On Front End Job Postings

Lately, a post has been floating around the programming and web development subreddits, usually with the fairly derisive title“ Designer applies for JS job, fails at FizzBuzz, then proceeds to writes 5-page long rant about job descriptions”.

I just felt bad. Some blame lies with the company for not having a more focused job description or pre-screening process, and yes — some does lie with the applicant as well for their reaction to FizzBuzz. And actually, for the first 5 minutes after reading that post — I will admit, I couldn’t get past the failing FizzBuzz part. But as I read more of the post, I started to nod my head more and more.

Learning front end web development is amazing. Almost everyone uses websites every day, and without any sort of specialized tool, you can make your own! There’s no startup cost or time investment — you don’t need to do anything like install XCode, get a recent JDK version installed, or try to figure out why none of these “getting started with <x> language” tutorials don’t work properly on Windows. You can just jump into Notepad, paste some things from the source of the page you’re on, and get started.

And it remains easy for a while. Most of the time, if you see something on a website, like a carousel, or a modal, or anything else — there’s probably a tutorial out there. And you know what? There is a lot of work available for this level of understanding. There are plenty of companies that just want someone to take care of skinning websites for other companies, maintaining and designing internal content, etc. and that is totally fine.

Where this falls apart is when you then try to differentiate after this point. Front end developer could mean, “knows HTML and CSS and can make things look good,” to some people. Front end developer could also mean “loves JavaScript, sleeps on a copy of The Good Parts, and bought High Performance Browser Networking. It could mean crazy person who is a creator of one of 10s or 100s of responsive grid libraries. It could be a Sass god who just seems to have a knack for figuring out the minimum set of rules needed to make a site.

Front end development is awesome that way — there is so much to learn and it changes so quickly that you will always have something new that you don’t know.

Getting past FizzBuzz, the most important part of the original post is that we have a problem with classification of skills and job titles. To be honest, I didn’t make it past the “ha, this person can’t pass FizzBuzz” state at first. I gave it 5, and remembered my attempts at writing a job posting myself, and how even that didn’t fully communicate what we wanted.

There’s no easy way out and there’s likely not a 100% best practice or solution. We just need to communicate more. In the SPA case, it is easy — “Single Page App Web Developer,” even if not recruiter or eye friendly, would probably set the correct expectation. In other cases, put more in the description about the job. If you expect someone to be re-implementing artist style guides in CSS, say so. If you want someone to be creating custom UI widgets with JQuery, say so! If you want someone who knows a thing or two about creating a sprite sheet, just say so. Don’t worry about accidentally scaring someone off who might have all the other requirements — they’ll probably spend an hour reading into it, and then apply anyway. :p

Front end development may be vast and often confusing, but we don’t have to be. Let’s spend a bit more time in setting expectations first. No one benefits from half-assing a description, pasting a bunch of skills from everyone else’s job descriptions, and blindsiding someone in an interview. Let’s fix this.

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