Web Developer

What they do and the difference between front end and back end

Giving their design the seal of approval
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The web industry is one that is full of different job responsibilities and roles, which means that it is also an industry filled with job titles. Sometimes these titles make it pretty obvious what a person does, or at least what their primary role in the process may be. For example, a "Project Manager" is a common and easily understood job title that you will find on most web teams.

Sometimes, however, web industry job titles are not so obvious or straightforward. The terms "web designer" and "web developer" are often used in the web industry. Many times, these terms are a "catch-all" that is meant to describe someone who actually fills a number of roles in the process of a website's creation. The downside of using these generic terms is that, while they cover a broad base, they do not by offering no specificity as to what the role actually involves. If you see a job posting for a "web developer," how will you know what that position is actually responsible for? If the company is using the term correctly, there are actually some specific skills that should be required and some tasks that person will be expected to perform. 

The Specifics of a Web Developer

As basic and obvious as it may sound, the most straightforward definition is that a web developer is someone who programs web pages. A web developer is more focused on the way a website works than how it looks; the look and feel would be handled by the web "designer." A web developer typically uses HTML text editors (as opposed to a visual WYSIWYG program like Dreamweaver) and works with databases and programming languages as well as HTML.

Web developers will often have the following skills:

  • HTML: This is the basic building block of web pages, so any web developer will have an understanding of hypertext markup language.
  • CSS: With cascading style sheets dictate the look of a site, it is the web developer, or more specifically the "front end developer," who will often code the CSS.
  • JavaScript and Ajax
  • PHP, ASP, Java, Perl, or C++
  • MySQL of SQL Database
  • Project management
  • Customer communication
  • Documentation, especially for technical concepts and code that is being custom created

The bottom line is that companies looking for web developers are looking for people with strong programming skills that can build and maintain websites that function well. They are also looking for good team players, however. So many sites and applications are managed by teams of people, which means that developers must work well with others to succeed. Sometimes this means working with other developers, sometimes it means working with clients or project stakeholders. Regardless, personal skills are as important as technical skills when it comes to the success of a web developer.

Back End Versus Front End Developer

Some people use the term web developer to really mean programmer. This is a "back end developer." They are working with databases or custom code that powers the site's functionality. "Back end" refers to the functionality that rests in the background of a site as opposed to the pieces that people actually interface with and see. This is the "front end" and it is created by, you guessed it, the "front end developer."

A front end developer builds pages with HTML, CSS, and perhaps some Javascript. They work closely with the design team to turn the visual designs and look of the site pages into a working website. These front end developers also work with the back end developers to ensure that the custom functionality is integrated properly.

Depending on a person's skillsets, they may decide that front end development is more their style, or they may determine that they want to do more with back end development. Many developers will also find that their job responsibilities and skills cross over and encompass bits of each of these sides, both front and back end development, and perhaps even some visual design. The more comfortable someone is crossing over from one side of web design and development to another, the more valuable they will be to the clients and companies who hire them for those skills.