What should a front-end developer know in 2016?

I spent much of the summer of 2015 in Paris working with an agency’s development team that had seriously gone off the rails. I was the client and part of my mission was to assess the true capability of the assembled team.

This is a conversation I had with a very nice developer who the agency claimed was a senior front end developer:

“That menu is wonky and the UI lags horribly. Why don’t you optimise or rewrite it?”

“My Javascript isn’t very good.”

“I see. How’s your CSS?”

“Well, it could be better. I don’t really work on that here.”

“Are you better with the backend? How’s your PHP?”

“I want to learn more about PHP.”

“Ah ok. Well, what happens when we have a problem like this with the menu?”

“A tech lead who reviews our work from time to time, but he isn’t available until later in the week. I’ll ask the business unit director when we can speak.”

This developer was clever and friendly, but clearly not able to work on a complex project independently.

The agency fundamentally failed this developer by leaving him adrift with no meaningful support. Absent agency-side leadership, I stepped in and rallied the team – and made sure support mechanisms were put in place when I returned home to London.

Developers don’t need to know the JS hotness of the month, but they do need to possess knowledge of the fundamentals, know what they don’t know – and, most importantly, be flexible and know how to find the answers.

There’s a brilliant episode of the Shop Talk podcast that considers “The State of Front-End Dev” and how mixed-skills teams can work, “what it means to be a senior developer” and some of the challenges in defining just what should a front-end dev know. Essential listening to anyone building products in 2016!

Episode 193 of the Shop Talk podcast, “The State of Front-End Dev”

What should a front-end developer know in 2016?

What it takes to be a consultant

As I prepare to launch a new phase of my career, I’m mindful of this thoughtful summary of precisely what it takes to be a great consultant by Matt Gemmell. Essential reading for anyone looking to up his/her game in business.

Today is my final working day with Perform and this paragraph sums up what I hope I’ve achieved over the past several years – and hope to do long into the future :

Being a consultant is about diplomacy. It’s about being a fact-finder for the client’s issues, and an interpreter for their wishes and business goals, and a translator between the domain of a difficulty, and the necessary steps to solve it. It’s also always about being an ambassador for the real stakeholders, which are usually the customers.

What it takes to be a consultant

When a business rots from within – a lesson from academia

In my experience, this is how many ostensibly successful businesses rot from within –

“In this way, faculty are like columnists for major newspapers. Columnists for, say, the New York Times are perfectly free to write whatever they like (within appropriate professional guidelines, of course). But the range of opinion expressed in those columns is terribly narrow. The problem is not that the Times is exerting pressure on its columnists. The problem is that in order to be a columnist for the New York Times to begin with, you have to be the kind of person whose opinions already fall within a specific range. The same goes for faculty. Universities are generally pretty good about not exerting overt pressure on faculty and their research. Intellectual freedom is generally respected. But the university doesn’t need to exert any pressure, because it’s already filtered out the people who would need to be pressured. Those who survive are, for the most part, narrow specialists who care little about what’s happening outside their own area of specialisation.” – from Why Your Professors Suck

When a business rots from within – a lesson from academia