How To Become A Frontend Developer in 2021
Have you ever looked at your favorite website and wondered why it looked like that, how the buttons worked, or thought, “I wonder how complicated that is?” or, “I wish I could do that“? While web design determines the way a website looks, front end development is how that design actually gets implemented on the web.
Everything you see on a website is built with front end development (sometimes also called “front end web development”) — and the people behind it have a name: front end developers.
So, how do you become a front end developer in 2021?
The first step is to start learning some of the fundamental skills that front end developers use on a day-to-day basis. Let’s take a look at what you need to learn.
TABLE OF CONTENTS: SKILLS YOU NEED TO BECOME A FRONT END DEVELOPER
- Front End Frameworks
- CSS Preprocessors
- RESTful Services/API
- Responsive/Mobile Design
- Cross-Browser Development
- Content Management Systems (CMS)
- Git/Version Control
- Problem Solving
HTML & CSS
HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are the most basic building blocks of web coding. Without these two skills, you can’t create a website design — all you’d have is unformatted plain text on the screen. In fact, you can’t even add images to a page without HTML!
Before you get started on any web development career path, you’ll have to master coding with HTML and CSS. The good news is that getting a solid working knowledge of either of these can be done in just a few.
It’s also the most popular programming language in the world, so regardless of your developer career plans, it’s a super valuable thing to learn.
Front End Frameworks
Experience with CSS Preprocessors
Preprocessors are another element that a front end developer can use to speed up CSS coding. A CSS preprocessor adds extra functionality to CSS to keep our CSS scalable and easier to work with. It processes your code before you publish it to your website, and turns it into well-formatted and cross-browser friendly CSS. Sass and LESS are the two most in-demand preprocessors.
Experience with RESTful Services and APIs
Without getting too technical on this one, REST stands for Representational State Transfer. In basic terms, it’s a lightweight architecture that simplifies network communication on the web, and RESTful services and APIs are web services that adhere to REST architecture.
Let’s say you wanted to write an app that shows you all of your social media friends in the order in which you became friends. You could make calls to Facebook’s RESTful API to read your friends list and return that data. As a front end web developer, you could call Twitter’s API as well (Twitter also uses RESTful APIs). The general process is the same for any service that uses RESTful APIs, only the data returned will be different.
While it all sounds really complicated and technical, it’s a simple set of guidelines and practices that sets expectations so you know how to communicate with a web service. It also makes a web service perform better, scale better, work more reliably, and be easier to modify or move.
Responsive and Mobile Design
Google drives 96% of mobile search traffic and recommends responsive design as a best practice. Because responsive web design is mobile-friendly, it helps increase visibility on search engines, which in turn can mean more visitors to your website. So it’s no wonder that responsive and mobile design skills are super important to employers. Responsive design means that the site’s layout (and sometimes functionality and content) change based on the screen size and device someone is using.
For example, when you visit a website from a desktop computer with a big monitor, you’ll see multiple columns, big graphics, and interaction created specifically for mouse and keyboard users. On a mobile device, the same website would appear as a single column optimized for touch interaction, but using the same base files.
Mobile design can include responsive design, but can also mean creating separate mobile-specific designs. Sometimes the experience you want a user to have when visiting your site on a desktop computer is entirely different from what you want them to see when visiting from their smartphone.
In those cases, it makes sense for the mobile site to be completely different. A bank website with online banking would benefit from a separate mobile site that lets users view things like the closest bank location and a simplified account view (since mobile screens are smaller).
Modern browsers are getting pretty good at displaying websites consistently, but there are still differences in how they interpret code behind the scenes. Until all modern browsers work perfectly with web standards, knowing how to make each of them work the way you want them to is an important skill. That’s what cross-browser development is all about.
Content Management Systems and E-commerce Platforms
Almost every website out there is built on a content management system (CMS). (E-commerce platforms are a specific type of CMS.) The most popular CMS worldwide is WordPress, which is behind-the-scenes of millions of websites. In fact, almost 60% of websites that use a CMS use WordPress.
Other popular CMSs include Joomla, Drupal, and Magento. While knowing these won’t put you in as much demand as being a WordPress expert, they can give you a niche that will be desirable among companies who use those systems (and there are plenty out there).
As an aspiring front end developer, CMS skills could potentially give you an edge when it comes to landing a job.
Testing and Debugging
It’s a fact of life for a front end web developer: bugs happen. Being familiar with testing and debugging processes is vital.
Unit testing is the process of testing individual blocks of source code (the instructions that tell a website how it should work), and unit testing frameworks provide a specific method and structure for doing so (there are different ones for each programming language).
Another common type of testing is UI testing (also called acceptance testing, browser testing, or functional testing), where you check to make sure that the website behaves as it should when a user is actually using the site.
You can write tests that will look for things like particular HTML on a page after an action is taken — like making sure that if a user forgets to fill out a required form field, your form error box pops up.
Debugging is simply taking all of the “bugs” (errors) those tests uncover (or your users uncover once your site is launched), putting on your detective hat to figure out why and how they’re happening, and fixing the problem. Different companies use slightly different processes for this, but if you’ve used one, you can adapt to others pretty easily.
Because testing and bugging contribute in large part to a positive user experience, they’re valuable skills for a front end developer to know.
Git and Version Control Systems
Version control systems let you keep track of changes that have been made to code over time. They also make it easy to revert back to an earlier version if you screw something up.
Let’s say you write some codes and suddenly half of your other code breaks. Rather than having to scramble to manually undo it and fix all of the errors, you can roll back to a previous version and then try it again with a different solution — like hitting a reset button.
Git is the most widely used of these version control management systems and can be installed using the command line. Knowing how to use Git is going to be a requirement for virtually any development job, be it front end development, back end development, or full stack development. This is one of those vital job skills that developers need to have but few actually talk about.
Problem Solving Skills
If there’s one thing that all front end developers have to have, regardless of the job description or official title, it’s excellent problem solving skills. From figuring out how to best implement a design, to fixing bugs that crop up, to figuring out how to make your front end code work with the back end code another software engineer has written, development is all about creative problem solving.
For example: you’ve created a perfectly-functioning website front end and you hand it over to the back end developers for them to integrate it with the content management system (CMS). All of a sudden, half your awesome features stop working.
A good front end developer will view this as a puzzle to be solved rather than an absolute disaster. Of course, an excellent, senior-level front end developer will anticipate these problems and try to prevent them in the first place!