Hire Developers

What Does a Front-End Developer Do? Job Overview & Skill Expectations

By Ryan Loftus

Front-end developers are responsible for building the experience that defines the internet as we know it. A complex system of front-end design and interactivity is behind every website you visit and every button you click.

That’s why companies of every size and industry are in an arms race to hire the best front-end talent. As of this writing, there are more than 20,000 openings for front-end developers in the U.S. alone.

In this post, we’ll break down the statistics, job requirements, and responsibilities of a career in front-end development.

Overview of the Duties of a Front-End Developer

When you load a website or application, the experience consists of two environments. 

The back end is what you don’t see — the servers, applications, and databases that underpin the digital experience.

In contrast, front-end developers are responsible for creating everything the user sees and interacts with in their browser. This includes buttons, text, links, design, and user experience.

On a more technical level, the core job responsibilities of front-end developers include:

  • Writing high-quality code
  • Creating tools that improve site interaction 
  • Ensuring high performance on every browser
  • Troubleshooting, debugging, and optimizing performance
  • Keeping up-to-date with advancements in technology
  • Creating and implementing UI/UX design
  • Information architecture design
  • Prototyping application interfaces with graphic design tools
  • API integration
  • Working in an agile environment
  • And much more

What Kinds of Companies Hire Front-End Developers?

Any company that’s building its own website or online applications will need to hire front-end developers. 

The biggest employers of front-end developers with this skill set are the world’s largest technology companies, including Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, Meta (Facebook), and Google.

But it’s not just Silicon Valley and new startups driving the demand for front-end talent. All companies are becoming tech companies — now more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic and work-from-home era only accelerated this trend. Companies in every industry will need technical talent to help them modernize and innovate their business practices. 

Marketing, financial services, financial technology, manufacturing, telecommunications, entertainment, retail, healthcare, pharmaceuticals — the demand (and opportunity) for front-end talent is nearly endless. 

This sense of expansion is accelerating at a rapid clip. While there isn’t much data on the growth rate of front-end developers specifically, we do have data for software developers as a whole. From 2020 to 2030, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of employed software developers in the U.S. to grow by 22 percent — almost triple the 8 percent average growth rate for all occupations.

Competition for great front-end talent is fierce and will be for the foreseeable future.

Types of Front-End Developer Positions

The titles front-end developers hold vary drastically, depending on their experience and the company they work at. The title of a graduate from a coding bootcamp might look different than a candidate with a four-year degree. And the role of a developer in a five-person startup will be different than at a 5,000 person company.

At the beginning of their career, a front-end developer will often start out with an entry-level role, like Junior Front-End Developer, Software Developer 1, Web Designer, Web Developer, WordPress Developer, UI/UX Developer, or Mobile Developer. A newer developer usually works in one of these roles for one to three years.

From there, they’ll have the opportunity to move into mid- to senior-level roles with hands-on web and software development experience, such as Senior Front-End Developer or Lead Web Developer. While they spend several years honing their skills, their responsibilities expand to include taking ownership of projects, working independently in a team environment and mentoring project team members. Senior front-end developers might also start specializing in particular technologies, such as information architecture, cloud hosting, user experience, and search engine optimization (SEO).

At this point, some developers will choose to transition from front-end to back-end or to full-stack development roles.

With some experience under their belt, a front-end developer often faces a crossroads in their career, having to choose between three common paths. 

The first path is to pivot into people and team management functions. Hiring, mentoring, resource planning and allocation, strategy, and operations become a larger component of the responsibilities of front-end developers pursuing this career path. At the higher levels of an organization, these titles can include:

  • Web Architect
  • Webmaster 
  • Information Systems Manager
  • Engineering Director
  • Chief Information Officer (CIO)
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

The second possible career path is to continue as an individual contributor. Many developers opt to continue their careers as individual contributors, enjoying equally fulfilling careers and developing deep technical expertise in various technology languages and frameworks.

The motivation behind this decision is that experienced developers aren’t necessarily interested in or qualified to be managing a team. And developers in an individual contributor role have the opportunity to focus on growing their technical skills and learning the newest emerging technologies.

Data is scarce on how this career decision impacts long-term earning potential. Career outlook for individual contributors and managers will also depend on a number of other factors, including industry, company size, and experience.

Lastly, the third possibility is a transition out of development to a career in design, multimedia, and marketing. Because front-end developers have design and layout experience, they’re able to thrive in graphic design, user experience, and media production.

Salary Comparisons and Job Outlook

On average, front-end developers tend to receive a salary higher than the national average in their country.

