Product Design

Dec. 13, 2018

/ code & tools

10 skills you need to be a frontend developer

Luiza Sadowska

Software engineers, well versed in agile development, are high in demand. The market need is huge and most likely the gap is not going to be filled quickly due to the increasing need for skilled developers. This is one of the reasons why many decide to change their career path and start own journey with IT. However, there is a particular skill set required for each position. Today we are going to talk about the frontend developer must-haves!

Frontend developer’s overview

Basically, web development consists of two main parts and each of them demands different skills and knowledge of technologies: frontend (with what the user interacts with) and backend (all that goes behind the scenes and makes it happen). The frontend, in other words, is taking care of the “client-side” while the back-end is focused on “server-side”. The distinction is important if you want to classify the skills which are necessary for a frontend developer. 

Top frontend devs are fluent with every aspect of the website: fonts, sliders, drop-down menus and buttons, JavaScript functions, web content like videos, photos and articles which are displayed. There is a lot going on when it comes to the layout but as well they take care of all the interactive part of the website or application. 

Regardless of technical abilities, there are also some soft-skills necessary to become a good frontend dev

Technical skills of a frontend developer

A frontend dev has to know and be fluent in HTML, CSS and JavaScript, there is no doubt about it. Just for a sake of writing faster, you should also familiarize yourself with an Integrated Development Environment (IDE), like Emmet or Visual Studio Code

Required skills vary depending on the position and the project they are going to work on. Some companies need just basics but with solid experience, other ones are searching for real unicorns, a rare species of frontend developers which are also pretty good in UI and UX design. If you are just starting in IT world, or maybe you are trying to land first Junior Frontend position, then check what you need to know to be considered as a developer:

1. HTML, CSS, JavaScript

Mastering HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript is a MUST. Honestly, not having it at the fingertips is unacceptable for a frontend developer. HTML, the key structural component of any website together with CSS, which is the styling part already allows you to build some basic websites and applications. However, to make it interactive you need JavaScript! But without knowing HTML and CSS, it won’t be possible to implement it into the website or app. This trio is necessary for everyone who considers a career in the frontend, but that’s just the beginning! Although, if you are not a fan of styling but you really enjoy all the JavaScript functions and possibilities it gives, you should consider digging deeper into this particular language. There are many offers for purely JavaScript developers and the demand is as high as for general frontend specialists.

2. CSS preprocessors (Sass/LESS)

A top frontend developer should be proficient in CSS3, however, what makes a dev life easier and the whole process faster is knowing preprocessors. Sass and LESS are quite commonly used and often you can find those in job listings. Their duty is to process the CSS written by you, before publishing on the website and turning it into cross-browser friendly code.   

3. JavaScript frameworks (Angular, Ember, React) and JavaScript libraries 

Depending on the team you are going to work with or on the project, most likely there will be given a framework you should be familiar with. Knowing the language itself is one thing but knowing how to work within a framework is an additional skill and you can’t do much without it, especially if you want to create some real project for a client. The most popular are Angular, React and Vue.js - getting familiar with one of them is a big plus. You can start with this ng2 (Angular) comprehensive guide

Additionally, libraries are great to minimize the amount of code you have to write from scratch. Being fluent with, for example, jQuery will make not only your life easier but also the workflow way faster! You can find there ready-made plugins and extensions which are customizable like search form autocomplete, how to automatically resize grid layouts or countdown timers and so on. Why reinventing the wheel and wasting time instead of using a working solution? 

4. CSS frameworks (Foundation, Bootstrap) and responsive design

Like JavaScript frameworks but for CSS - optimizing the workflow. It means, that it is actually better for a developer to know them because you can get the same results in less time and less typing. Another important aspect is a responsive design - sites and apps that work great on each device and in each size are a must-have in 2019. Knowing how to convert a website from a static to responsive one is essential but saving some time by using frameworks which have it already built in is even better. Win-win.

5. developer tools and version control 

With developer tools (which you open in a browser) you can play around with each element of the website. Why is it important? Because without actually changing anything in the code you can check how those changes would influence the website or an app while having it open in the browser. Also helps when you search for bugs and weak points. 

Another skill, which is not exactly coding, is knowing how to work with version control like Github

6. writing tests for applications and an eye for details

Not essential but nice-to-have! Writing tests for your apps is a great skill but definitely, you can land a job without it. Let’s add it to “do it later” together with learning more about more sophisticated stuff like React Server-Side Rendering.  

As in every field, there are some handy soft skills which can help you skyrocket your career. Not having basic communication skills or willingness to learn more might be a problem for someone who wants to become a top frontend developer. Try to get some of them covered:

Soft skills of a frontend developer

7. good communication

Breaking the sitcom stereotype about developers, you actually need to be good in communication. First of all, the work between UI/UX designers, front- and backend has to go smoothly to finish a project. Of course, in agile software houses, you get also a project manager which helps with the information flow and a SCRUM master to help with the process, but without some basic interpersonal skills, it won’t be that easy to work with others. Effective communication is necessary when you work with other people. What is also important is the ability to clearly state and communicate what you have in mind - writing a documentation which others can read and understand is highly appreciated. 

8. teamwork 

As it was mentioned above, good communication is a key! Teamwork is usually a part of the frontend developer’s everyday life. Even if you work as a freelance dev, you’ll have to communicate well with the clients and work with them on the project to some extent. Knowing how to handle teamwork, support other devs and ask for an advice when needed make the workflow smoother and in the end, you deliver the end product faster. 

9. creativity and willingness to learn

Building the page structures, keeping the design up-to-date, responsive and pleasant for the user requires a lot of creativity and constant learning. Trends and technology are changing, thus it is important for a developer to keep up with the latest news and don’t decrease the learning curve. 

10. problem-solving 

How to deal with a project and each small task is an everyday struggle of a frontend developer but step by step, together with the team, the issues are solved. However, if something doesn’t work on the website it is the frontend dev’s duty to rectify it! Solving the problems and making it all work should be a mindset of each professional developer. 

How to become a frontend developer?

Regardless of learning how to code, create websites and applications, the most important part is to… constantly try to improve. Obviously, there are basic technical skills required and some of us have a better predisposition for learning it than others but let’s not forget that working hard and practising usually pays off. The list of 10 essential skills is not complete - it all depends on the project - but those should be mastered to start your career in the frontend world. Regarding the soft skills, even if you are not really a fan of talking with people, a communication is a key when you need to deal with a project for a client so it is worth to work on some of those but as in every job type and company you will work for, those are more flexible. 

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