How to Become a Frontend Developer
Web development is one of the hottest areas of IT right now. Because of this, a large number of companies are looking for skilled and experienced software developers to create state-of-the-art web applications.
There are, in general, three types of web developers: front end, back end and full-stack. Front-end developers code the client-side applications that people use in their web browser, while back-end developers program the server-side applications that communicate with the client-side applications. Full-stack developers work on both frontend and backend applications.
In this article, we will cover skills that you need to become a front-end developer — as well as a practical pathway toward this rewarding career.
Technologies You Need To Know as a Front-End Developer
While the number of frontend development tools available today are nearly endless, the following technologies are essential to most of the jobs out there:
HTML & CSS
No matter how complex a frontend web application may be, at its foundation are the same basic building blocks that are used in the simplest of websites: Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). While HTML is the language that describes the elements of a web page, CSS is the code that tells a web browser how to display these elements.
Front-end developers must be experts in both these technologies, as everything they do ultimately relates to manipulating HTML and CSS in a way to create a useful application.
How to Become a Professional Front-End Developer
Aspiring front-end developers face a seemingly impossible dilemma: organizations require their front-end developers to have both experience and skills. But how do you get the experience and skills if no one will hire you? Fortunately, you can get around this dilemma by following these steps:
1. Learn How To Create Basic Web Pages
You have surely heard the old saying: "you have to crawl before you can walk." Nowhere is this more true than in web development.
Start off by learning the basics of HTML and CSS. There are many free online resources available, such as HTML For Beginners The Easy Way and Learn HTML. You can supplement this with a variety of books and courses.
Your goal at this step should be to understand how web pages work at a very basic level, and have the ability to create the type of simple non-interactive websites that you see everyday. You might even want to select one at random and try to mimic how it looks.
You also need to learn how to make a web page responsive. This is the ability of a page to automatically adapt to the screen size of the user. As screen sizes of devices today vary greatly, this is a critical skill for frontend developers. You can learn responsive web design from tutorials such as this one.
3. Build Your Own Web Applications
Once you know how to crawl, you can start to walk. The idea here is to develop your own web applications that let users accomplish something. Try to keep your ideas simple at first, and as you improve as a developer, make them more complicated.
You should understand that your first apps are probably not going to be very good. But this is okay. You will only get better by trying, failing and learning from your failures. You should also understand that you do not have to do this all on your own.
Once you have written two or three really good web applications that you are proud of, you should make them freely available on the web as open source, as they will serve as your initial portfolio. A good place to do this is on GitHub Pages. There you can upload an unlimited number of applications for free, along with their source code, which will show future employers your programming skills.
With this in mind, you should make sure that your code is neatly written and follows industry-standard coding practices.
4. Find Unpaid Front End Assignments
Armed with your online portfolio, you can now start looking for experience writing frontend applications for others.
One way that you can do this is by volunteering. Websites such as VolunteerMatch and donate:code can match you with nonprofit organizations that are looking for programmers. You can also find volunteer opportunities with various open source projects by using CodeTriage. These opportunities can provide you with valuable experience and additions to your portfolio. They can even lead to paid jobs.
Another great way to get experience in software development is through hackathons, such as those offered by Major League Hacking. At these events, you team up with other developers to accomplish programming tasks. Not only will this help you learn how to develop software collaboratively, but you can also add what you have created to your portfolio while networking with those who could help you land your first job.
5. Apply for Jobs
Once you have both skills and experience, you are ready to apply for a full-time frontend job. Seek out opportunities in which the employer emphasizes abilities over experience. You may be surprised to learn that many big tech companies are far more concerned about what you can do than what you have done.
As you apply for jobs, you should also network as much as possible. A good way of doing this is at one of the many programming meetup groups.
While you are waiting for that first full-time job, you might also want to apply for freelance assignments at sites such as Upwork. Like with unpaid work, they can give you both valuable experience and additions to your portfolio, and they can also provide you with some money as well.
Development is a fun and challenging field to work in. The good news is there's a lot of resources that novices can use to build their knowledge and skills. Make sure to explore your options and pick the ones that best suit your needs and goals. You want to develop a passion for what you are learning, and not get discouraged. With the right approach and a commitment to learning, you can be on your way to being a successful front-end developer.