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Hiring a front-end developer? 10 things to look out for

With web development in Sri Lanka being a thriving industry, it is imperative for businesses to understand the intricacies of what it takes to build that ideal website, app or enterprise software. Web design and development consists of multiple facets that people who specialise in these areas need to be aware of.

If you are a business owner or recruiter who is looking to hire a front-end developer for your requirements, there are a few things to consider. This is so that you can hire someone who is competent enough to deliver your business objectives, and tackle the many challenges that may come with it.

Starting off, who is a front-end developer?

A front-end developer is responsible for bringing what the user sees and interacts with, to life. In other words, their job is to make static designs dynamic, by making elements clickable, animated and interactive. As front-end developers account for how a site functions and feels to the user, they need to be at the forefront of coordinating with UI/UX designers.

The aesthetic nature of the job once again creates the need to coordinate with business owners, entrepreneurs or pretty much anybody from the business side. So rest assured you can expect a front-end developer to be at the forefront of listening to a client’s business needs, and offering the feedback they need to achieve their business objectives with the right kind of website and software.

What skills should a reliable front-end developer possess?

The tech industry in particular has been avid about nurturing experts who have multiple competencies to offer. The role of a front-end developer therefore, is no exception either. While this position mandatorily requires certain technical skills, it also benefits with soft skills of the right kind.

The list below elaborates on important competencies that proficient front-end developers should possess. If you’re a business owner or recruiter, this list shall give you an idea on skills to look out for. On the other hand, if you’re an aspiring front-end developer, this will provide the insight you need to strengthen your portfolio and make yourself more marketable to prospective employers.

1. Knowledge of HTML, CSS and JavaScript

Being fluent in the programming languages that make front-end development possible are the hallmarks of this job role. This includes:

(i) HTML (Hypertext Markup Language): a programming language that is extensively used in web development, to create web pages and applications. HTML converts plain text to rich text that is stylized and can be interacted with, such as hyperlinks.

(ii) CSS (Cascading Style Sheets): this programming language further enables styling web pages and applications. CSS adds on to HTML by providing the web page or application the visual effects that it needs for aesthetic appeal.

(iii) JavaScript: a programming language that enables the functionality of pages and applications built via HTML and CSS.

Being knowledgeable in the 3 above-mentioned programming languages are an absolute must for any front-end developer, as they form the base for any kind of front-end development to take place. HTML, CSS and JavaScript then form the foundation for the following skills, all of which are essential for front-end developers.

2. Knowledge of CSS and JavaScript frameworks

While being familiar with the 3 basic programming languages are a necessity, being equally familiar with their respective frameworks are also just as important.

But what is a framework in the first place?

A programming framework is a predetermined set of codes written in a specific programming language that can perform a particular task/set of tasks. Frameworks make it easier and faster for developers to deliver results, as they do not need to write codes from scratch every time they need to create dynamic outcomes from otherwise static designs.

Take Bootstrap and AngularJS, for example. While both are popular frameworks used by front-end developers all the time, each framework is equipped with features that offer different benefits. Bootstrap is more erred towards stylizing elements for visual appeal, while AngularJS offers organisational and operational structure to data.

Take Bootstrap and AngularJS, for example. While both are popular frameworks used by front-end developers all the time, each framework is equipped with features that offer different benefits. Bootstrap is more erred towards stylizing elements for visual appeal, while AngularJS offers organisational and operational structure to data.

3. Knowledge of browser developer tools

Once your site or app is up and running, users are going to view and interact via different browsers across multiple devices. Web browser tools therefore enable front-end developers to observe how their site or app functions across different browsers, and correct any inconsistencies if need be.

The browser development tools can be accessed at any page of the website by hitting a simple command via the keyboard, or by right clicking and selecting ‘Inspect Elements’ in browsers such as Chrome. The window that extends at the bottom of your screen then displays all the codes that have been used to bring the webpage to life is something that front-end developers can find useful, if they are proficient in how to use the same.

4. Knowledge of version control, such as Git

Once the preliminary code for a site or app is established, it is certain that changes will have to be made to correct bugs, enhance results or accommodate feedback from peers or clients.

Maintaining different versions of code is therefore necessary, so that developers can refer to previous versions to check for any inconsistencies, and remediate them as required. Git, for instance, is an open-source platform that facilitates version control of codes. However, it is technical to the level that front-end developers need to be educated on how to use this system, for their duties.

5. Knowledge of Preprocessing

Writing large quantities of code can not only be time consuming, but also be prone to errors. Preprocessing streamlines the need to deliver concise code, by enabling developers to convert one form of data to another (such as that of their desired programming language). Similar to frameworks, preprocessing reduces the need to write large amounts of code, which enables front-end developers to shorten processing times and deliver results that are punctual and accurate.

