What’s a front-end engineer? An investigation by a curious 10 year old...

Have you tried to learn about careers in the tech industry and felt overwhelmed and confused? Tried Googling jobs and just ended up in a sea of confusing terms? Struggled to get your head around the difference between a developer, an engineer, and a coder?

Like many people, Nandini Vyas is curious about the technology industry in Australia. She’s decided to find some answers by going straight to the source - by interviewing people working in the technology industry. Smart, right? At Code Like A Girl, we have a network of people and a mission to get more women in tech, so it seemed like a no-brainer to help Nandini on her mission. We’re doing what we can to help her figure it out, and sharing the results with you.

By the way, Nandini is ten years old. And a total #Girlboss. Here’s her first interview, written up with some help from her friends at Code Like a Girl.


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What is a front-end developer? What does “front-end” even mean? I recently visited the REA offices in Cremorne to interview front-end developers Grace Peng and Sarah Spencer. It was an interesting experience, and I think I actually understand what it means to be a front-end developer now.

A front-end developer is a person who creates the part of the webpage you see and interact with, and Grace and Sarah create the webpage realestate.com.au, a big website for buying, selling and renting property in Australia.

“We mostly work with Javascript, CSS and HTML. They are the three things that we need to create a webpage,” explained Grace. “At REA, our work goes out onto the main realestate.com.au website. So we affect the consumers, anyone who visits the website. We make changes that allow the people to log in or out, allow them to save the properties, all that sort of stuff. So all the general public that come to realestate.com.au sees the work that we do.”

Grace and Sarah showed us around their office. It’s a really big, light building, with many levels filled with people. There are teams who do lots of different types of work, including marketing, sales, design and testing. They even had a bar, and a couch room.

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I didn’t know this before, but being a front-end developer involves more than just writing code. Grace and Sarah have to work with the rest of the company, too. “My day includes a lot of talking to people about what we are going to work on, what features we are adding to the website we are building, and also involves coding with someone,” she said.  “You sometimes code by yourself, but a lot of time it's better to do it with another person there.”

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Grace explained that this style of working is called “pairing”. “It involves a lot of discussing the problems we are trying to solve and then trying it out and seeing if it works.” She explained that she also spends time getting feedback from other people. That could mean talking to the designers to see if something looks right, or to the testers to see if it works properly.

Do you ever think about the fact that there are lots of different ways to view a website, and that someone has to make sure it looks right in all of them? I learned from Grace and Sarah that front-end developers have to spend a lot of time testing their work for this reason. “We test it in a lot of different browsers,” Grace said. Chrome is just one browser, but there are many different browsers that people use to view websites. “And lots of different devices as well. We make a webpage that you can view on your laptop, and on your phone and on your iPad.”

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“It’s hard to have all the different devices sitting on your desk,” said Sarah. “So on my computer I have a simulator which pretends to be an iPhone, iPad and all the different versions of the operating systems that run on these different devices. So I have a simulator that does all that.”

It was interesting to hear Grace and Sarah explain that in their roles they had to continuously adapt to new technology and software. Sarah and Grace both said that after they finished learning something new, they always had another curveball thrown at them.

It just goes to show how much technology evolves and how the people who work with technology have to evolve with it. “What we learnt in our degrees is all completely outdated 2-3 years out from the degree,” Grace said. “So, having a degree is good, but having the skills to learn, the passion above all to want to do it, is the most important thing.”

“You have to have passion for learning,” Sarah agreed. “You will be learning for the rest of your life, and you need to able to enjoy that. Enjoy learning, and enjoy problem-solving.”

It’s crazy to think your degree could be outdated so quickly. So if it’s not just about going to uni, how do you get a job as a front-end developer? “I would say, just go and build stuff,” Grace recommended. “The best thing about being a front-end developer (as opposed to other types of developer) is that it is so easy to just code something and then watch it work in the browser. You don't need to set up a lot of things. So just do it, and do a lot of it, keep experimenting. Build something that you want to use, maybe a tool for yourself. Just build stuff.”

I was curious to find out what Grace and Sarah thought about the gender gap in tech. I’m pretty interested in technology, so I’d like to know why there aren’t more women like them working in tech right now.

Sarah told me, ”When I got into IT, in my university degree, in about a class of 300 students we had only four females, and no female teachers at all.” She said that it was hard for her to find a role model. “But that also meant, in my career, I forged my own path. I didn't really have any role models, but I found that I could be myself.”

Even though we have come a long way from that, it seems like there is still a lot we could do to improve.

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I found talking to Grace and Sarah really fascinating. Before I met them I didn’t know that there were a lot of different flavours of programming jobs, I thought there were only a few. It was awesome to get to see their office at REA and learn about the projects they work on. I have two new role models now, and I might even consider being a front end developer as a future job.

 

Written by Nandini Vyas
Ten-year-old #Girlboss