Advice for Newbie Front-end Developer

June 09, 2015By Mike Herchel

I had a new front-end developer reach out to me asking for a critique of their website, résumé, and Github account. I ended up going to town on my critique and advice, and I believe what follows is useful for many individuals who are looking at getting into the web development industry.

Hey <name redacted>,

The first thing I want to say is that this is pretty amazing work for just 9 months of experience. Honestly, you’re kicking some serious ass.

So, why haven’t you gotten a job? It’s the catch-22 of no experience… but, you can’t get experience without it. So, you need to break out of it.

Quick Eval

Here’s what I’m seeing when I look at your website. This is kind of stream-of-conscious:

  • Website looks good.
  • Some basic projects on there. Nothing bad, but nothing really cool.
  • I don’t see any real projects (this is the key).
  • /me looks at code… CSS doesn’t look bad, but it’s a really small site. Would love to see some BEM or SMACSS.
  • Doesn’t look like you’re using Sass. You need to learn this.
  • Is this static? How did it get built?
  • Your Github account is basic, but alright.

Build Real Websites

So, the main thing that you need to do is get a client. Building a website is so much more than coding html and css. There’s managing the client, managing hours, knowing your worth, the sales process, content strategy, SEO, 3rd party integrations, landing page optimization, and the backend CMS work. In the process of developing these sites, you’ll be running into all kinds of roadblocks and then overcoming them. You’ll learn how to effectively troubleshoot, search for and filter answers, manage clients, manage yourself, and mostly how to **get shit done**.

All of this is super important for a developer to understand even if he/she doesn’t work with it on a regular basis. This is one of the most important qualities that separate out junior devs.

Your first client can be a local non-profit or a local business. Many of the sites I started with were like this. Most aren’t up, but here are a couple:

I got these from friends and also by advertising in the barter section of craigslist asking for free contracting work in exchange for websites. You’ll be surprised how many contractors love this type of stuff.

Community, Community … and Community!

The other thing you need to do is go to meetups! Almost every city in the world has web developer meetups. At these meetups you learn a ton, and most important of all - you meet people. Some can become friends, and you can bounce ideas off of them. You can also get business from people at the meetups. I’ve done over $18k worth websites that was referred to me from my local Drupal meetup. And, I’ve probably passed on more than that. But, the best part is, is that it can be tons of fun.

A quick look on Meetup.com for San Diego web technology shows a ton of meetups:

  • San Diego Javascript
  • San Diego Web Designers
  • San Diego Drupal
  • San Diego PHP
  • And lots more

Join them, meet people, hang out and learn. Eventually present on something!

Find a platform

Another thing that stands out is that you only know front-end technologies. In my experience, most places will want you to hit the ground running and that requires experience with frameworks or content management systems.

This can be frameworks such as Ruby on Rails, Laravel, Symfony, MEAN, etc. Or, it can be content management systems such as Wordpress, Drupal (my specialization), or CraftCMS. I generally try to warn people about Wordpress, though. It has an easy on-ramp, but WP developers can become a commodity, which limits your earning potential.

If you know a framework/CMS plus relevant front-end technologies, you should have no problem getting a job.

Podcasts

Another thing that I tell newbies is to listen to podcasts. Podcasts give you a larger but important perspective on the industry. It allows you to learn and speak intelligently about new technologies and new techniques.

Some of my favorites are

And Finally

You’re kicking ass. Don’t get discouraged. The path forward is clear, and I honestly think that building websites and involving yourself in the community (if you haven’t already) will pay off.

Good luck.

Thanks for reading. Notice an error or have something to contribute? Submit a Pull Request!