Many companies use the terms interchangeably, but there's no official distinction between them. Front-end developers are responsible for implementing the user interface (UI) of your app or site based on pre-designed wireframes and Photoshop files. Front engineers use their engineering skills to modify existing sites, software, and apps to improve performance, resolve bugs, and adopt new functionalities. Find out what you should know about front-end development skills and which is a better pick for your team. You'll also learn how and where you can hire for your startup.
Are there any differences between a front-end developer vs. a front-end engineer? Are these terms interchangeable?
It depends on who you ask. Many companies use the terms interchangeably, and there's no official distinction between the two roles. Most companies distinguish between them, however.
Front-end developers are only responsible for implementing the user interface (UI) of your app or site based on pre-designed wireframes and Photoshop files. As such, their main tools are code editors and a stack of browsers to run tests on.
In contrast, front-end engineers are responsible for testing, editing, and overseeing the software development process. They also use their engineering skills to modify existing sites, software, and apps to improve performance, resolve bugs, and adopt new functionalities.
Read on to learn more about the differences between front-end developers vs. front-end engineers and which is a better pick for your team. We'll also talk about projects that require a software developer for front-end development, popular programming languages every software developer should know, projects that require a software engineer, and when you need both for your project. By the end of this article, you'll also learn how and where you can hire front-end developers and engineers for your startup.
Front-end Developer vs. Front-end Engineer: What's the Difference?
Although many companies refer to them interchangeably, front-end developers and front-end engineers occupy slightly different niches. Here's how they differ.
Front-end Developer Skills and Expertise
Front-end developers are responsible for building the front-end of web applications and websites — that is, the portion of the site or app that users see and interact with. Specifically, they're responsible for creating the UI, which determines the look and function of each part of your app or site.
Front-end developers are expected to have the following skills:
- Experience with Document Object Model (DOM) manipulation: DOM offers a programming interface for documents on the web. It represents the content and structure of any web document, including its HTML and styles sections. Front-end developers need to know how to manipulate the DOM to change the way content displays for end-users.
- Experience using Node.js: Front-end developers also need to know how to use Node.js to provide a smooth user experience (UX). Without Node.js, your site will be laggy whenever there are too many people using your site.
- Experience with MySQL: MySQL is an open-source database management system for managing information. Front-end developers should know how to use MySQL to store, edit, retrieve, and save data. This will empower them to create a seamless UX.
- Teamwork and communication skills: Front-end developers don't work in a vacuum — they need to work with marketing and design teams while creating the UI. As such, they need strong teamwork and communication skills.
- Great attention to detail: Minor errors in the UI code can lead to major problems. For example, a typo can prevent users from seeing or accessing your app's checkout cart or the navigation menu.
Front-end Engineer Skills and Expertise
Front-end engineers use their engineering skills to manage the front-end creation process. Depending on the requirements of your project, front-end engineers can be consultants, leaders, or individual contributors.
These highly-experienced software engineers can provide analytical advice in spotting and implementing new IT uses to help you reach strategic goals. They can also help you coordinate development tasks, manage resources, do cost-benefit analyses, and supervise development plans. Instead of working with client-facing teams like marketing and design, they work with operations, IT, and development to refine the software development lifecycle.
A front-end engineer role may also involve:
- Researching, designing, and testing software, apps, and sites
- Document and maintain app, site, and software functionality
- Create layouts, flowcharts, and documentation to spot gaps and find solutions
- Modifying existing software, apps, and sites to resolve bugs, improve performance, or adopt new functionalities
- Supervising the work of software engineers, front-end developers, and others as needed
- Comply with industry, legal, and internal standards
- Analyze user ends and assess app, software, and site requirements including cost and time restraints and design feasibility
Front-end engineers must have the following skillset:
- Proven ability and experience working on a wide range of projects: Unlike front-end developers, front-end engineers are responsible for supervising a wide range of projects.
