You don't have to be a designer to be a Front-End Engineer

A deep dive into the history of Front-End programming and more info about how Turing's Front-End curriculum prepares students for fulfilling careers.

You don't have to be a designer to be a Front-End Engineer

As the world we live in has become increasingly digital, many people have considered shifting their career focus to one with a strong foundation in technology. Individuals have turned to technical code schools, often known as "bootcamps," to gain these skills. At the Turing School, we offer two complete programs, Back-End Engineering and Front-End Engineering. Both are highly rigorous, technical courses, which prepare students for jobs in the tech industry over seven months.

Lately, we've noticed that while many potential students have a clear understanding of what Back-End Engineering is likely to entail, the same cannot be said for Front-End Engineering. These misconceptions might lead some students away from a track they would find deeply fulfilling, so keep reading to learn more about the Front-End curriculum and career opportunities.

To understand what Front-End Engineering is, it's essential to understand its historical roots. In the early part of the 1990s, the internet was in its infancy. Everything we now think of as commonplace was unimaginable. Computers were a fraction as powerful as they are today. Web browsers were able to render HTML, and that was it. In 1994, the first version of CSS came to the scene, and developers could add some extra design elements to their web pages. And, in 1995, Netscape added a small scripting language to their browser, named JavaScript.

screenshot of spacejam website from 1996
To see just how far Front-End development has come, check out spacejam.com.

In this early version of the web, there was no concept of Front-End Engineering. What a user ultimately saw when they arrived at a website was either the responsibility of someone behind the scenes (what we now think of as Back-End Engineering) or a web designer who had decided to layer on the minimal skills necessary to make their design appear on the webpage. At the time, Front-End Engineering didn't involve enough work to carve out a whole new specialty.

Fast forward to today, and things have changed dramatically. The phone in your pocket is thousands of times more capable than the best consumer computers of the early 90s. Modern web browsers barely resemble their predecessors. HTML and CSS have grown tremendously, allowing developers infinite possibilities to create rich experiences for their users. JavaScript, from its humble beginnings, has evolved into the most popular programming language in existence.

Unfortunately, the conceptions of what building for the web entails have not kept up with the rapid pace of technological change. The widespread assumption is that Front-End Engineering is a subset of design and that design is a requisite for being a Front-End Engineer. This just isn't true!

All the technological progress over the last 30 years has enabled the ability to build full-featured applications that run exclusively inside the browser. Operations that previously would have required the assistance of some Back-End technology can now run on the client's machine via their browser. This leap forward requires engineers capable of leveraging these advancements, and has given rise to the specialization that we think of as Front-End Engineering.

Make no mistake; visual web design is still an important job. It's just not one that a Front-End Engineer needs to be prepared to do.

In today's world, visually designing web applications is an entirely separate responsibility from actually building those applications and requires a wholly different set of skills.

Front-End engineering is the work of crafting intuitive user experiences, and building web applications that solve business challenges.

Finding success as a Front-End Engineer in today's workplace requires, first and foremost, a solid foundation in JavaScript. Engineers must use this language to represent and solve problems programmatically, using computer science concepts to make their code more performant, since this is at the heart of application development.

black screen with various colors of code language written on it
Actual code from a Front-End instructor's personal project.

Additionally, prospective Front-End Engineers must be ready to use HTML and CSS to turn visual designs into actual web pages that can dynamically update based on their users' enumerable types of displays.

Finally, any Front-End Engineer looking to enter the workplace today needs familiarity with at least one modern JavaScript framework. While these skills together will prepare a student to enter the workforce, what will keep them there is a love of continuous learning and problem solving, as the field is ever evolving.

At Turing, our primary goal is to prepare our students for a high fulfillment technical career. In the Front-End Engineering program, that means giving them a strong foundation in JavaScript, HTML, CSS, Web accessibility and Test Driven Development. Students complete collaborative projects of escalating difficulty, which hone their problem-solving skills and teach them to work in teams to build technology.

Eventually, we introduce them to the React framework and testing with Cypress, allowing them to understand how professional Front-End Applications are made. As part of their capstone, Front-End and Back-End students work collaboratively to build projects that leverage the strengths of both application development disciplines. All the while, students learn that everything we are teaching them is merely a starting point for their future careers and that the responsibility to learn and grow is theirs.

Through our many years of experience in the industry, our Front-End instructor team understands the demands of being a professional Front-End Engineer. While not everyone might understand what is required to be successful in this relatively new discipline, we do, and we can show you how.

Sign up for a Try Coding workshop today and take your first steps into a wider world!

Read stories from Front-End program alumni.

This post was a collaborative effort among Will Mitchell, Leta Keane, Kayla Wood, Scott Ertmer, Cassandra Torske, and Nik Seif, all of whom are members of the Front-End Engineering team at Turing.