How to Hire a Front-end Developer
As one of the fastest-growing specialties in software engineering, finding the right front-end developers for your project can be quite challenging. Because front-end developers work on user-facing elements, the decisions they make and patterns they implement can have a huge impact on how your users interact with your applications.
But front-end developers are a critical hire: all types of apps require this type of development and therefore require developers with this skill set. Here’s what you need to know in order to find the best developers for your next project.
Table Of Contents
Evaluating a Front-end Developer’s Non-Technical Skills
Critical Thinking and Curiosity
In our experience, the ability to quickly learn new technologies, tools and approaches to development is one of the most important skills any software developer should possess, but this is especially true in front-end developers.
Front-end is arguably the most dynamic specialization of software development. A front-end developer can go to sleep every night knowing all the frameworks out there, only to have a stack of new things to learn by the time they wake up. That’s because of the pace of change in front-end development: tooling, libraries, best practices, and even architecture changes at a much faster pace than other specialties.
Therefore, it’s critical your front-end developers enjoy learning and keeping up with trends. At the same time, they should be able to assess the pros and cons of new and existing technologies, both helping to provide technical direction and take ownership of their decisions.
The ability to critically assess what they learn is a core component of a front-end developers’ learning experience. It’s easy to be tempted and chase shiny new technology, but that doesn’t always equate to the best overall choice. A great developer will weigh the business goals, developer experience and user experience before making decisions. For instance, a new framework may provide better performance and user experience, but if few developers know how to use it, betting on it could make it much harder to find talent. What’s more, if it fails to achieve popularity, it can turn every line of code into technical debt.
Attention to Detail
Front-end developers are not designers, but normally they are the ones crafting the user interface. Both expertise and attention to detail are critical for translating designs into code. Furthermore, developers should be able to interpret the designers’ intentions, as modern front-end layouts work in a responsive fashion, which usually leaves a lot of use cases not covered in detail in the initial designs.
Communication and Soft Skills
While soft skills like effective communication aren’t limited to front-end developers, there are some specific types and methods of communication that are unique. Knowing what to say and when, understanding and adapting to team dynamics, and clearly communicating work are important skills for front-end developers, as their position acts as a bridge between designers, back-end developers, owners, and users.
Technical Skills to Look For When You’re Hiring a Front-end Developer
Hiring React Developers
This makes it a solid choice for scalability and maintainability, as you’ll be able to find additional React developers to join the team at any stage during your project.
One important note on React developers, though: React’s popularity is such that most code bootcamps teach React, which makes a bigger portion of the talent pool relatively inexperienced when compared to other frameworks.
Hiring Angular Developers
Angular is a complete framework rather than a library. This means that it provides a complete solution and a more strict, opinionated guideline on how development should be carried out.
While libraries such as React or Vue provide the freedom to choose from countless different approaches for each part of an application, Angular aims at stability and consistency by providing a single way to do it.
This makes it a great choice for bigger companies, as any Angular developer joining your project will be familiar with how things are built in your codebase and will be able to start working right away instead of having to learn (and most likely, argue with) the decisions previously made by other developers.
Hiring Vue Developers
Vue is a library that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. While Angular and React are run by industry giants (Google and Facebook, respectively), Vue is shaped by its community. Because of this, the Vue creators deeply consider their opinion when deciding which direction the framework should go. It also provides a much smoother learning curve and better developer experience, which makes it increasingly popular with developers.
You may be wondering where Vue sits on the spectrum from consistency (Angular) to flexibility (React). Vue sits somewhere in the middle, taking some patterns from both Angular and React. Therefore, it can be a good compromise when you need developers to work on multiple different projects, as it will feel familiar to those coming from either background.
While we’ve covered the primary frameworks you’ll come across when developing a front-end application, there’s a notable collection of alternative frameworks to choose from that may work better in a given scenario. Below are some of our favorites.
Preact can be described as a lightweight alternative to React. If your team is used to working with React but needs to fit a tighter performance budget, Preact makes a great choice as they share much in common.
API Interaction (REST, GraphQL)
One critical part of front-end development is fetching data from the back-end and handling it to show something useful to the user. It’s important that developers know how to hit REST endpoints to fetch data and send the right requests for any API endpoint. Just as important, developers should know best practices to handle this data, from authentication to performance and mutability issues.
Knowledge of GraphQL can be a huge bonus if your back-end supports it, as it will expose extensive schemas that can be queried for specific data. This is paid for in complexity, though, so the decision to work with one or the other should be thoroughly considered.
CSS, Layout and Styles
There’s a never-ending debate regarding who should take care of the CSS development. Traditionally, CSS has always been a defining characteristic of front-end development. Decades ago, building the layouts was the main task of a front-end developer, as most data handling was done in the back-end. Nowadays, many of the tasks traditionally seen as back-end are now part of front-end development.
Some companies put the CSS task into their designers but finding designers that also code is extremely rare.