- Experience building scalable deployment pipelines: Front-end engineers need to know how to build these pipelines to support Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD). CI/CD is a method of delivering apps to users that automatically builds, tests, and merges new code changes to an app to a shared repository. Besides accelerating the development process, CI/CD increases visibility between dev and business teams.
- Experience with testing automation tools: Front-end engineers should know how to use testing automation tools like Ansible and Cucumber. These tools allow software behaviors to be specified in a logical language that end-users can understand.
- Strong leadership and engineering skills: Front-end engineers must be able to lead multi-disciplinary teams and oversee complex systems. They also need to use their honed engineering skills to refine existing analysis, development, and design programs.
Projects That Require a Software Developer for Front-end Development
Many projects require a front-end software developer for front-end development, including:
Changes to User Experience and User Interface
An experienced front-end software developer can help you make changes to your app or site's existing UX and UI.
Specifically, they can help you:
- Conduct research from competitors: A software developer will look at your competitors' apps and sites and think about why it behaves and looks the way it does. Why is that button over there? Why is it a certain color? Why is the website organized this way? Why do users have to perform actions in a certain order?
If they find the UX and UI intuitive, they will incorporate these elements into your app or site so you can stay ahead of the curve. If they don't, they'll find other sites that have intuitive UX and UI and incorporate elements from there.
- Work with designers to implement pre-made designs: Your software developer will work with you — if you're a small startup with no design department — or your design team to implement pre-made designs. For example, if your design team has created layouts and buttons in Photoshop, your software developer will add them to your website. They will also do tests to make sure users can see and interact with the elements.
- Build wireframes, prototypes, and mockups to test UI and UX: Your software developer will also build prototypes, wireframes, and mockups to test the UI and UX. They may also use online communities like Reddit and beta-users to get feedback on these test builds.
CSS and HTML display differently on each browser. As a result, your website may look or function differently depending on what browser someone is using. For instance, someone using Microsoft Edge can see and use your site perfectly well, but someone using Google Chrome can only access 70% of what's on your page.
A front-end software developer can use their cross-browser development knowledge to build your web pages so that they're compatible with all browsers. They will also compare and analyze the behavior of your site in different browser environments to ensure that your website always delivers an optimal user experience, regardless of the browser.
Maintaining Current Web Design on Websites
A front-end software developer can also help you maintain current web designs.
Many companies believe that they only need to update sites when adding new content. However, that's not the best approach to web design. You should always keep your site code updated and clean, even if you don't have anything new to add. Otherwise, your site may stop working on certain browsers due to browser updates and incompatibilities.
That's where your software developer comes in. They can boost your site's current design and help you stay ahead of your competitors by:
- Beautifying the code
- Making the XHTML more semantic
- Validating your markup
- Looking for ways to create memorable UI and UX
Implementing an SEO Strategy
Finally, your software developer can help you implement a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy.
Front-end software developers are jointly responsible for the SEO performance of your app and site. They will work with your SEO director and marketing to make the front-ends of your app and site more appealing to search engines.
Here are some of the ways a front-end software developer can boost your SEO strategy:
- Improve your app and site's mobile-friendliness and page speed: As search engine algorithms become more sensitive to usability, it's more important than ever to ensure that your site and app can be used happily and well by users. If your app or site is sluggish to use, they'll rank lower on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs), making them harder to find.
- Ensure that your images are outputting optimally for all viewports: Googlebot — Google's web crawling search bot that gathers website information to create Google SERPs — is notoriously sensitive to unoptimized images. To boost your SERP ranking, your software developer will optimize your images by using picture tags. They will also adjust your images and code to improve UI and UX for mobile users.
- Optimize markup: Front-end developers can provide editors with tools that create clean SEO frameworks. They can do this by cleaning your HTML and removing non-semantic HTML elements like <div> that serve little purpose other than to help you structure and style content.
Popular Programming Languages Every Developer Should Know
As previously discussed, your software developer needs to have a strong grasp of programming languages. They should know the following at a minimum:
Short for HyperText Markup Language, HTML is the standard language for creating web pages. It allows coders to create and structure paragraphs, sections, and links using attributes, elements, and tags.
