3rd July 2012

3 Aspects of Working as a Junior Front End Developer.

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Digital Agency Work Placement

Connor tells of his work experience here at Creode as a Junior Front End Developer, and offers up some advice for those looking into work experience or starting their first job.

I’ve just finished 5 weeks full time work at Creode, a digital agency based in Leeds. Coming from a university timetable to full time work was a huge shock, and there are certain things I wish I had known beforehand. Hopefully by addressing what are in my eyes, the 3 most important aspects of work I can give to those who are looking into a work placement, or even starting their first job, a few pointers which helped me throughout my experience.

Work – Don’t try to run before you can walk.

The Sunday night before my first day back at Creode, I’m sat at my desk cramming all things front-end for the next few weeks ahead. It’s easy for inexperienced front end developers like myself to find themselves with a ‘to learn’ list as long as their arm. And who blames us? It seems that every day on Twitter there is a new buzzword doing the rounds within development circles, or a new parallax scrolling, slidey, rotatey CSS technique which has to be learnt. It’s all very interesting, but those who aren’t in the know have one more thing to add to the list of things they can’t do – it can become daunting and I know that at times it has gone as far as putting me off from front end development as a career choice. I sat staring at the screen, slowly getting tired as the more and more tabs were being added to my browser, and endless articles were being ‘Pocketed’ for later.

Five weeks later and I’ve learnt a hell of a lot about front end development. However, out of all the things I’ve learnt, the most important would have to be that spending time understanding the necessary basics of front end development is more important than learning how to do that cool rotatey thing, or being able to recite word-for-word the documentation from a new-fangled framework. Sure, being able to do these things is great, but if you don’t know the basics then you have nothing to fall back on when these trends and frameworks are bettered by newer, shinier frameworks, or slated by those in a position of authority in web development.

By grasping a good understanding of the basics you are allowing yourself to naturally progress onto the more exciting and complicated aspects of front end development. A good grounding allows you to fully understand new frameworks which could potentially improve your work flow or make things easier for yourself, allowing you to produce better work in a shorter space of time.

Health – Working non-stop isn’t a viable long term option.

As the previous point highlighted, front end developers have a lot to learn, which means ‘working’ outside of work itself. I’m sure that most who want to get a job in front end development are passionate about the discipline anyway, so sitting in front of the computer reading about SASS or watching a tutorial on CSS gradients isn’t considered work as such, but by work I mean sitting and concentrating at a computer, even if it is something you enjoy. I, like most university students spend a lot of time on the computer anyway, but I was not prepared for just how tired I would get when concentrating for 8 plus hours at a computer. My eyes became tired and I would find myself not blinking when inspecting code to see what was throwing my layout off. In the first week, when I finished work I would go back home and open up the laptop again, either watching the Euros or swatting up for my next day.

This routine was soon broken when I became so tired that I literally couldn’t concentrate for more than a few minutes before taking my glasses off and rubbing my eyes in frustration. I started to put the laptop away when I got home and listened to music instead, or even put it at the other side of the room to where I was sitting if there was a Euro match I really wanted to watch. At work I would take regular breaks and have a look out of the window for a few minutes. One of the biggest changes was to turn the brightness down on my screen to about 1/3 of the way when at work (on a Macbook Pro this is plenty enough in natural light). By my 4th week I felt more awake, I wasn’t sleeping in, I could concentrate normally without having to stare and my work improved as a by-product.

It’s a fact that the majority of resources available to front end developers are online. No matter how much you love your job, or love learning about front end, your health is most important, and by looking after yourself in and out of work you will, without question, produce better work and feel healthier.

Colleagues – Be sociable and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

I found asking questions quite daunting when I first started at work, because I didn’t want to appear to be an idiot, and I didn’t want to annoy anyone else and take them away from their own work. However, after I had gotten to know everyone in the office I started to ask more (sensible) questions. In the first week I would sit for half an hour struggling to do something before becoming so annoyed that I would have to ask for help. In the long run this is a massively counter-productive way to work, as you are wasting more time than you are saving. The majority of times one other member of the team would be able to point me in the right direction within one minute. One tip would be to have scrap paper at hand to jot down solutions to problems you have had, and then going over them and writing them neatly into a pad so that you can refer to them if the same problem arises. The problem with questions comes when you ask the same questions again and again. Overall, don’t be afraid to ask (but don’t ask without having a go first, you might surprise yourself), and make lots of notes.

Even if you are the only front end developer at the company you are working for, this doesn’t mean to say you should sit in a corner churning out CSS and saying very little. Working at a digital agency is just like playing football – good communication makes the team stronger, and knowing when to help out others even if it isn’t your ideal role means that everyone benefits and is moving in the right direction. Creode is a small but bustling digital agency – everyone gets along and knows they can give anybody in the office a shout for help or an opinion at any point. I found myself asking lead developer Rich for lots of technical help during my stay and it was never a problem. Lead designer Tom gave his input to some of my work which vastly improved the initial design I had produced. It’s not about who has the necessary job role to cast opinion over work either. Tom would often call everyone around his computer and ask our opinions on a design and whether or not it communicated the values required from the client. This team ethic made the office a joy to work in and our individual work was improved because of it, which meant Creode was akin to Barcelona rather than Scunthorpe.