The Evolution of Front End Development

The Evolution of Front End Development

The internet is seemingly everywhere and does everything. The internet today is not just a place to look up information and browse libraries. It delivers videos, photos, and music—the backbone of the streaming entertainment industry. It powers the virtual meeting industry, which has become so much a part of everyday work life for many since the pandemic. The internet has enabled the shift from a co-located workforce to a remote workforce. (Almost ten times as many job openings today are for remote workers compared to just three years ago). 

The biggest winner of the internet lottery, however, has been the explosion of eCommerce. For the first time in US history, Cyber Monday online purchases out-paced Black Friday brick-n-mortar purchases in the retail sector. 

The engine that drives the eCommerce juggernaut is the World Wide Web, and the transmission that connects that engine to buyers and sellers are websites—millions of websites. While many websites consist of simple, static web pages that do nothing more than display content, most modern websites—and particularly those employed by eCommerce companies—are complex, dynamic, interactive sites. What enables those websites to react to the users with animations, buttons, links, hotspots, spinners, dropdown lists, fly-out menus, and so forth, is “front end code”.

And lest the gamers feel left out, be advised that the user interface to every game, with all the graphics, sound effects, music, and console controls, is “front end code”. The same is also true of every mobile app. The graphical user interface (GUI) is the genius component of everything a user sees on the glass. Without the GUI supported by front end development, computer programs would be spitting out only lines of dull, boring text.

This article talks about what the job of front end development entails, a brief history of how the World Wide Web grew a personality through front end programming, the latest trends in front end coding, and a portrait of front end development as a career choice. 

What Is Front End Development?

The purpose of the front end of a website or mobile app is to enable users to view the information on the site in a format that is easily understood and relevant. Further, the front end allows the users to interact with the information they see. Interactions can be as simple as scrolling a page or zooming into a picture, or they can be as complex as placing a purchase order or chasing a character through a 3D maze.

Computers are actually pretty stupid machines. They don’t do anything unless someone tells them what to do. The job of the front end developer is to tell the web browser (the software that puts images on the screen and accepts user actions from the keyboard, the mouse, the touchscreen, or the game controller) what to show the user and what to do with the user actions. The front end developer writes the browser instructions in code. The most common coding languages for front end development are HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

How does the front end know what it’s supposed to do? That’s the job of the front end designer, sometimes called the user interaction designer, or UXD. Every computer program has a purpose or objective, and the UXD uses psychology to determine how to get the computer screen to coax the users into doing what the program sponsor—the person or company paying to build the website or app—wants them to do. The front end developer uses programming languages and frameworks to translate the design into an interactive user interface.

The History of Front End Programming

The internet as it is known today had its earliest roots in the 1960s, when computer technology was still in the embryonic stage. Telephone lines were used in those early days to transmit data from one computer to another. Through the ‘70s and ‘80s, computers became smaller and less expensive while increasing dramatically in compute power and speed, and networks became more sophisticated. In 1990, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) was invented, and the World Wide Web came into existence. By 1995, web browsers were offered by Microsoft, Amazon, Yahoo, and eBay. In 1998, Google was launched.

Birth: Static Pages

The first websites were static projections of information in a web browser on the screen. The front end instructions (called the View layer) were generated by the back end program (the Controller layer), which ran on the server. The front end was not stand-alone code. It was built into the back end. The script that the back end sent to the user’s screen couldn’t do very much. It displayed text and images, controlled the colors and fonts on the page, and drew borders and simple figures.

Toddler: AJAX

In 2004, a new front end technology called AJAX burst onto the website scene, giving front end designers and developers huge opportunities to improve the interactivity and engagement of web pages. With AJAX, the front end code could now be extracted from the back end and operate separately. The separation enabled the web page to interact in real time with speed and efficiency to user actions without having to wait for the back-end server to catch up. The back end program became simply the server of data, while the front end handled the business logic and the data presentation chores.

Child: MVC

As the front end coding job became more complicated and robust, developers soon realized they needed help in organizing and modularizing their code. In 2010, Backbone.js entered the picture. Called a framework, Backbone.js restructured the relationship between the front end and the back end. In Backbone.js’s revised Model/View/Controller (MVC) design, the business logic was removed from the front end’s purview. The backend got stuck with both managing the data (Model) and executing the business logic (Controller). The front end’s only job became displaying the data (View). 

The Backbone.js framework made front end coding philosophically simpler. It also provided hooks or channels between the front end and back end to make front end coding technically easier. Soon, frameworks were popping up all over the place.

Teen: SPA

The next major breakthrough in front end development was the Single Page Application (SPA) design. Using the SPA approach, the user interface again acquired a bigger role. A SPA simulated a multi-page website with a cleverly designed and functionally complex single-page application. All the logic for processing and displaying data (and sometimes even storing the data itself) resided in the front end program. 

New tools, techniques, patterns, and frameworks were developed to support the SPA approach to web application development. React and Angular were among the most popular and powerful of the SPA frameworks. By 2016, front end developers around the globe quickly began to shift from MVC to SPA.

Adult: ???

Since 2016, the techniques for developing web applications have continued to mature and proliferate. Tools like WebPack, Babel, Redux, and D3 have provided front end developers with the power to create the amazing web pages and web applications that are the rage on the internet today. 

And the field keeps expanding and improving. Front end development is one of the fastest-paced technologies in the industry. The more front end developers can do in web browsers and mobile platforms, the more they want to do, and the more tools are being created to help the developers meet the demand. A front end developer must be ready for constant change as the technologies grow in capability and the demand for the better capabilities explodes.

Is Front End Development a Good Career?

The future for front end development is brighter than ever. Even though many social media users access the web on their mobile devices, they often still interact through a mobile web browser. We Are Social and Hootsuite, global technology agencies, released a report in January 2021 that showed just over half of the world’s web traffic (55%) was initiated on mobile devices, while the rest came from laptops (44%) and tablets (2%). Whether the users are on their mobile devices or larger computers, the browser is the key to the web, and front end development provides the browsers with web pages to display.

Web development is in high demand and shows no signs of slowing. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in September, 2021, that almost 200,000 jobs for web developers and designers existed, and the projected job growth in this decade is 13%, far above the average growth of other industries. The median salary for a front end developer is $77,000, ranging from $50,000 for entry level jobs to more than $150,000 for senior developers. The bottom line is, front end developer jobs are available, and they pay well.

Final thoughts

Front end development is just one segment of the booming software development industry. The underlying technologies of front end programming are still HTML, CSS, and Javascript. The capabilities of these languages have advanced in the past twenty years, but the concepts are the same. The biggest leaps in technology have been in the frameworks that make coding web pages easier while also more robust and interactive. Front end development is a fast-paced, ever changing landscape for its practitioners. 

RemoteMode offers world-class online training to prepare you to enter the job market as a front end developer. We teach the skills that are most in demand in the industry because our courses are designed by working professionals who know what it takes to get and keep a job. But RemoteMode is more than a training company. We are a career preparation enterprise. Our students are assigned professional mentors to guide them through the training and preparation process. We provide immersive, hands-on experiences in the Virtual Lab that enable students to build a portfolio of meaningful work solving real-life problems. Our career advisors help with building a professional social media network and presence that can open doors to job opportunities. They also aid in creating eye-catching CVs and preparing students for interviews. With RemoteMode, you can go from learning to earning in just a few months. Contact a RemoteMode career counselor today to find out how quickly you can pivot to a career in front end development.

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