The User Facing Developer

In an earlier post, I outlined why I think that there is value in enterprise developer specialization.  I concluded that there are four emerging classes of developers: User Facing, Mobile, Business Logic and Data, and Operations.

User Facing developers are often called “front-end” developers and are responsible for what the users see.  They are concerned with technologies like HTML, CSS, JavaScript and their related tools, libraries and frameworks.  Their work has more to do with visual presentation and workflows than with business rules and business logic.  These developers often work with UX designers to help bring their designs to life, and might have UX skills themselves.

While that might seem like a light burden, User Facing developers face some real challenges. First, their world changes rapidly.  It seems like every month brings a new JavaScript framework, CSS library or grid layout that becomes the go-to for front-end development.  Second, they must support a vast array of different device types and sizes, incompatible browsers and demanding users.  Making a page, let alone an entire application, look good on an iPad, iPhone, Firefox, Chrome and IE is daunting but often required.  The third challenge is the counterintuitive commoditization of the space.  We are currently in a business cycle where enterprises are investing heavily in infrastructure, cloud migrations and other back-end activities.  With constrained budgets, user facing work is being sent to low-cost vendors and design shops.  User Facing developers have to show mastery, efficiency and delightful user experiences to get that work back.

Success in this role requires continuous and relentless learning in the ever-changing User Facing space.  Being able to evaluate and choose between frameworks on merit over hype will add tremendous value to any project.  A good modern design aesthetic is also necessary; web, mobile and tablet design language is always evolving.  Since enterprise apps are slow to change, staying as current as possible on design language without being too trendy will help your applications stand the test of time.


Author: Kevin Hickey

I have been a professional software engineer for over fifteen years. I currently work at Intuit as an architect. I have written bootloaders, ported the Linux kernel and Android to new platforms, written CPU diagnostics, developed control software for CPU manufacturing and worked on enterprise web sites. As both a developer and program manager I have been helping software organizations become more agile for over a decade. I am passionate about helping teams deliver world-class software solutions to interesting problems. My current focus is on pragmatic agility for the enterprise. When I’m not behind a keyboard I enjoy spending time with my wonderful wife Amanda, rock climbing and hanging out with my dog Tex. In the summer you can find me in my pool or climbing something. In the winter I count the days until summer returns to Texas (I never have to count too long).

4 thoughts on “The User Facing Developer”

  1. Reblogged this on Chad Stever and commented:
    I agree with what Kevin is talking about here specifically the lack of investment on the enterprise software side. “User Facing developers have to show mastery, efficiency and delightful user experiences to get that work back.” is right on. Most enterprise software as opposed to consumer facing software doesn’t need to be fancy or even responsive at times. At least, that’s not seen as valuable …. yet. Kevin will be live on Facebook 4/5/2016 @8PM CDT talking about this stuff.

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