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What Is a Front-End Engineer?

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A front-end engineer is a software engineer who focuses on what users see and interact with. If you’re interested in a tech career that involves both coding and creativity, becoming a front-end engineer may be the right fit for you. So, what exactly do these engineers do, how much do they make, and how can you become one? In this guide, we’ll cover:

Front-End Engineer Defined

A front-end engineer works on the part of the software that users and clients see. “Front-end” refers to the user-facing side of an application, which means they’re focused on things like functionality, layout, speed, and user experience. They want to create platforms that are visually appealing, easy to use, and fit their client or company’s needs.

>>MORE: What Is Front-End Engineering?

Front-End Engineer vs. Other Types of Engineers

What makes a front-end engineer different from other software engineers? The main difference is what part of the software these engineers work on.

  • Back-end engineer: works on the server side of the software, aka the software’s infrastructure (parts that aren’t visible to the average user)
  • Fullstack engineer: responsible for both the back end and front end of the software
  • Security engineer: primarily concerned with the software’s security and preventing cyberattacks
  • QA (Quality Assurance) engineer: tests software to ensure it’s working as intended without any errors
  • DevOps engineer: middleperson between the engineering and operations teams to ensure iterative software development and deployment

What Does a Front-End Engineer Do?

A front-end engineer focuses on the “user side” of software, meaning everything a user sees and interacts with while using an application. They often act as the middlepeople between the product team — which focuses on an application’s design and visual elements — and the rest of the engineering team, which focuses on the technical aspects of building the software. 

On a day-to-day basis, these professionals might:

  • Meet with the product team to discuss a new design and how the engineering team can implement it
  • Code a new part of a website’s software per product and client needs
  • Optimize and improve a site’s loading speed
  • Remap a website’s navigation to make it easier for users to find the information they need
  • Run tests to identify bugs and test functionality before implementing it
  • Work with back-end engineers to integrate their work with the front-end
  • After deploying software, monitor its performance and address any functionality issues

A Typical Day in the Life of a Front-End Engineer

Andrew Wu, front-end engineer at Forage, describes a typical day working at an education technology start-up.

  • Standup: The day begins with a short meeting with the team to look at all of its tasks and discuss progress on each of them. “We discuss issues and blockers encountered the previous day, and look at any new issues and bugs found as well,” Wu says.
  • Work on daily tasks: After the standup, Wu will continue working on unfinished tasks from the previous day or look to start a new task. This may involve writing new code or testing something he’s already worked on.
  • Collaborate with the product team: “Prior to working on a new task, we’ll check the Figma design from the designer, and clarify with the designer/product manager any questions or potential issues with the design or product flow.” This collaboration ensures that he can efficiently deliver what the product team is looking for.
  • Test: One crucial part of the software process is testing new applications. When implementing new software, Wu ensures it’s visually appealing, responsive, error-free, and working as intended. “We’ll also need to add different tests for the task we’re working on,” he says. “This includes basic unit tests, integration tests, and end-to-end tests.” Testing early and often is key to catching errors in the development process.
  • Wrap up tasks: At the end of the work day, Wu will wrap up any tasks he’s working on. Then, he’ll prepare to share any blockers or issues in the next workday’s standup. 

How Much Does a Front-End Engineer Make?

These professionals can expect a lucrative salary, even as they’re just starting out. According to Glassdoor, the average front-end engineer earns about $128,000 a year. Entry-level front-end engineers earn an average of about $95,000. Senior front-end engineers with over 15 years of experience have an average salary of $148,000, with those on the top of the range earning $228,000. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for software developers (which includes front-end engineers) is much stronger than average. From 2021 to 2031, software developer jobs are expected to grow by 25%, significantly higher than the average job growth of 5%.

What Industries Do Front-End Engineers Work In?

Front-end engineers can work in various industries — any industry that uses software in their daily work. For example, they can work in the travel industry to create software that helps people find and book flights. They could also work in the finance industry, working on applications for people to manage and keep their finances safe. They may have a job in health care developing software that makes it easier for patients to access their medical records. 

>>MORE: Explore a day in the life as a front-end engineer in the travel industry with SkyScanner’s Front-End Engineering Virtual Experience Program.

How to Become a Front-End Engineer

Studying software engineering in school can help you gain the coding and software experience you need to be successful. However, formal education isn’t necessary to get into the career path. While most software engineers have a bachelor’s degree or higher — over 65%, according to Statista — that still means over a third have learned their skills from alternative programs. 

“There are many different paths to getting into front-end engineering,” says Shri Ganeshram, founder and CEO of Awning, a tech platform that helps individuals buy and own rental properties. “Some people start with a degree in computer science or a related field, while others learn through online courses or bootcamps. It’s important to have a strong foundation in the core technologies and a willingness to continuously learn and grow.”

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So, if you’re interested in the career path but aren’t enrolled in a computer science or software engineering program, where should you start?

Olivier Andre, Forage content consultant and software engineer at Point72, a financial services firm, says it’s all about jumping in and trying the process out — which you can do on almost any computer.

“Most people get into front-end engineering by wanting to make a website and learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript,” Andre says. “To start, head on any website, right click on any element, then click ‘Inspect.’ This opens a whole new world to beginners. You can see the elements of the page and change their properties, background, color, alignment, etc. Modifying some of those to see how things works can be fun. Then, it’s a matter of trying to remake a site from scratch and reading the MDN Web Docs when stuck.”

What Skills Does a Front-End Engineer Need?

“Some of the most important skills needed to excel in front-end engineering include proficiency in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, as well as strong problem-solving and communication skills,” Ganeshram says. This sums up the dual functions of these professionals: they have the technical hard skills to build, develop, and test software, and the soft skill of communication to collaborate with various teams to ensure the software looks and functions as intended.

Skills you need for this field include:

  • Programming skills: As Ganeshram mentions, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are the most common languages for this career path.
  • Attention to detail: “You’ll need to quickly identify any tiny issues within a page/component, such as incorrect font and text size,” Wu says.
  • Adaptability: The tech field is constantly changing, which means front-end engineers need to be willing to learn and adapt to new technologies on top of their everyday work.
  • Communication skills: “A good software engineer needs to collaborate with different people from different teams, this includes product managers, designers, and QA engineers,” Wu says. “Good communication skills help both the individual and the team work more efficiently.”

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Image credit: Christina Morillo / Pexels

Zoe Kaplan is a Senior Writer at Forage. Prior to joining Forage, she wrote and edited career and workplace content for Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women.