Will Mitchell On Common Myths About Front End Development

Will Mitchell On Common Myths About Front End Development

Deciding whether or not code school is right for you is step one to starting a coding career. But the next most important decision is whether you want to focus on front end or back end programming. Both tracks offer advantages and opportunities. But pervasive myths about front end development might unfairly influence how prospective code students evaluate their options.

We talked to Will Mitchell, Director of Front End Engineering at Turing, about some of the most common front end myths, and what’s the real deal when it comes to front end development.

Myth # 1: Front end engineering is just graphic design

Front end engineers construct what the end user sees in their computer browser or when they open an app on their phone. That’s created a misconception that front end engineering is more closely related to graphic design than to actual code writing. But just because front end development is concerned with visual design, and just because front end applications feature a lot of visual elements, does not mean that front end programming is synonymous with graphic design.

Graphic designers use physical and digital tools to create assets that communicate ideas and concepts like visual layouts. They’re well-versed in subjects like color theory, kerning, typography and visual rhetoric, as well as technical programs like those included in the Adobe Creative Suite. You do not have to be a designer to be a front end engineer.

“As a front end engineer, you will likely work alongside graphic designers and use the visual assets they’ve produced as a reference for building a functional version of their initial mockup or wireframe” explains Will Mitchell.  

You will use the Javascript, CSS and HTML programming languages to ensure the visual, user-facing elements of a website or app are functional and accessible. That includes visual elements as well as technical features like load times and security capabilities.

You will also think a lot about user flow and the way someone experiences a website. For example, if you’ve ever filled out an online form and clicked the Submit button only for a message to pop up warning you not to hit the back button or press Submit again, you know it’s confusing and even disconcerting. A good front end developer will ensure the site functions in such a way that such messages are unnecessary and the user doesn’t feel like they’ve done something wrong.

Myth #2:  Front end is easier than back end

Now that we’ve discussed what front end engineering is and isn’t, it’s time to tackle the myth that back end developers are the “real coders.”

Think about the sites you’ve encountered that were built using a platform like Wix or Squarespace—they have a basic, uniform look, feel and functionality. It’s a common misconception that front end isn’t much more complex than filling in your preferences on website builders like these. But there is far more to front end software engineering than simply selecting your preferences and templates in a WYSIWYG editor.

If you look at the historical context, it’s both easy to see how this myth developed and why it’s wrong. Twenty years ago, many websites were little more than HTML and CSS, with a small amount of JavaScript to manage interactions on the page. Coders might have also used a little Javascript to manage interactions on the page. Computers were less powerful, and many of the visual possibilities we take for granted in UX and UI today simply didn’t exist.

Today, computers, not to mention smartphones, are far more powerful. Much of the computational responsibility behind web pages and apps has shifted to the front end from the back end. When you go to any major website, from Twitter to the Texas Roadhouse homepage to your favorite fashion website to your insurance company’s member portal, the majority of the programming complexity behind what you see is happening in your browser, not on the server. It is a fully fleshed-out application that took thought to build, and a front end engineer has to write all that code in Javascript.

Myth #3: There aren’t as many jobs for front end developers, and only FAANG companies pay well

Gone are the days when only established Silicon Valley behemoths could pay competitive salaries for good UX and UE. These days, any brand that’s on the internet needs a competitive, highly functional web presence. Companies may try to get by with a plug-and-play WYSIWYG website builder, but as soon as you need a custom solution for customer behavior, such as specialized payment flows, you need a front end developer—and most are willing to pay for it

“You aren’t at a disadvantage if you start front end or back end,” says Will. “If you are becoming a software developer you are committing to being a lifelong learner. Eventually, someone will pay you to learn new things and that’s what a lot of people love about this field.”

As Will has pointed out before, Turing grads add value for employers, regardless of their specialty. Lead developers will be hired not just for the skills they have already cultivated, but for the skills they will grow into. It’s worth noting, then, that JavaScript is the only programming language used on both the user-facing and server-facing side of applications.

The question of how many front end jobs are out there has an even fuller answer when you consider that front end developers aren’t limited solely to front end development roles over the course of their careers. Front end developers can become full stack developers as easily as back end developers. And at the junior, mid, and senior level compensation for qualified front end developers is on par with those back end roles.

Is front end development right for me?

As web developers of any specialization know, your resume is only strengthened by familiarity with both back and front end paradigms. It never hurts to know a variety of programming languages, but JavaScript is especially versatile and pertinent to almost any code job—especially your first job in tech. By learning JavaScript, you’ve already made significant progress towards becoming a full stack developer and expanding your professional possibilities even further.

Indeed, JavaScript unlocks numerous other frameworks. React, for example, is a front end JavaScript library crucial to making API requests that communicate with the back end. Understanding React opens up possibilities like learning Node. Ruby—which we also teach at Turing—has overlap with Python, another object-oriented programming language that has both front end and back end purposes, although it’s more commonly used for back end engineering

Similarly, if you enjoy thinking less about the logic and language of computer systems and more about the intersection of human psychology and digital architecture, then once again front end programming might be right for you.

That’s especially true as of the publishing of this blog in 2023, when the tech industry is experiencing what some have described as a “course correction” marked by layoffs and unprecedented banking woes. While such recent turbulence may be alarming to prospective code students and current members of the Turing student body, it’s important to remember the success our alumni have seen even through the past five pandemic-marred years.

Getting ready for your own job search in the tech sector? Sign up for a try coding class today. Check out these additional tips and tricks from a Turing alum.