Front End Developers – the seamstresses of the web?

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.

  • Good analogy. Love of the craft is what separates the pros from fauxs. Of course to keep with your fashion analogy the next step is to control the whole production pipeline which means time to dig in and learn some backend development to make your life a little easier on the front end.

    • Chip Cullen

      Totally – I’ve gotten to know more about some back end stuff, and it totally does help on the front end. The delicate balance you have to maintain though, is taking the time to learn new stuff while keeping up to date on your core skill set. Lately, it seems like just keeping up with Front End best practices is a full time job.

      • The good news is everything your learning today will be obsolete in 5 years. Don’t fret over it too much or you’ll wind up in the dustbin with spacer gifs and image slicing.

        • Chip Cullen

          You mean we’re not supposed to use spacer gifs anymore? When did that happen?