For example, in the U.S. the average salary in 2020 was $53,400. In contrast, the average base salary for front-end developers in the U.S. is $100,139. That’s 87 percent more than the national average.

Junior front-end developers can expect to occupy a lower salary band at the beginning of their career. In contrast, senior positions provide a higher average compensation, though data for this specific salary band is hard to find. Industry and company size also affect the salary band dramatically.

It’s worth noting that the compensation for front-end developers often trends lower than their back-end peers, who command an average base salary in the U.S. between $115,129 and $125,924.

Historically, though, geography has had a significant impact on the compensation of software developers — and that includes front-end developers. The U.S. leads the world in developer salaries by a wide margin of 23.3 percent. The remaining members of the top five highest paying countries are Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

But compensation also varies within each country, not just internationally. For example, while front-end developers in San Francisco make an average of $143,774 a year, most front-end developers in Seattle earn $104,798. That’s a 37.2 percent variation in compensation.

What remains to be seen is how the rise of remote work will affect developer compensation. Should employers determine compensation based on where the company is located, where the employee is located, or the national average? The answer to this question depends on who you ask. 

In 2020, both Facebook and Twitter announced they would decrease the compensation of remote employees who move to regions with lower costs of living. Meanwhile, Reddit announced it won’t lower compensation for remote employees. Instead, it will scale their compensation packages to reflect the pay ranges of high-cost areas.

Companies will take their own approach, but the prevailing trend appears to be the latter.

“We’ve seen salary convergence, or the removal of location-based pay scales, for C-suite executives over the last several years,” said Vivek Ravisankar, CEO of HackerRank, in an article for Fortune. “This coming year, we will see the same trend pick up steam for individual developers’ salaries. The remote-first model and ongoing tech talent shortage will further drive this convergence. We have started to see this convergence taking place across the globe as well.”

 

Requirements to Become a Front-End Developer

Technical skills

Front-end developers use a range of technologies to build websites. These include, to name a few:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript (JS)

Out of the above languages, the most widely known is JavaScript.

Front-end developers also have to learn a number of general web development skills, including:

  • Git 
  • SSH
  • GitHub
  • Algorithms
  • HTTP / HTTPS
  • Terminal usage
  • Data structures 
  • Character encodings

Recruiters and hiring managers looking for developers should also look for in-demand competencies beyond programming languages. These include:

  • JS Frameworks (React, Angular, Ember, jQuery, and Backbone)
  • CSS frameworks (Bootstrap, Tailwind CSS, Bulma, and Foundation)

Front-end development also often requires an understanding of SEO, UI/UX, content management systems, e-commerce, and mobile-first design. Developers more focused on design-driven elements on websites often work with graphical editing tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch, and Figma.

One detail that technical recruiters and aspiring developers alike will notice is that there’s no standard way to learn this skill set. There’s a huge variety in the technologies front-end developers know and the order they learn them.

Take, for example, the first programming language developers start with. JavaScript is the best known language, but it isn’t a language most developers learn to code in — only 5 percent of respondents reported it as their first programming language. This is likely because developers are strongest in classic languages taught in computer science programs, like C, C++, Java, and Python. Front-end-heavy languages, though, are often excluded from traditional CS programs, leading developers to learn JavaScript through on-the-job experience or self-directed learning.

Soft Skills

Technical competency alone isn’t enough to succeed in a front-end role. Mathematical, analytical, creativity, design, and problem-solving skills are a must in any software development job. And soft skills are even more critical in a digital-first or digital-only environment.

Employers may put even more stock into developers with strong soft skills, such as:

  • Time management
  • Communication
  • Project management
  • Creativity
  • Problem solving skills

Experience

After competency, the most important qualification for front-end developers is experience. On-the-job experience and training is a critical requirement for many employers.

Then there’s education. Worldwide, about 75 percent of developers have a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree. Many companies still require developers to have a four-year degree. While hiring developers, it’s likely that many of them will have a degree. 

But competition for skilled front-end developers is fierce, and it’s common for job openings requiring degrees to go unfilled. Companies looking to hire developers should be prepared to recognize other forms of education and experience. Employers will have access to a much larger pool of talent if they prioritize skills over education and pedigree.

Online training and bootcamps are popular ways to learn new technical skills. And research has shown that 86.7 percent of developers have taught themselves a framework, language, or tool outside of a classroom or course. 

Increasingly, developers with no higher education or on-the-job experience are becoming ideal candidates for many roles. Many of the world’s leading tech companies have taken notice and no longer require a four-year degree. Employers that hire developers from a more diverse range of backgrounds could have a leg up when it comes to scaling their teams.

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