It's worth noting that HTML isn't actually a programming language. Rather, it's a markup language because it's used for structural purposes. Programming languages contain programming logic and are used for functional purposes.
HTML has many applications, including:
- Web development: Developers use HTML to design how browsers display webpage elements, such as media files, text, hyperlinks, and tables.
- Web documentation: Developers can also use HTML to format and organize documents.
- Internet navigation: Software developers can use HTML to embed hyperlinks into your site or app, allowing users to easily navigate between related websites and pages.
- User characteristics: The dynamic content adapts based on demographics such as buyer personas, geo-location, and age.
- In-session behavior: The content changes depending on what pages the user visits, how long they spend on the site, and what products they add to the cart.
- User data: The content changes based on customer lifecycle, past purchases, or past engagements with your site.
- Interactive maps
- Scrolling videos
- Real-time content updates
- Animated 3D or 2D graphics
Last but not least, the best software developer for your team should know CSS.
Short for Cascading Style Sheets, CSS is a style sheet language used to style documents written in markup languages such as HTML, SVG, XHTML, and XUL.
Your hire should be able to use CSS style declarations to:
- Control how web pages look in browsers
- Ensure that your site displays properly on all browsers
- Maintain your site design
- Update your site design
- Style document text, such as changing the size and color of links and headings
- Create layouts — for example, turning two columns of texts into a layout with a main content area and a sidebar
Projects That Require an Engineer
Unlike front-end software developers, who focus on the UI/UX, front-end software engineers are responsible for managing and testing the front-end creation process.
You should hire a front-end software engineer for the following:
Software engineers are experts in functional testing — a type of testing that involves checking a system, application, or website to ensure that it's doing exactly what you want it to do.
Functional testing can be automated or manual and typically involves the following steps:
- Identify test input.
- Calculate the expected outcomes using the selected test input.
- Execute the test case.
- Compare actual and computed expected results.
Designing Software Applications
You should also hire a front-end software engineer for designing software applications. A qualified front-end software engineer can oversee the entire front-end creation process for software applications, providing feedback to front-end developers as needed.
They can also:
- Consult with engineers, clients, security specialists, and other stakeholders to evaluate your project
- Evaluate and test software programs
- Maintain documentation of systems
- Modify software and apps to improve performance, add new functionalities and resolve bugs
Do You Need Both for the Development Process?
If your project is complex and requires a lot of research, consultation, and documentation, consider hiring a front-end software developer and a front-end software engineer. With both on your team, you'll be able to:
- Reduce time-to-market: Software engineers can supervise and streamline the work of developers, helping them meet milestones faster. This, in turn, will greatly reduce time-to-market.
- Create more secure software: Software engineers have a thorough knowledge of legal and industry requirements. They also have proven experience implementing CI/CD, which means they can work with developers to bake security into every step of the software creation process.
- Find solutions faster: Unlike software developers, software engineers are responsible for looking at the big picture. As such, they can use flowcharts, layouts, and documentation to identify gaps and find solutions.
Where You Can Find Developers and Engineers With Technical Expertise
Finding the right developer or engineer for your team is often easier said than done.
Although there are many ways to locate your dream developer or engineer — including finding them through Reddit or freelancing platforms like Fiverr and Upwork — these methods all require you to manually sift through piles of resumes to locate the perfect hire. This can be time-consuming and frustrating, particularly if you're already up to your nose in paperwork.
That's where Revelo comes in. Unlike Fiverr and Upwork, Revelo boasts FAANG-calibre software engineers and developers who have been pre-tested for their experience, English proficiency, and knowledge. We also have software developers and engineers specializing in every language and tech stack, including:
- Ruby on Rails
Need to hire full-time remote software developers and engineers? Talk to us today about your needs and we'll send you a list of pre-vetted developers and engineers in three days. Be ready to hire within 2 weeks.
Contact us today to start hiring.