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web designer + front-end developer

Front End Developers – the seamstresses of the web?

Posted on by Chip Cullen

I’ve been thinking of myself more and more lately as a craftsperson. I’ve officially taken on the title “front end developer” as opposed to “web designer”, though I still do get the opportunity to design in my current projects.

As a front end developer, the things I take pride in tend to all be matters of how something is achieved, rather than deciding why it exists.

I consider it a good day when I reduce a stylesheet’s size by 40%. I’m proud of how short I can make my JavaScript functions. Watch out for the size of my head on a day when I get a responsive design to scale up gracefully.

So what does that mean? I’m taking pride in my craft. I’m not necessarily making strategic decisions, but I’m making them come to life. I have my own host of criteria of what makes a project successful that most other people will never care about (performance, file size, code tidiness, etc).

What I’m getting at is that my role right now, that of a “front end developer”, is one of craft.

I tried to look at other industries, and thought of the fashion industry (yes, I watch Project Runway – bare with me). Front End Developers are essentially the seamstresses of the web industry. We take a design that someone else (UX, UI designers) has devised, using materials on hand (supplied by back-end developers), and we spin it into an actual artifact (garment :: web site).

[As an aside, to me this answers the raging question of whether or not web designers should be able to code: should a fashion designer be able to sew? I think so.]

So with that realization, we have to recognize the benefits and drawbacks of being a craftsperson: while our skills are sought after, we can be gainfully employed, and usually at good salaries. We can leave jobs easily and pick up at a new job. However, our skill set can be commoditized and automated over time by industry. On a long enough timeline, only the most highly skilled can remain in their craft, and they are appreciated only by aficionado’s.

What does that mean for you (if you are a front end developer)? For now: keep doing what you’re doing. Get better at it – every day. Get a little more efficient – every day. Recognize pitfalls and avoid them from the beginning. Over the long-term – keep learning and crave evolution. You don’t know where you’ll end up.

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