Unless you’re putting the CSS tasks on your designers or on a dedicated specialist, your front-end developers should have a deep understanding of how CSS works and best practices for keeping it maintainable, an incredibly important and often overlooked skill.
They should also be up-to-date with the latest developments in CSS, as CSS progresses incredibly fast.
Keeping CSS well organized is not easy, and neither is dealing with the architecture decisions to make it maintainable. But architectural choices and style organization are important considerations for maintainability, scalability, and easy onboarding of new developers at any stage of the project. A deep understanding of how CSS works and the many strategies to handle its rough points is extremely important for any front-end developer. Depending on your project needs, you’ll likely want to look for knowledge of pre-processors, particularly SASS and PostCSS, as well as architecture and strategies such as CSS-in-JS or Styled Components.
Bootstrap has been an industry standard for over a decade, but recently it’s begun to fall out of favor. This is due largely to Bootstrap being difficult to customize, and also the development and growth of alternative frameworks and strategies. If you need to build a proof of concept fast and can’t have a designer plan a brand new design system for it, however, Bootstrap remains a decent choice and a framework your developers can benefit from knowing how to use.
Tailwind has been a game changer for the software development industry and remains one of the most sought-after skills in many job descriptions. Unlike Bootstrap, it’s not intended as a complete solution for styles (if you’re looking for that, check Tailwind UI instead).
Instead, Tailwind is an attractive CSS framework because it’s an easier way to describe an interface. Developers can build themes from sensible defaults while avoiding some of the pain points of CSS, such as inheritance and specificity.
While user experience (UX) is not a required skill for most software development positions, UX knowledge is a compelling bonus in a front-end developer. Some background in UX makes developers more equipped to implement the UI smoothly. While front-end developers are not necessarily in charge of planning UX, they must know how to implement it and may be able to provide some insights to the design team on the best patterns to use.
Accessibility has historically been an overlooked requirement for front-end developers, but this has begun to change. Making sure that everyone, regardless of any disability, limitation, or preference, can use your website or app is a critical consideration for ensuring your project is inclusive and caters to diverse user needs. What’s more, implementing accessibility best practices improves the overall user experience of your app or website and improves your search engine rankings. This can help your project acquire more traffic and increase conversion rates. Both from a human perspective and a business one, accessibility is a compelling skill set for any front-end developer to have.
Front-end developers should be knowledgeable about accessibility best practices, starting from (but not limited to) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and how to implement modern features such as dark mode, high contrast, and reduced motion.
Web Performance and Core Vitals
Web performance – the speed and usability of a site – has gained a lot of attention since Google announced these metrics would become a critical aspect of its organic search ranking algorithm in 2021. Prior to this, however, the complexity of diagnosing performance issues, resolving them, and measuring the impact was a barrier to developers dedicating serious time to it. This simply won’t cut it anymore, however, and any strong developer should know how to optimize the performance of an application as well as the best performance strategies to follow in a given framework.
All things considered, building code is easy. But ensuring it won’t fail? Not so much. Any front-end developer must be familiar with at least one testing library and how to implement unit tests and integration tests. They should be able to write tests, be familiar with the most popular testing libraries for the given framework, and, depending on your team dynamics, set up and work efficiently in a test-driven development environment.
Just as importantly, front-end developers should know what to test and what not to test. Often, testing is a matter of time trade-off, and not everything in the UI is worth writing a test about. However, some developers may want to test literally everything, every time, which can quickly become a bottleneck.
Web security is a deep subject and a software development field in its own right. Your front-end developers don’t have to be security experts, but they should be familiar with common client-side attacks like XSS to not write vulnerable code. They should be mindful of the security implications of dependencies they introduce to a project.
Technical Assessment Questions for Front-end Developers
Many developers are laser-focused on a particular framework and will try to use it in places where it’s not the best idea. Experienced front-end developers will answer this question with comparisons between multiple frameworks and very useful insights on how they work under the hood, as well as how they balance developer experience with business goals and user experience.
How do you tackle CSS architecture and maintainability?
This question will allow you to gauge their knowledge of CSS applied to the real world. Strong candidates will most likely answer with multiple approaches and compare their use cases effectively.
What do you think about web accessibility?
A strong candidate will know the importance of accessibility and provide useful examples of how it affects all the users, while weaker ones will see it as a hassle that gets in the way of efficiency.
What are some of the auxiliary libraries that you like?
This will help you gauge their interests and how they relate to your project. Strong front-end candidates will be able to provide examples of how they used a library in a real application to help solve a pain point of development.
As we have seen, hiring the right front-end developer can be quite challenging due to the incredibly diverse range of abilities they need to master. From pixel-perfect CSS to API interaction and critical performance issues, their work can have a huge impact on your users’ experience and, therefore, on the success of your project.
Finding the best front-end developers for the job can be a challenge, but hopefully, this guide can be a helpful resource for your hiring process.