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?

The expert

I’ve been in meetings like this before. A brilliant takedown of ill-considered requirements and dysfunctional group dynamics.


Comprehensive list of front end development resources

Handy and comprehensive list on Gist of front end development resources – great stuff.

Comprehensive list of front end development resources


Where should one work? Questions to ask and how to decide

I interview developers and project managers for my own division and occasionally for other teams as well and I am always intrigued by the reasons people give for wanting to work at a particular company.

Many candidates say they’re motivated by the content of the products or the hot prospects of the agency. Some candidates talk about their search for ill-defined “challenges”. The better candidates cite a desire to contribute to the overall success of the organisation, to learn and grow with the company.

My guiding question is : “would I need permission to do amazing work here?”

It’s a notion that usually is framed the other way, as an inspirational exhortation : you don’t need to ask permission to do great stuff!

But many cultures – corporate and otherwise – don’t work like this.

Sometimes managers prefer the status quo or jealously guard their centre of power, no matter how disastrous for the company. Other times, there’s absolutely no incentive to do anything but the bare minimum and outstanding performance would draw more questions than praise. I recently had a conversation where I was told: “I’m judged on X, so I really don’t care if [another product] in this department succeeds or not”.

I once worked for a chap who, when I asked for something new and challenging to work on, replied that “you don’t actually have to work that hard – there’s no real room for growth and everyone else is happy with the level they’re at”. That was the first time in my professional life where I found myself in a situation where I was required to under-perform – and it was devastating.

Ever since that experience, I make it a point to tell the people who work for me that permission is never required to do something useful, something kind, something amazing – those are the requirements of the job, after all.

And when I look around at potential opportunities, my top requirement is: I don’t need anyone’s permission to come in, do a terrific job and make brilliant, profitable things for my company and my clients.

NB : Merlin Mann’s great podcast, Back to Work, helped shape my thinking here. Listen – Back to Work, Episode 63 

Where should one work? Questions to ask and how to decide

HTML5 Video Player Comparison

Concise and up-to-date comparison chart of various HTML5 video players. Helpful, but perhaps only as a jumping-off point.

It’s not so much the player though, it’s how one evolves the core technology and the content one flows through the player that matters.

HTML5 Video Player Comparison


Everything is a web app – the shifting architecture of application development

Tarek Ziadé provides an astute summation of the shifting architecture of web apps toward being “just a proxy in front of database systems, or specialized web services, that sends back JSON responses to the web browser, and let it handle all the templating and all the display work”.

The exact nature of the “proxy” is pretty much anything that can be populated via a service, so I think his future client-side list really should continue to something other than HTML/JS frameworks (e.g., native Cocoa apps, etc).

Everything really is just a feed after all.

Everything is a web app – the shifting architecture of application development

How is DNS propagation like New Year’s Eve?

Every New Year’s Eve seems to begin with pictures from Sydney, Australia and, throughout the night, one watches city after city celebrate. On a rainy evening in London, this reminded me of the way one watches DNS propagate across the world.

And here’s a great set of DNS tools – http://viewdns.info/

I’ve launched two major web sites this year, a handful of mobile apps and even made some great portraits – and can’t to kick off new projects in 2013!

Happy New Year!

How is DNS propagation like New Year’s Eve?