Front End, Back End, Which End?

Converting OPML to HTML using JavaScript
July 26, 2012
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Front End, Back End, Which End?

By Dale Cruse

Throughout the history of the web, job titles haven’t meant much to those of us actually doing the work.

One Webmaster to Rule Them All

It’s no wonder: In the earliest days of the web, each of us who played any role in the creation of a website were simply called “Webmaster”. It didn’t matter if we wrote copy, designed graphics, did any kind of programming, or even hardware or server support. Regardless of what we actually did, we were almost universally given the all-too generic title of “Webmaster”.

Web Designers FTW

But as time went on and more emphasis was placed on the look and feel of a website, the title “Web Designer” became more the norm. This was only slightly more descriptive than the “Webmaster” title but still managed to only capture what one segment of web workers actually did. The title “Web Designer” left entire segments of web workers without an accurate description of what we actually did. After all, that person who set up the server was no more a “Web Designer” than the person who wrote copy.

Our job titles are slowly getting more descriptive, but not descriptive enough.

Getting Closer

More recently, we’ve seen the rise of terms such as “Front End” to generally describe almost anything from design to HTML, CSS, JavaScript development, and more. The term “Back End” generally describes those who do anything ranging from PHP, LAMP stack & Ruby programming to MySQL database administration. Our job titles are getting more descriptive, but the terms we use are still so broad that they’re quickly losing their meaning too.

As a “Front-End Developer”, are we expected to be an expert at everything ranging from visual design to heavy JavaScript interactivity and more? Possibly, but in my 17+ years in the business, I’ve found those people to be as rare as Flash working well on an iPhone. (And of course, when you find people who are true experts in each of those fields, you probably can’t afford them!)

The AHA! Moment

Generally, I find we developers either fall into the graphics/HTML/CSS/light JavaScript or jQuery camp or the heavy JavaScript/PHP/Ruby camp. My friend & fellow “Front-End Developer” Paul Ramos & I had this very discussion several years ago when hiring contractors for a project at Staples. How do we differentiate one group from the other when we’re all simply called “Front-End Developers”? How could we make sure we were searching for & finding the right people to hire based on the needs of the project?

The answer we came up with involves being more granular in both our definitions & expectations. When we talk about graphics/HTML/CSS/JavaScript, we’re really talking about what Paul & I call the “Front of the Front End”. And when we talk about how someone focuses their time on programming browser behaviors such as server interactions, we’re talking about what we call the “Back of the Front End”.

As you’ll see, the question of which camp you fall into really comes down to how much of your time you spend writing JavaScript & how. Spend more time with markup, style, & jQuery? You’re on the Front of the Front End. But if you think jQuery is cute & couldn’t care less about graphics, well buster, you’re on the Back of the Front End.

 

So are you a “Front of the Front End” developer or more of a “Back of the Front End” developer? Which camp do you fall into?

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