Story Time (with Front End Developers)

When the development team and The Designers™ were discussing the increasingly wide variety of design tools available these days, someone turned to me and asked, “Is it the same for you?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. The complexity of front-end development, as front-end “devs” know too well, has skyrocketed in recent years. It is not necessarily that all websites or apps are becoming more complicated (although aesthetically speaking, yes, they are–but in a good way). It seems every month a new language or framework comes out. A new syntax. A new way to write the same function I have been using for five years. A new way to build the same web page I have been building for ten years. A new thing you need. In the urge to simplify everything, we have sometimes made our own jobs more complicated. So, for whatever reason, when someone asks me, a front-end developer, “What do you even do?” I have to stop and ask myself the same thing.

I am all for making my job easier, but it is not an overstatement to say that today the plethora of tools available makes it almost impossible to choose. You would laugh if I told you some of these things’ names—they are even running out of them, resorting to “Cucumber.io” and “LOLCODE.” If funny names are the only way for me to remember a piece of technology, then should I even really use it?

Sometimes the program has a steep learning curve, but the long-term benefits are exponential. Conversely, there may be low barrier to entry, but long-term support is limited, and my needs may go unmet. Community support is another significant consideration. Who else is using this? What if I adopt this technology and their team dissolves next year? What do I do then? Can I afford to start over? The questions are endless, but we cannot let decision-paralysis hamper our efforts to move forward. So, we turn to the community.

For me, a popular answer to “What do you do?” is “Well, I google it.” No matter when or where you started programming, you eventually learn that Google is your friend, and from there you eventually learn that your savior is a site called Stack Overflow, a community of developers answering and asking questions.

Being such a huge community, every year Stack Overflow releases a survey that uncovers interesting statistics about the lives, work flow, and habits of those in the industry, essentially answering “Who is a developer and what do they do?” Not only are the main points such as technology and education surveyed, but nearly every aspect of life from geography, demographics, to general life satisfaction; from personal questions—How much time do developers spend outside? —to ethical queries—How do developers feel about the future of AI? By framing questions in both positive and negative form, asking about the most loved, most dreaded, and most wanted technology, or asking about both dangerous and exciting aspects of AI, it forces us to reflect on what it is we really do as developers. Do I want to embrace change? Do I want to refine the skillset I already have?

As it turns out, amidst the maelstrom that is web development these days, the survey reveals both a gentle push to adopt new things (machine learning and AI) as well as a certain loyalty to the old (JavaScript, C#—languages that have been around since the beginning and form the basis of many popular products today.) The results suggest there is a happy medium for most developers. For me, “what I do” is 80% the same old thing and 20% new things – a balance which lets me get my job done as well as explore new aspects that keep it fun and exciting. The survey was a nice recap of the year in web development, a collective reminder of what we do. I have my answer now—at least until next year.

You can read the survey here.

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