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Dev Log: How the Front-End Web Designer/Developer has changed


Date: 08/08/2019

Hello. I’m Will, and I’m a front-end developer. Here’s how my job has changed.

I just watched Chris Coyier’s “#173: Ooooops I guess we’re full-stack developers now” screencast, and I have to say, he’s got a real point.

Back when I started, being a web designer was just HTML and CSS. Hell, CSS was actually optional (yes, you could actually make sites pretty without CSS, and not in a brutalist way).

As technology grew, so did I, and my fellow designers on the web. Javascript was added. It became commonplace to work with scripts (/cgi-bin anyone?) that worked on the server side.

DHTML. AJAX. Things started to get a little more complicated, but it was all still front-end for most of us. We could let the “real” programmers work in their cgi-bin, while we crafted with our 3 languages.

We added PHP/Perl to the mix (although I frankly haven’t seen much Perl as of late on the web). Back-end developers started to flesh out, too. The LAMP stack became king. We added dedicated database developers.

Then, almost as a whisper in the wind, our jobs changed. Dramatically.

We still work with HTML, CSS and Javascript, but now Javascript is on the server side. Javascript has grown from fun scripting to adding server-side to the mix.

GraphQL. Flat file systems. Node. Express.

We’ve now become full stack developers, without even realizing it.

Of course, not all of us have. There are backend devs that work on the Node side of things, while the front-end developers work with HTML, CSS, and Javascript (plus React/Vue/Angular).

I will say that I’d love to meet the front-end developers that Chris talks about when discussing people who still only write HTML/CSS as part of their job; I’ve never, in my life, seen a front-end developer that listed those as the only qualifications. Sure, both have become pretty powerful thanks to HTML5 & CSS3, along side SASS/LESS, but ultimately, I just can’t see it being practical economically to hire someone who just takes a design and makes the HTML & CSS.

Hell, while I used to focus solely on HTML and CSS early in my career, it wasn’t going to last. It seems like half my life ago, but I actually tried to find a job focusing on that. Before front-end frameworks were a thing.

Nothing doing there. You had to know PHP for nearly every gig if you wanted to write HTML & CSS. Now? Let’s cover what the least amount of requirements I’ve seen for jobs that want you to write code/markup.

HTML5, CSS3, SASS/LESS, Javascript (at least basic, but definitely wanting ES6, jQuery, and/or React/Angular/Vue).

For agencies, they also frequently want PHP/ASP.Net/C#.

These are just focused on front-end.

I’m not complaining; I LOVE writing code. Javascript is my jam. PHP? Why not. I’ve worked with it for years, and still have fun with it on occasion (although, thanks to Javascript, I’ve grown to like PHP a little less).

I will say I’m somewhat pleased to be shifting away from SQL; Nothing wrong with it, but honestly, databases get.. boring. And annoying. GraphQL looks amazing to me. I’ll still keep up my SQL skills, and won’t hesitate to use it where it is needed (after all, I’m still running a variant of the LAMP stack for this website), but the evolution of web technology is supremely exciting to me.

Its almost like the singularity for developers is happening. We used to have server admins, front-end devs, and back-end devs.

Now, we’re to a point to where all three are frequently folded into one super-brained maniac.

I used to say that a true “full-stack developer” didn’t exist, but I was wrong (even when I claimed the title).

A true full-stack developer is the front-end developer now, depending on the technology stack. Sure, it is complex, and there are a number of things for one to keep straight, but ultimately, it is easier to be full stack coming from front-end now than it used to be.

And it is a beautiful thing.