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Branching Out from the Great Divide

I like the term Front-End Developer. It's encapsulates the nature of your job if your concerns are:

  • Building UIs for web browsers
  • The spectrum of devices and platforms those web browsers run on
  • The people who use those web browsers and related assistive technology

The breadth of knowledge for all-things front-end development has gotten super deep. I've found that front-end developers that have stretched themselves to the point they are thinking of themselves as full-stack developers more and more. I think that's kinda cool and empowering, but it doesn't mean that everyone needs to go that wide.

Brad Frost referred to sides of the spectrum as "back of the front" and "front of the front." I once drew the line, in The Great Divide, as heavy JavaScript vs. not. These distinctions aren't to divide people, but to acknowledge the spectrum and that there are people all over it.

In a new article called "Frontend Design, React, and a Bridge over the Great Divide," Brad makes the point that the role of "Front-End Designer" exists on the spectrum right smack in the middle between design and development, where "development" refers to the back-end or deeper JavaScript stuff.

The jobs?

  • Crafting semantic HTML markup
  • Creating CSS code
  • Authoring JavaScript that primarily manipulates objects in the DOM
  • Testing across browsers and devices
  • Optimizing the performance of front-end code
  • Working with designers
  • Working with back-end and application developers

That sounds like the "traditional" explanation of a front-end developer to me — if there is such a thing — but it makes sense to rename that role since front-end development is the term that got so wide.

Brad adds these responsibilties to the list:

  • Create a library of presentational UI components
  • Author and document a robust, intuitive component API for each presentational component
  • Determine how flexible or rigid the component library should be
  • Maintain the presentational components as a product

That's where I think this metaphor comes in:

A tree of nodes branching out, but sharing a common trunk.

Me, Brad and a slew of you out there are front-end developers. We work in browsers and we care about the users and where and how they interact with those browsers. We do the things on Brad's first list like craft HTML and CSS, work with designs and do testing. We share that common trunk of skills on the tree above.

But Brad is more of a systems designer than I am. His dot lands somewhere differently on that tree. I don't know if I'm particularly skilled at anything, but my dot definitely falls elsewhere on that tree. Perhaps on an entirely different branch, as I quite like working with JavaScript tooling and logic and APIs and such. The bulk of Brad's article is about React and finding a place in the realm of front-end development where the job isn't ignoring React, but working with it in such a way that doesn't mean every other aspect of development doesn't have to come along for the ride.

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