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A Day in the Life of a Front-End Developer

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​There’s a lot of focus on retraining into digital fields at the moment, but ask your average person what a Front-End Developer does and very few people could tell you – despite these Developers having designed and built the websites, apps, programmes, and much more that we all rely on daily.

AsCoronavirus-related redundancies rise and the UK Government pushes its Lifetime Skills Guarantee scheme - where adults can take free college courses to retrain in industries that provide training in skills deemed desirable by employers - we thought that we would continue our A Day in the Life… blog series by handing over to Ciaran Mescall, a Front-End Developer for a multi-national company.


What exactly IS a Front-End Developer?

Each website/program/app/etc is fundamentally broken down into the "front" and "back" ends. The front is everything the user sees and interacts with, and the back-end is what runs under the hood. As such, my goal as a front-end developer is to make sure that our customers and users will enjoy using our site.

Though a lot of the heavy lifting is done on the back-end, users don't see this. Instead users will judge how a site/app works by how easy and slick it feels when they use it - this is what makes the front-end team so vital to a long-lasting product. If your site breaks on mobile phones, buttons don't do what people expect, it only works in one particular browser etc, people are going to get frustrated and look elsewhere for what you do - a smooth user experience is key to retaining customers and the front-end team helps create that.

It can even help cover for some of the serious work being done on the back-end: if your site does some really heavy data processing and file manipulation and has complex back-end logic, then a good front-end will use loading bars, transitions and the illusion of constant progress and flow to hide all of this work being done under the hood.

 "A great front-end team will mean that your users will feel like your site is intuitive and that everything "just works", regardless of how complex it actually is.”


What skills does a Front-End Developer need?

There are a certain set of skills that you will need if you’re considering a career as a Developer. A keen eye for visual detail is especially important, as is an interest in problem-solving. As much as development might seem on the surface like a very "by the numbers" job, it's actually rather creative and open-ended, and the ability to break down and solve a wide variety of problems is a core skill.

You also need to be able to home in on what your customers want when they come to you, and how they interact with your site. Not just theorising the ideal or best-case interactions, but also what your users are actually doing and how to make that as easy and effortless for them as possible.

There are a number of technical skills that you will also need to kick-start your career as a Developer. A good understanding of HTML, CSS and JavaScript are key, as these are used in the vast majority of front-end roles.


What does your day look like?

07.00: I wake up, grab breakfast and a coffee. If coffee isn't already a recurring part of your day, it will likely become one. My entire team (and everyone I know in the industry, in fact) is now remote, so my commute is presently just walking into a different room. However, I tend to put this off until around 8am to give myself time to come to, and to make sure I don't fall into a habit of waking up and immediately starting work.


08.00: First things first, I quickly check my emails, have a look at what the day looks like in terms of meetings, then go to check the tickets on our kanban board
– a project management tool designed to help visualise work and maximise efficiency. If I'm already working on a feature then it's usually just a cursory check to see if anyone has added any comments or extra things that need to be done; if not then seeing what else is on the board in terms of bugs/features that are free to pick up.


09.30: A meeting with the current team. This is a quick chance for us to all just update each other on where we're all up to, ask any questions, and check what the general priorities are for the day/coming week or so.


09.45: Back to the code. Today, I'm working on a new feature - a profile page for our users. So first up, I take the design the UI/UX department gave us and convert that into code for our site to display. However, a UI/UX visual prototype isn't a given, and quite often you're instead relying on your own visual intuition to design it yourself so it fits in with the rest of the site.


11.00: A quick coffee break. Of course.


11.15: Programming will continue until lunch usually. If you get stuck or want to bounce ideas around, then the team are always there for a quick call or screen share. How much you're working solo or working as a group will vary from company to company. For some companies, pair-programming is their main methodology, however my current company tends to leave their developers to operate individually with more autonomy.


12.30: Lunchtime! I grab lunch and go for a walk. This is a good chance to listen to a podcast and just get outside and get some fresh air.


13.30: A quick, cursory check of my email, and then back to the code. Having converted the design to a first draft, time to focus effort on testing it. This is done through both writing code to test your code, and also through effectively trying to - as a user - break the thing you've just built. As you find bugs, you then go back to the code and amend to address them.

With each component/section there's an iterative process of Design => Build => Test until you've got what you would consider your final product. During this time, I like to get up, walk around a bit, and grab a decaff coffee. It's quite easy to get caught up in the flow of things and not move for a while - particularly if you're caught up building something new or challenging!


15.30: It’s time to get the team to look over your work. Programming is collaborative, so once you've done your part then you'll discuss and review with the team. You'll also be expected to review code from other team members. This approach helps everyone learn together and work towards the same standards and overall result.


16.30: Time to wrap up! And thankfully as you're likely working remotely, this involves shutting down your laptop and then taking the mighty 2 metre commute away from your desk to start relaxing for the evening.


Have you just trained as a Front-End Developer and are looking for your next role? Why not register with us as a candidate to find out about our latest digital vacancies!

We Are Adam would like to thank Ciaran Mescall for taking the time to help write this post. You can find him on LinkedIn here.


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