Getting Nowhere on Job Titles

Last week on ShopTalk, Dave and I spoke with Mandy Michael and Lara Schenck. Mandy had just written the intentionally provocative "Is there any value in people who cannot write JavaScript?" which guided our conversation. Lara is deeply interested in this subject as well, as someone who is a job seeking web worker, but places herself on the spectrum as a non-unicorn.

Part of that discussion was about job titles. If there was a ubiquitously accepted and used job title that meant you were specifically skilled at HTML and CSS, and there was a market for that job title, there probably wouldn't be any problem at all. There isn't though. "Web developer" is too vague. "Front-end developer" maybe used to mean that, but has been largely co-opted by JavaScript.

In fact, you might say that none of us has an exactly perfect job title and the industry at large has trouble agreeing on a set of job titles.

Lara created a repo with the intent to think all this out and discuss it.

If there is already a spectrum between design and backend development, and front-end development is that place in between, perhaps front-end development, if we zoom in, is a spectrum as well:

I like the idea of spectrums, but I also agree with a comment by Sarah Drasner where she mentioned that this makes it seem like you can't be good at both. If you're a dot right in the middle in this specrum, you are, for example, not as good at JavaScript as someone on the right.

This could probably be fixed with some different dataviz (perhaps the size of the dot), or, heaven forbid, skill-level bars.

More importantly, if you're really interested in the discussion around all this, Lara has used the issues area to open that up.

Last year, Geoff also started thinking about all our web jobs as a spectrum. We can break up our jobs into parts and map them onto those parts in differnet ways:

See the Pen Web Terminology Matrix by Geoff Graham (@geoffgraham) on CodePen.

See the Pen Web Terminology Venn Diagram by Geoff Graham (@geoffgraham) on CodePen.

That can certainly help us understand our world a little bit, but doesn't quite help with the job titles thing. It's unlikely we'll get people to write job descriptions that include a data visualization of what they are looking for.

Jeff Pelletier took a crack at job titles and narrowed it down to three:

Front-end Implementation (responsive web design, modular/scalable CSS, UI frameworks, living style guides, progressive enhancement & accessibility, animation and front-end performance).

Application Development (JavaScript frameworks, JavaScript preprocessors, code quality, process automation, testing).

Front-end Operations (build tools, deployment, speed: (app, tests, builds, deploys), monitoring errors/logs, and stability).

Although those don't quite feel like titles to me and converting them into something like "Front-end implementation developer" doesn't seem like something that will catch on.

Cody Lindley's Front-End Developer Handbook has a section on job titles. I won't quote it in full, but they are:

  • Front-End Developer
  • Front-End Engineer (aka JavaScript Developer or Full-stack JavaScript Developer)
  • CSS/HTML Developer
  • Front-End Web Designer
  • Web/Front-End User Interface (aka UI) Developer/Engineer
  • Mobile/Tablet Front-End Developer
  • Front-End SEO Expert
  • Front-End Accessibility Expert
  • Front-End Dev. Ops
  • Front-End Testing/QA

Note the contentious "full stack" title, in which Brad Frost says:

In my experience, “full-stack developers” always translates to “programmers who can do frontend code because they have to and it’s ‘easy’.” It’s never the other way around.

Still, these largely feel pretty good to me. And yet weirdly, almost like there is both too many and too few. As in, while there is good coverage here, but if you are going to cover specialties, you might as well add in performance, copywriting, analytics, and more as well. The more you add, the further away we are to locking things down. Not to mention the harder it becomes when people crossover these disciplines, like they almost always do.

Oh well.