On the Front Lines of Code: What is Front-End Web Development (And Why Should I Care?)

If you’ve ever used the internet—and if you haven’t then we have no idea how you’re currently accessing this post—you’ve encountered the end product of web development. 

Web development is the process by which functioning websites make the transition from concept to reality. The term is a relatively broad one, encompassing web design, content development, scripting, and security (to name only a few), but at its heart, web development is basically coding; every aspect of every webpage relies on programming code to function properly. As such, learning full-stack web development is essentially the same thing as learning code.

However, the processes involved in building webpages is a little bit more complex than that. For one thing, there’s a big difference between coding for the behind-the-scenes aspects and creating the front-facing page elements that users interact with directly. In fact, the differences are significant enough that they occupy two different designations of web development: front-end vs back-end web development.

Backend web dev is…

…the foundation of any webpage, or the server side of any webpage. It’s made up of a combination of operating systems, databases, servers, and APIs, and incorporates programming related to security, business logic, structure, and content management. A couple of back-end programming languages you may have heard of before include Ruby and Python.

Simply put, if it’s part of the page and the user can’t easily see or access it, it’s the back end. But while these are undeniably essential aspects of any page, backend web dev mostly exists to support the user-facing elements of front-end programming.

What is front-end web development?

When looking at front end vs back end we development, backend development is the collective processes happening behind the scenes while the front-end code is everything going on center stage. Site users interact directly with the front end of the webpage, supported by the back-end processes that (assuming everything goes as planned), those users will never have to worry about.

One important goal of front-end development is ensuring that the interface is as user-friendly, visually appealing, and as functional as possible. As users click to navigate the site, requests are sent from the front end to the back end via front-end scripts. The back end then processes those requests, and responds by sending back the appropriate data to complete the actions. This is generally an overlapping process, with requests and responses traveling back and forth constantly while the user accesses the site.

And while it’s easy to say that front-end development encompasses all of the elements a user can see or interact with on a site, that’s not all there is to it. Now that more and more users are relying on mobile devices rather than just desktop options to browse the web, front-end development needs to take the multi-platform experience into account. Modern front-end developers have to make sure that their sites display correctly, regardless of screen size, resolution, web browser, operating system, etc.

All of this may be enlightening, but if you find yourself asking “Why should I care about front-end vs back-end web development?” take a moment and consider the numbers, including the front- and back-end developers salary.

By the numbers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of web developers is set to grow 15% by 2026. That’s outpacing the 13% expected growth of computer occupations in general, and more than twice the 7% expected growth of all occupations. And thanks in part to this growing demand, at the time of this writing the average annual base pay for full-stack web developers is $88,488, as reported by Glassdoor. Front-end web developers have it even better, making $88,680 per year, with an average additional cash compensation of $10,000.

For those looking for a lucrative career, front-end development is certainly an attractive possibility. Unfortunately for many potential programmers, the time and money needed to develop the necessary coding skills is just too much. Or at least that’s what they think.

The reality is that anyone can become a front-end web developer, and they don’t need a computer science degree to do it.

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Codes of conduct

A diploma may look nice, but what most employers are looking for in a front-end developer is the ability to work with code. Specifically, there are three programming languages that are core skills every front-end developer should master. These are HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

  • HTML: the language that defines the structure of the web. Essentially every site is built using this language, which makes HTML absolutely vital for front-end developers.
  • CSS: used for creating and defining a page aesthetic, including layout, presentation, and formatting.
  • Javascript: allows programmers to govern how different page elements interact.

Of course, there are other skills that can help set a developer apart from the pack. A good understanding of various frameworks (which are sets of tools that help simplify web development) is always a plus, and understanding version control software (which helps you keep track of ongoing changes to a site) will help ensure that you can make page improvements without retroactively ruining everything you’ve built so far. But that said, most of front-end development happens in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Master those three coding languages, and you’ll be well on your way.

How to learn front end development

As mentioned, you don’t need a degree to become a front-end developer. You just need to learning the most popular front-end coding languages such as CSS, HTML, and JavaScript. You’ll also have to learn details like markup language used in HTML, and JQuery.

To learn all these things, you can either use free online resources, or try a coding bootcamp. Coding bootcamps offer you the quickest way to learning how to be a front-end developer.

On the front lines of code

What is front-end development? It’s the programming that defines the client-facing parts of the web, but that’s not all it can be. With high starting pay and ever increasing demand, front-end development can be the career you’ve always wanted.

Almost everyone uses the internet. And, with front-end development training, your work could be sitting front and center.

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