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Is a front-end developer a software engineer?

If the question “is a front-end developer a software engineer?” has ever popped into your mind, then you are in the right place. Let’s find out more, shall we?

11 October, 2022
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After finding out the difference between a user interface and front-end development when hiring for software or web development projects, another question may rightfully emerge: Is a front-end developer a software engineer? Yes, and here’s why.

In a way, front-end developers are software engineers who carry out website and web application designs using an essential trio of web development languages - HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

A software engineer is usually an umbrella term for professionals in front-end, back-end, and also full-stack development. Today, we’ll go through front-end developer and software engineer responsibilities and sought-out skills, and find out who and why will suit you better.

If you’re interested in learning more about web development and front-end, in particular, then you might want to check out our piece on ways in which AI is impacting front-end development today. Just saying, our blog is full of fascinating stuff like this. Enjoy!

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Front-end developer responsibilities

Front-end development, sometimes called front-end web development or even front-end engineering, involves building everything you see and can interact with on a website or web application, from buttons and layout to responsiveness and ease of navigation.

Implementing the design into an actual client side of the product is pretty much the main goal of the front-end. Basically, the front-end developer’s responsibilities include the following duties.

Front-end developer responsibilities
Front-end developer responsibilities

Use HTML, JavaScript, and CSS to bring the design to life. Front-end developers use these three programming languages to define the website’s or app’s general structure and content, create styling, and finish it off with an interactive layer, respectively.

Develop and maintain the user interface. The “programming” part of user interface development involves writing the code using either simplistic or more feature-rich code editors. This part also includes creating reusable code and matching documentation.

Optimize the user experience. Before the actual coding of the interface, front-end specialists create a prototype and test it to optimize the product’s user experience and make smooth interactions. Prototyping also saves time and money on fixing future faulty features.

Make the interface mobile-friendly. Since more and more people use their mobile devices to browse rather than typical computers and laptops, it is imperative that developers scale their creations to be mobile-friendly.

Develop across browsers. Another crucial part of the front-end developer’s day-to-day responsibilities is making sure that the code is adapted and interpreted for various browsers. Accommodating for the differences makes the website equally functional throughout.

Fix bugs and test for usability. And last but not least, troubleshooting and testing for usability is another important part of frontend development responsibilities, along with website or application maintenance and regular updates.


Software engineer responsibilities

As a term, software engineering, in general, relates to the process of preparing, building, and then maintaining software. A person can engineer software in various ways, some involve coding, and some do not.

Typically, it’s more about algorithms and using them to solve problems more efficiently. A software engineer who is at the same time a front-end developer as well is more likely to be a full-stack developer, just with a front-end preference.

Overall, software engineers are usually front-enders too, but not every front-end developer is an engineer. So, here are the main responsibilities of software engineers.

Software development. Similarly to frontend developers, one of the primary responsibilities of software engineers is the development, this time, of the software. They also do object-oriented design, maintain and improve the existing codebases, and review changes.

Modeling and simulation. Using software modeling and simulation methods, software engineers can do algorithm- and methodology development, optimize configuration management, and identify issues and common patterns.

Testing and quality assurance. Software quality assurance testing is when engineers keep an eye on every internal software process and activity to ensure its good quality and compliance with set standards.

Requirement and object-oriented analysis. Software engineers also access existing systems to provide improvement recommendations, perform system risk and reliability investigations, and do object-oriented design and analysis.

Software maintenance. Engineers take care of software maintenance and installation, monitor equipment, plan layouts, balance performance, integrate the software with existing systems, and handle software localizations and globalization.

Creating technical specifications. And lastly, software engineers also take part in and ultimately oversee the development of software’s technical specifications and documentation.

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The skillset of front-end developers

Over the years, the demand for front-end developers has increased significantly. Whether hiring one or wanting to become one, here’s a list of essential skills and tools proficiency a front-end developer should have.

HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. These three primary languages are the basis of any front-end developer’s skills. It’s also important to know the latest versions of these tools, such as JavaScript’s recent frameworks, HTML5, and CSS3.

jQuery. This is a JavaScript library, which means a series of extensions and plugins that make the original language much faster and easier to manage. By applying various ready-made made components, developers can write less code from scratch and save time.

Front-end frameworks. The knowledge of other frameworks, like React, Bootstrap, Angular, Ember, Backbone, and Vue.js, will also come in handy for front-end developers. Each one has a specific purpose - React, for example, helps build interactive user interfaces.

CSS preprocessors. When coding with cascading style sheets, preprocessors can help developers make the process much more speedy by processing the code before publishing, so it’s worth adding knowledge about them to their skill set.

Mobile responsiveness. One of the most vital skills of the modern front-end developer is the knowledge and experience of how to adjust a web solution to screens of mobile devices, which includes modifying the layout, functionality, content, etc.

REST and API. The first one is a lightweight architecture called Representational State Transfer that simplifies the website’s network communication, and APIs are web services that comply with that architecture.

Testing and debugging. Even with prior user testing and prototyping, bugs still happen. So, unit testing, functional testing, and debugging are all vital skills that help developers check how well the website or app performs.

Git and version control. Knowing how to use version control management systems, the most popular of which is Git, is another requirement for a modern front-end development professional. It lets them keep track of frequent code changes.

The skillset of software engineers

The skillset of software developers and engineers is slightly less front-end specific and much broader in terms of how many different tasks and inner systems they have to take care of.

The skillset of software engineers
The skillset of software engineers

Technical background and programming languages. The first thing to mention is that some computer science background or in any related field is very helpful, as well as proficiency in stuff like Java, C++, and other object-oriented programming languages.

Excellent understanding of computer systems. This one is actually pretty self-explanatory because the number one requirement for software engineering is an advanced understanding of computer systems.

Problem-solving. It’s key for software engineers to be able to analyze complex technical information and requirements and solve problems related to software development and complex systems using logical and analytical approaches.

Algorithms and data structures. An algorithm is a set order of steps that a computer can execute, involving an input being transformed into an output. A data structure is a way of organizing data in virtual systems.

Process visualization. A good software engineer needs to have strong analytical skills and knowledge in visualizing processes and outcomes using various data visualization tools and process maps.

Troubleshooting and debugging. Finally, software engineers must learn how to identify, diagnose, and solve different software issues and debug large codebases.


Engineering vs. development - a question of scope

In general, software development has a more extensive scope than web development. Similarly, software engineering also deals with a bigger scope than software development, and especially front-end development.

With scope being a primary difference between the two, software developers are a more suitable match for small-scale work on software development. They usually complete a program that has a part in a more extensive set of software and performs a specific function.

So, while front-end and back-end developers each have their own number of tasks within the project, engineers are then the ones who put many functions and programs together and make sure they perform correctly.

To make it happen, they also keep track of how well the software interacts with the hardware. Software engineers involve more leadership in their role within the development team. Developers have less knowledge of the software engineering process and techniques, so they usually rely on engineers for that.

However, because engineering can be slightly more restrictive in terms of the creative process, developers have more freedom when it comes to creating programs for only one function.

Want to have an efficient, business-oriented design?

View a recorded webinar with Pavel Tseluyko on how design adds value to your business.

Watch now

Do you need a front-end developer or a software engineer?

Overall, when making a technical hire, it’s important to differentiate the roles and responsibilities of front-end developers and software engineers.

We hope our guide was handy in providing you with the right context and showing you how to know whether you need a front-end developer or a software engineer.

As someone working very close to the hardware, if you need a specialist to oversee all the software development processes, software engineers are much more likely to help you with that.

Remember also that engineers, for that very reason, have, on average, higher salaries than their developer counterparts.

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CEO and Founder of Merge

My mission is to help startups build software, experiment with new features, and bring their product vision to life.

My mission is to help startups build software, experiment with new features, and bring their product vision to life.

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