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What is the role of front-end developers and which skills should they have?

The front-end developer is a highly important role in any team offering software development services

A good front-end developer won’t just know how to use CSS and Javascript but will also work with some combined frameworks CSS preprocessors (such as Sass, LESS, and Stylus) lets the developer write and make changes throughout the entire CSS code just by changing one variable Knowing how to adapt a website to look its best on smaller screens is essential for any front-end developer’s toolkit

By: BairesDev, a leading Nearshore Outsourcing Software Development and IT company 

In today’s world, having a compelling website that provides the best possible UX is a must. For that to happen, there are several professionals working together to fit all the required pieces. Among them, one of the most important ones is the front-end developer, a role that’s highly important in any team offering software development services.

That’s because front-end development takes the design made by the graphics department and makes it work in a functional layout. When done right, the job of the front-end developer goes unnoticed. When done wrong, people feel it right away, as websites seem awkward, uncomfortable, or unusable. That’s why is important to fill this role with a top candidate, one that combines tech-savviness with soft skills.

So, if you’re looking for a front-end developer to join your team or want to know how to evaluate the one that’s being offered to you by a software development provider, then read on to find what should you be looking for.

What does a front-end developer do?

In a few words, front-end development is how the graphic design of a website is implemented on the web. Thus, a front-end developer is the person in charge of implementing web designs by using common web languages like HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

Front-end developers are sometimes called client-side developers to differentiate them from back end developers, who take care of everything that happens behind what the user sees. So, if the work of a front-end developer is what you can see on any website, that means that these experts are responsible for the navigation, layout, styles, and even for responsive design.

To get that job done, front-end developers need a solid combination of skills. There are some that are more widely known and practically always demanded (the aforementioned knowledge in HTML, CSS, and Javascript). But whenever enterprises, startups, or software development companies look for a front-end developer, they go beyond those basic skills and into a mixture of several, less-known capabilities.

Let’s run down through the most important ones.

10 essential skills for front-end developers

1 – HTML and CSS

This is the third time we mention these and for a reason: they both are the basic building blocks of the whole Internet, so front-end developers definitely need to know how to handle them. 

HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is the standard language in which web pages are written. It’s a markup language through which developers can combine HTML elements and other components to be displayed on web browsers and make up the final site.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is the language that gives HTML its style. Basically, CSS is what defines a page’s layout, colours, fonts, and all other aspects of how the HTML document is presented in the browser.

As you can see, both of these languages are essential because simply put, there would be no website without either of them.

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2 – Javascript

In-house development teams, freelance agencies, and software development outsourcing companies looking for front-end developers all agree that there’s a third basic skill those experts need to even begin considering them – knowing Javascript.

Javascript is the language that defines interactive functions that have become essential in today’s Web. Page animations, embedded videos, interactive games – all these components are implemented with Javascript’s aid. And if the front-end developer also knows his or her work around libraries like jQuery to optimize the code, then he or she has all the basics covered.

3 – Javascript frameworks

Alright, this seems redundant but it isn’t! A good front-end developer won’t just know how to use CSS and Javascript but will also work with some combined frameworks. In short, frameworks are collections of files with common functionalities in them. That means that the front-end developer using frameworks won’t start the pages from scratch but rather use a combination of predefined Javascript elements in it to later sprinkle it with CSS.

Now, there are a lot of frameworks out there but a front-end developer that handles the most popular ones will surely prove more useful. And by popular we mean frameworks like React, Angular, or Vue, all of which have their strengths and weaknesses.

4 – CSS Preprocessing

Just like with Javascript, CSS also has an additional skill that a good front-end developer should know – CSS preprocessing. Since variables and functions can’t be defined when using CSS, a developer can find him or herself wasting precious time writing the same code over and over. That’s where CSS Preprocessing makes its entrance.

CSS preprocessors (such as Sass, LESS, and Stylus) lets the developer write and make changes throughout the entire CSS code just by changing one variable (instead of all the variables). Of course, to do that, the front-end developer has to know how to work with CSS Preprocessing, since these tools use their own language too, later on, convert it to CSS to work on the website.

5 – Version control

Working on a website can bring several issues. So, whenever something wrong appears, it’s the developer’s job to find where things started to go south. Since there are several versions of any page before getting to the final one, finding a particular issue can be extremely frustrating and time-consuming. That’s when version control comes in handy.

With any version control tool (such as the widely known Git), the front-end developer can track all the changes that are applied to any page. That way the developer can go back to any previous version that’s needed to work specifically on the particular issue without having to take apart the whole website’s code.

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6 – Testing and debugging

If you’re slightly familiar with development, you’ll know there’s a reality you’ll simply have to accept – the fact that bugs will appear at one point. That’s why is so important for front-end developers to know how to test their own websites. That way, you won’t have to wait for the site to be done to find bugs since the developer will find them as versions progress.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. That’s the reason why a good front-end developer has to know a couple of testing methods to explore the code. Methods like functional testing (that analyzes functionalities like forms or databases) or unit testing (that checks the correct operation of all the site’s code) are among the must-have for developers. Naturally, there is software that can help with testing and debugging, but knowing the basics of it all is needed to take full advantage of them.

7 – Responsive design

Finally, the last skill you should expect from a front-end developer is how to make a site responsive. Responsive design is the skill needed for that to happen, as it’s responsible for laying out the design principles and their implementation to get a site to look great across devices of all sizes.

Given that people are increasingly browsing the Web with their phones and tablets (and with the surge of the mobile-first mentality), knowing how to adapt a website to look its best on smaller screens is essential for any front-end developer’s toolkit.

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Some additional thoughts

Though we’ve covered the basic skills all front-end developers need to have to work in web development, there are many others that will complete the ideal developer’s skillset. Things like knowing how to use dev browser and automation tools, how to work on cross-browser projects, or having experience with RESTful services and APIs are other tech skills that recruiters are after when choosing a front-end developer.

That’s not all. Modern teams don’t just depend on the tech knowledge of their members. They also need each developer to have a set of soft skills that boost collaborative work. Front-end developers also need strong communication skills, understanding of the client experience, a taste for teamwork, problem-solving capabilities, and a creative mindset to be successful in the modern workplace.

Looking for a front-end developer that combines all of these skills isn’t easy. There’s a high demand for these experts and, given how essential they are for web development, that won’t be changing any time soon. That’s why you need to know what you’re looking for and be willing to fight for a candidate that has all of these skills or consider outsourcing software development to get the talent your web project needs.