a daily basis. Personally, what made my job easier is the launch of Node.js and Sass language. They are allowing me to do my job way faster and be way more organized than before.
4. What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?
First of all, as in all development jobs, they need to love what they do. They need to enjoy creating things, be passionate about it and play with the code. You have to constantly challenge yourself to do more and better. Otherwise, I would highly recommend them to choose a different career – they are, in my opinion, not the right person for the job.
6. Would you say front-end development is a great niche for freelancers?
There is a big potential and a big market behind it which just keeps growing, followed by all sorts of developers – juniors and seniors. I think that there’s enough room on the table for everyone due to the high demand for all sorts of applications – for web and mobile platforms.
So, if you’re good at what you do, you don’t need to put too much effort to reach people and gain their trust. Few references will do the work for you. They don’t even have to be referenced from clients; it can be something that you did while you were studying or any personal projects that you did just for yourself. And, since you’re a developer, you know where and how to publish them!
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