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How Front-End Developers Can Be at the Top of Their Game

How Front-End Developers Can Be at the Top of Their Game

Sage advice on topics like how to stand out in an interview, how to keep development skills up-to-date and trying to predict the next hot technology trend is a matter best left to the pros.

Which is why we asked Mark Skeet, to take part in our Expert Interview series, to weigh in on all these subjects and more, for anyone involved (or looking to get involved in) front-end development.

As part of our Expert Interview panel of senior development pros, he’s not only a master FED (he’s Head of Technical at First 10 Digital in the UK), his job is to interview, assess, and approve our front-end developer talent.

So when he gives advice on how a FED should make themselves more marketable, it’s a good idea to listen!


What advice would you give someone looking to work as a developer?

Work your behind off. Work on private/personal work outside of your job. Have a portfolio site. If you haven’t got clients, create sample sites. Most of all, be honest about your capabilities! Never get complacent and never stop learning. Attend user groups, they’re the best way to learn from like-minded people. They also form ad-hoc networks for work referrals.

Are there any common mistakes or trends that you see when you are interviewing?

The two most common things I see are portfolio sites that haven’t been robustly tested cross browser and dead links to projects that no longer exist. With American talent there is often a misconception that responsive can’t be applied to IE8 and below. Polyfills and workarounds exist and we should be applying graceful degradation rather than not utilising workable solutions.

When interviewing, what technical or personal skills do you most often find lacking?

The ability to elucidate a response to non-technical questions. Being able to explain your approach and process is a crucial developer skill for working with non-developers and technical colleagues alike. Many developers are also really bad at selling themselves.

Which skills do you admire most in a developer?

When I’m hiring I’m looking for two things only: a great can do attitude and the ability to problem solve.

Are there any in-demand skills you would like to see more?

I’d like to see more full-stack JavaScript techs. And a more complete approach to responsive web design from American talent.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a FED professional?

The pace of change is the biggest challenge for all IT professionals but it’s especially the case for FEDs. Many of us are at the cutting edge without realising it - this is especially true in responsive design work as many of the issues haven’t been ironed out yet. Full stack JavaScript is a huge opportunity and challenge right now.

How do you keep yourself up-to-date with emerging technology?

As Head of a Technical Division I’m responsible, amongst other things, for my team’s ongoing development. As a result I live on sites like Smashing Magazine, TechCrunch, Mashable, Wired, A List Apart. I pass on a lot of the genuine nuggets of best practise that these sites offer on a daily basis.

I try to attend user groups and conferences wherever there’s a business case for my employer. I’m lucky to work for a really forward thinking agency. I also run a Node.js user group and my employers have kindly given me a budget to help run two more user groups. As a result we have our fingers on the pulse of our community’s people and developments.

What are you predictions for the next hot technology trend?

Polymer as a project looks interesting, though I think the big star of the next 12-24 months is going to be full stack JavaScript.

Is there any training you would like to undertake to improve any particular skill sets, and why?

I attended a Backbone and Coffescript workshop at Future of Web Apps in London last year. This year I’m hoping to attend some more future focused conferences as well as adding some solid UX skills to my arsenal.

What FED (Front-End Development) project are you working on right now?

Right now we have a bunch of projects ongoing including an internal marketing and sales tool for one of the world’s leading sports brands, Wordpress based e-commerce solutions for a licensee of the same sports brand, front-end design work for a leading UK insurance brand and our own football (UK football!) themed web app called Scorem.

How do you find being a professional based away from London? Has this had any impact on your career?

Since I was 15 I’ve been unemployed for 3 months. I’m now 43 so I’ve had a good run. I moved into IT when I was 27 and I’ve never been unemployed whilst being in this industry. I’ve never felt the need to be based in London (though I have done two stints working there). The tech scene in Leeds is particularly strong right now and Manchester is an hour away.

Thanks to Mark and our UK crew for helping keep front-enders bring their A-game!

Thank you!

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