22 Skills to Look for in a Front-End Developer

When you are trying to find a good front-end developer, or become one, it is important that you know the qualities that exemplify a really great one.

Not every hiring manager is technically inclined. That’s fine. But they should be able to search out and find the developer that will satisfy their company’s needs.

Let’s start from the beginning. What defines the role of front-end developer?

What Is a Front-End Developer?

Simply, a front-end developer bridges the gap between design and code. They are the trusty translator from the technical to the non-technical and back again. Using what back-end developers have done and building upon it, the front-end developer creates the content that we, as website or app users, interact with.

Front-end developers’ main concern is how users experience a work product. That a site is objectively functional is important, but the front-end developer is also concerned with the successful interaction between site and user.

How Do You Become a Front-End Developer?

The best way to become a front-end developer is to learn the skills and aptitudes that encapsulate what is necessary for the day-to-day in that job.

These skills can be learned without going to a day of traditional schooling. And, if a hiring manager is good, they won’t blink twice at a lack of a CS degree. With the speed at which the industry changes, it is more important that you have the skills and have demonstrated those skills.

There are numerous platforms for learning the skills you need to become a developer. Some are free, some cheap, some quite expensive. Do your research and find the service you will stick with. Some examples are Lynda.com, Treehouse, YouTube, Udemy, and on and on.

With the requisite set of skills, developers should make cool things and create an enviable portfolio. As technical hiring evolves, new developers may be lucky enough to be invited to a skills assessment. If they are skilled, it will show.

So, what exactly does a front-end developer need to be successful?

What Skills Should a Front-End Developer Have?

The skills necessary for front-end development aren’t just limited to the technical. While the right technologies are central to their job, soft skills and aptitudes fill out the whole suit.

The following are the basic requirements of a good front-end developer.

Technologies:

  • HTML (HyperText Markup Language) — The brick and mortar foundation that makes up the content of a website. The most basic technology any front-end dev will know like the back of their hand.
  • CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) — The website’s stylist, bringing typography, color, negative space, layout, animations, etc. to life within the HTML on the page.
  • JavaScript/jQuery — JavaScript brings interactivity to elements created by CSS and HTML, such as drop-down menus, video, modal windows, animations, games, etc. jQuery is a JavaScript library that allows for shorter and cleaner code than JavaScript alone.
  • CSS and JavaScript frameworks — CSS frameworks like Bootstrap and Foundation make structuring websites easier while also adhering to best practices. JavaScript frameworks, such as AngularJS, help maintain the rules and conventions that keep code structured and clean.
  • Command line — Stripping away all the flashiness of graphical user interfaces, using commands in a terminal is a straightforward call and response, returning exactly what was asked for without all the roundabout action of the GUI.

Aptitudes:

  • Photoshop/GIMP — While not a graphic designer, the front-end developer should have some understanding of photo editing software. They will need to make a designer’s vision reality.
  • Wireframing — Developing a visual framework for the site or app to be developed is a very important aptitude for any front-end developer. It represents a great first step for organizing code.
  • UI/UX best practices — As the front-end developer often works directly with the UX designer, it is important that they understand UX/UI best practices to deliver on their recommendations.
  • Debugging — No site is without bugs somewhere along the way. Knowing how to test code for bugs and then squash those bugs is a skill every developer should have in spades.
  • Git/version control — Version control allows for tracking changes in a site’s source code so that throughout development, you never have to start over from the beginning. Git is the most popular tool for version control. Front-end devs that don’t understand Git best practices are a red flag.
  • Responsive design — People access websites from all manner of devices. If a site doesn’t change to accommodate the different screen sizes, it isn’t worth visiting. Front-end developers need to understand responsive design principles in order to create that respond to all screen sizes.
  • Performance optimization — A slow site is a site gone unvisited. From JavaScript and CSS minification to image optimization, it is imperative that a front-end developer knows how to get a sluggish site to load quickly and efficiently.

Soft Skills:

  • Adaptability — With technologies evolving all the time, it is a must to be adaptable to these changes. Languages and frameworks will come and go. Can the developer easily take on a new language or work within a new framework?
  • Healthy skepticism — Some jobs are made for yes men and women. Development is not that. Awesome developers are the ones that question the status quo in the pursuit of something better.
  • Excitement for learning — Developers aren’t allowed to get ambivalent about the newest technologies. As the industry constantly changes, developers must keep learning. This is only sustainable if they are excited about learning more things — from industry publications, from message boards, from other developers, wherever they can.
  • A creative streak — A great front-end developer has a perfect blend of technical know-how with a flair for the creative. Knowing what looks good and what looks terrible is key to building a website that pleases and converts.
  • Critical thinking — The central role of any developer is of problem-solver. Where a complex obstacle exists, they find a way to get around it with maximum efficiency. These critical thinking skills are what sets good developers apart from great developers.
  • Patience — The best weapon against frustration, patience means the difference between working to the other side of a problem and throwing a laptop. Many challenges come up in development. Successful developers work through them, no matter how frustrating.
  • Attention to detail — Being the creator of what the user experiences, front-end developers need to focus on the little details as well as the big picture. They should be asking themselves how they make these little things the best they can.
  • Ability to communicate effectively — Understanding what stakeholders and managers want and being able to communicate clearly about a project are essential skills for any developer. Misunderstandings can throw a wrench in a project, costing time and money.
  • Self-direction — The ideal relationship between a boss and a front-end developer is not one of micromanagement. There should be significant trust that a developer understands what they need to accomplish and they will follow through without prodding or direction.
  • Team player — A front-end developer is not an island. They need to be able to work with a team and across departments to do their job well. If they can’t, they will have a hard time accomplishing what they set out to do.

How Do You Find Skilled Front-End Developers?

Front-end developers are a dime a dozen, but truly skilled ones need to be sussed out. How do you find the developers that have all the above skills and aptitudes?

Well, there isn’t one single way. To understand whether they have the technical skills to do the job, don’t waste time looking through every resume that ends up on your desk.

Test your candidates’ skills with an assessment service (such as VerifyWP) that can illuminate the most technically qualified of your list. This is a simple way to filter your candidates down to just a few.

With a handful of candidates left, you can interview each for the soft skills and certain aptitudes needed in that position. To keep your process unbiased and comparative, use a structured interview approach to best understand how well they will fit at your company.

Soon enough, you will have your perfect front-end developer.