Haml (HTML Abstraction Markup Language) and Sass (Systematically Awesome Stylesheets) are two preprocessor languages that are quite popular when it comes to converting code into HTML and CSS. While Haml converts to HTML, Sass converts to CSS. Preprocessors are advantageous not only because they make it easier for front-end developers to write code easily, but because they help to create web and software structures that are far more organized than if the code had been written manually, and from scratch.

Therefore it is understandable why comprehensive knowledge of preprocessors isn’t just beneficial for faster turnarounds, but also for the purpose of building applications that are well defined and logical.

6. Knowledge of testing

Although today’s web development teams consist of extensive quality assurance units, possessing software testing knowledge is bound to be a plus for any front-end developer. This way, many bugs can be prevented from the development stage itself.

In addition to that, certain testing methodologies such as white box testing can only be carried out by those who have programming knowledge, which makes front-end developers ideal candidates to partake in the same.

7. An eye for design, user interfaces and responsiveness

Granted that front-end developers only need to focus on converting static designs to dynamic webpages and applications, it is always beneficial for these folks to understand design principles too. This is so they can resonate to UI/UX experts and provide valuable feedback on whether elements/features can work from a front-end development perspective or not.

The ability to cater to devices of multiple screen dimensions is also crucial, as today’s highly mobile era enables most people to access the web and apps via their smartphones. A front-end developer who is flexible enough to cater to myriad devices with varying configurations is someone who is resourceful enough to work in the long-term, for all your web and software needs.

8. Ability to understand business and brand requirements

As a business owner, being able to communicate with your front-end developer in a manner that the latter can resonate with you and offer you insightful advice based on your business pains is someone who you will be able to create strong rapport with. In turn, someone who can enhance your business’s technology needs while paying attention to the bottom line is highly competent than their otherwise conventional counterparts.

9. Ability to receive and provide constructive feedback

It’s common for clashes to happen between clients and their web development teams. Irrespective of the complexity of your web or software project, you need to ensure that the candidate of your choice is open to accepting feedback for the purpose of enhancing whatever is under development. Keep in mind that the feedback loop is one that revolves several times even during the simplest of development projects, so having someone on board who is objective enough to acknowledge constructive criticism (and then promptly act upon it or provide clients feedback in return) is something you prioritise upon.

10. The willingness to constantly learn

Even after being established in our occupations for several years, there is always the opportunity to learn and know better. The very same goes for front-end development, and with the web and software development industry constantly evolving at a breakneck pace, the chance to stay abreast of the latest trends is always present. Your ideal front-end candidate will therefore exhibit the characteristics of self-educating themselves whenever the opportunity arises, thereby giving you the expertise you need to thrive at your business with superior websites and/or software.

What are the best ways to source front-end developers?

If you’re a business owner or recruiter, your first course of action would be to advertise on online job boards, and even freelancer websites such as Upwork. However, the most competent designers, developers and other subject matter experts servicing the IT industry are almost always busy with other projects, so there is a slim chance that the best ones may even respond to your ad!

Of course, this isn’t always the case. While advertising job vacancies is ideal, it’s also a good initiative to reach out to those you know for recommendations. Chances are that one of your contacts may have previously worked, or may currently be working with a competent front-end developer who they will be happy to recommend.

Summing it up…

Hiring anybody for an IT project, let alone a front-end developer, is one that requires keen attention to detail for BOTH technical and soft skills. Considering a front-end developer’s job role, thorough knowledge of HTML, CSS and JavaScript is an absolute must, along with having necessary knowledge of using their respective frameworks and preprocessor technologies.

Of course, simply transforming static to dynamic isn’t the only job criteria for a front-end developer, and ensuring that the website or app under development is responsive enough to function across multiple devices and browsers is also of top priority. Proficiency in testing is also ideal, as several forms of quality assurance that require knowledge in coding can be performed by front-end developers themselves, and all in the interest of a high-quality outcome. Coordinating with UI/UX designers on visual layouts is also something that a truly competent front-end developer can contribute to, especially to let everyone on the team know whether certain design elements are practical or not.

While hard skills facilitate the competencies that create a front-end developer by profession, they aren’t adequate to thrive in today’s multidimensional business environments. Business owners are keen on working with front-end developers who can understand company objectives and provide feedback that helps them achieve just that – from a web and/or software perspective. Attitude is another factor. Having a front-end developer who is patient with multiple rounds of feedback and can revert just as competitively is a resource that is ultimately highly valuable to businesses, as someone with such an objective nature can be reached for issues both big and small, relating to your front-end requirements. Last but never the least, the enthusiasm to continuously learn shows you that this is an individual who is passionate about what he/she does, thereby giving you one more reason to hire him/her for your project with much trust.



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