Getting Started in Frontend Web Development

Getting Started in Frontend Web Development

So you’re looking to get into frontend web development huh?

Congrats, being a Frontend Web Developer is a super neat career with plenty of opportunities if you approach it correctly. That being said breaking into frontend web development can have some pitfalls that aren’t easy to spot from the outset. Whether you’re coming from a more conventional educational background or if you’re a self-taught guru, these steps should help you out regardless. Let’s get into the nitty gritty of what you can do to help kickstart your job hunt.

Technical Skills

First things first, you’ve gotta make sure you have the technical know-how to get the job done. This topic has been written about to death so here’s some simple things that every Frontend Developer should know. On a baseline, you absolutely need to know CSS, HTML, and Javascript. You’ll obviously get better at these as time goes on, and I’m learning new stuff every day, but potential employers are going to be looking to see if you have the chops to build a site from scratch.

Getting a little deeper down the frontend web development rabbit hole, you’ll want to have some experience in more technical versions of each of the topics above. This means working with LESS/SASS or another CSS precompiler. This could also mean having some experience in a Javascript framework such as React or Angular. In my experience, you don’t need to be a Javascript framework master to land your first gig, but it’s a huge plus to have worked with them. To that end as well, the direction frontend development is going is pointed straight towards those kind of frameworks, so you’ll have to learn them eventually to stay relevant.

Finally, you’ll need to grasp some of the smaller skills like learning how to work with git, using SFTP software, and using task runners like Gulp or Grunt. These type of skills don’t take a horribly long amount of time to get up and running, but they should help out both your workflow and your chances of getting some work.

Getting Your Name Out There

Something that wasn’t explained to me when I was looking into frontend web development work was where it’s situated between dev and design. What I mean by that is there are pretty specific ways to build up a reputation and portfolio in either the straight development industry and the design industry respectively. However, because frontend development borrows skills from both industries, it’s less clear how to build up your status. If you only have a GitHub account with your code, people are going to want to see how your website ended up looking visually. But if you only post static screenshots of your web work, someone might wonder if your coding moxie is up to snuff. So what do you need to do? There’s a lot of answers out there but I’ll share with you what worked for me.

To show people what your work looks like and how you think about it, you’re going to need a website development portfolio. Just a place where potential employers can go a look at your work. It might not be super heavy on the code side, but it should give the viewer a good idea of the kind of work you can do. A tip to remember; if you’re a Frontend Web Developer, you should have at least some grasp of web design. So do your best to make your site look good. This doesn’t mean it needs to be complicated as heck, but it should be easy to use and nice to look at. Your site could be the first time someone is introduced to you and your work, so treat it like a first impression.

Next, you’re going to want to show some code in action. Like I mentioned before, GitHub is a great way to do this if you’re a Backend Developer,  but because the visuals of something are so important to frontend development folks it doesn’t strike me as the best solution. Here’s what I’ll recommend; spend some time prototyping ideas you have on something like CodePen or JSFiddle. I personally use CodePen because it’s easier to generate some traffic for yourself based on their front page. Building prototypes on these types of sites serve a whole host of purposes. First and foremost is showing your code right next to your visuals. This lets someone see how you approach both the technical and the subjective parts of being a frontend web dev. There’s a chance as well that you can get some page views just by making a cool piece. I’ve tweeted at the CodePen Twitter account before with a link to the thing I’ve made and they will sometimes feature it on their homepage. In addition to being a nice ego boost, this builds up your reputation as someone who is involved in the community and interested in the craft. Here’s a link to my personal CodePen to show which “pens” worked out well for me.

Soft Skills

This is certainly talked about among devs, but it’s worth mentioning every time a conversation about being hirable comes up. In frontend web development, you need to be a good communicator. This doesn’t mean you are required to be a social butterfly and the most popular person in the room. What is does mean is that when there are ambiguities or a design, some confusion that’s appeared from a project manager, or a piece of code that isn’t making sense then you’ve got to clear it up. The rule I use is that if I ask a question in my head about a project and the answer is ‘I don’t know’ then I’ve gotta go fix that right then. No one is going to yell at you for cleaning up any confusion, but someone certainly will if you get done with a site and it’s not at all what was intended to be built.

There is no single correct path to a career in frontend web development, however, these are some of the things that helped me along the way. Leave us a Facebook comment or shoot us a tweet at @three29media if there is anything else that has helped you get started in the field.

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