The value of front-end web development

Front-end web development (that is the writing of HTML,CSS and JavaScript) has been the talk of the town in the blogosphere this week. People have been complaining about Internet Explorer 8’s new rendering engine switching meta tag and people have also been discussing the merits of front-end web development and whether it is worthy of the same pay as back-end web development (PHP/.NET/RoR etc).


As a frontend web developer, I’m obviously biased with my take on this, but I honestly believe that good quality HTML/CSS coupled with intelligent usage of JavaScript is the backbone of a good website.

So who is worth more a front-end or a back-end coder?

In short, it depends on the scope of the project and the skills of each party involved.

If we’re looking at a website where a frontend coder has spent 3 days taking a Photoshop design to HTML/CSS template and then hands over the a back-end coder who then spends 15 days writing the PHP/.NET code – then, providing these 2 guys are equally experienced, the back-end coder should be making more money.

But, if we’re looking at a website where a back-end developer writes some objects in next to no time and then hands the project over to the front end developer who spends what seems like an age turning the developer’s code into nice valid HTML, not to mention fiddling with a design that doesn’t work in Internet Explorer 6 and then creates multiple different templates for different pages on the website – in that situation the front-end coder deserves more money.

Freelancers v full-time staff

In my opinion, freelance front-end and back-end coders should have a very similar hourly rate. The only difference should be how long it takes each to complete a project.

In a full-time working environment, there should also be an equal pay scale. It’s unlikely (unless the projects are badly managed) that a front-end developer will be sat twiddling their thumbs doing nothing for weeks at a time whilst the back-end coder works his bum off.

The way forward

As mentioned above, I think HTML/CSS is crucial – and not even back-end coders understand this nor do web designers who merely design in their favourite graphics editor and hand over to a front-end coder and never write any HTML/CSS.

The web is in a place where everyone could/should easily know a bit of everything. What use is a designer who knows no HTML/CSS and can’t appreciate the job of the front-end developer who has to convert their design? What use is the front-end coder who can’t understand any of the back-end code in a website and breaks simple code in their templates without thinking? What use is a back-end coder whose code prints out invalid or bloated HTML that a front-end coder can’t work with (as easily)?

Summary

What do you think? Add your opinion here or join the original discussion at You’re not a programmer, we won’t pay you that much.

3 responses to “The value of front-end web development”

  1. Is it the case that someone would be employed solely as a front-end web developer?

    While I would consider HTML CSS and Javascript coding to be development rather than design, if someone’s not doing the actual designing and they’re not doing any server side developing are you not splitting 2 salaries (designer/ developer) between 3 people (desinger/ frontend/ backend developer)?

    I’m asking, not arguing. I’m new to all this and just trying to understand the different roles in website design and development.

    As i understand it, and as you said at the end of your artice, most developers will have a combination of these skills.

  2. Peter, this is very often the case.

    Especially in big web agencies there will be a design team, a front-end team, a back-end team, an SEO team, etc.

    It’s my opinion that a web designer who does not know HTML/CSS, is usually not a great designer and thus are paid less and a front-end coder who doesn’t either design nor program (at all) isn’t that great either.

    Unfortunately, it’s still the case where people don’t have a good enough mixture of all these skills.

  3. I’m my experience I spend 2ish days doing some SEO strategy and UI design, hand it over to developers who take an eternity to do something that i know is simple they then hand it back to me with a totally broken design using non semantic content i go back and further for the next few months and finally something not so close gets published :(

    Glad I’m not in agency work any more ;)