What does a front-end developer actually do?

Basically the question.

I started in March and gravitated toward front-end–more or less randomly, because that’s what the online resources were. Also, I think I might have read Quincy’s article about learning JavaScript. Since then, I learned HTML/CSS/JS and then got into React, Rest APIs and NodeJS.

But a few observations.

One, my CSS really isn’t that good. It’s, like, okay… but not pro-grade. It’s not pro-grade because I spent lots of time learning JS , React, and now Node, and building projects using them.

Two, my JS, React, and Node aren’t that good. I mean, I’m no back-end engineer at this point. I kind of like the back end but while I can follow a tutorial and get everything to work, I wouldn’t be able to build a React or Express app from scratch.

I would say I’ve spent 80% of the time on JS. But my observation, now that I’m finally getting around to it, is that my CSS and design is just sub-par for the expectations of a front-end dev. When people see my apps or sites, they are turned off because it looks amateurish–which it is. They don’t care that I learned how to use React hooks or that I made my own server from scratch.

So should someone who wants to be a front-end dev first become a master at CSS before getting into the back-end stuff? I feel like I’ve spread myself too thin and am not good at any one thing in particular.

I’m a (mostly) front end developer. The vast majority of my work is JavaScript (technically TypeScript, but tomato potato). Depending on where you work you may or may not have to worry about actual design work much. Feel free to copy design that you find elsewhere. The import part, when it comes to CSS is that the pieces of the page behave the way you want them to. Are they in the right place for all screen sizes? Are they the right size? Do they function correctly? Is the text clear and readable? Have you followed best practices for accessibility? These aren’t artistic concerns, they’re functional ones.


I’m not sure if you’re confusing CSS skills with design skills.

My CSS skills are decent enough (I can translate any design into a web page), but my design skills are not really existent. I don’t use script fonts for buttons, I don’t center big blocks of text, I don’t put text on images, and I’m generally able to avoid other common mistakes and follow the basic textbook rules, but I can’t make an awesome design from scratch without stealing I mean getting inspiration from elsewhere.

Does a front end developer really have to be a designer? I sincerely hope not.


It totally depends on where you work. I’ve gotten offers from places where they want a “front end developer” because they want a redesign and I’ve worked places that have a dedicated UX designer who works closely with stakeholders and developers. Right now what I do is sort of in the middle: the overall design is already there, but when I add a new feature it’s up to me to make it consistent with that design and to follow best practices UX-wise. But also… we use libraries. I don’t have to invent my own buttons or anything.

Hey there,

great questions.

So my answer will be about junior frontend devs.

Let’s divide this into macro and micro level:

Macro Level:

  • you probably have customers who pay money for a product or service
  • you get feedback (customer, marketing, manager) and translate the feedback into customer-facing stuff on the screen
  • feedback can be bug reports, feature requests or stuff from managers

Micro Level:

  • sometimes you have to do design on your own, sometimes you have a dedicated designer
  • sometimes you use library x, sometimes not (e.g. because of licenses)
  • you mostly fix bugs

What you probably won’t do:

  • thinking about the architecture (how the cogs of the system connect to each other)
  • thinking about which stack you use
  • adding new big features (you don’t know the whole system and you are too slow)

In general your first months look like this:

  • you check the newest bug reports
  • you try to fix them

Yeah, this just reaffirms that I need to get better at CSS. I’m going to devote some time to just copying websites and making sure I can do what they do.

Can I ask your advice about animations, transitions, and JS tricks in the browser? They seem to be all over the place. Would you invest time in getting those under your belt?

I could be conflating the two things. I should probably just go out and copy good designs and not worry about it–when I create something from scratch, it looks awful.

That being said, a decent % of job listings talk about being a designer and “passionate about design,” but those probably aren’t my fate.

Mostly fix bugs, that sounds doable :slight_smile:

Because you don’t know HOW it should look like (=> concepts of design) or because you don’t know WHAT you have to type into your editor (=> CSS syntax)?

I think 80-90% the former. I can get decently close if I want to imitate a particular page, but anything I draw up from scratch looks awful.

As needed. If you want to add an animation, etc, to a project then take the time to learn it instead of copy-posting and hoping for the best.

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