Project Manager at computer examining code and working on project

The web is constantly evolving, and websites need to evolve with it. An aging web property doesn’t just look laughably antique, especially when compared to shinier rivals; depending on how diligently the website’s owner has kept things updated, it’s also a significant cybersecurity risk. Front-end developers are tasked with ensuring the user-facing parts of the web remain as modern, efficient, and secure as possible—but what skills do they need to succeed?

According to Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass), which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, these skills pop up frequently in front-end developer job postings:

  • JavaScript
  • Front-End Development
  • Software Engineering
  • React JavaScript
  • TypeScript
  • Software Development
  • Web Application Development

In addition, many job postings list the following “soft skills”:

  • Teamwork/collaboration
  • Communication skills
  • Writing
  • Problem solving
  • Creativity
  • Troubleshooting
  • Planning

Whether you’re a new front-end developer exploring the possibilities of the market for the first time, or a longtime veteran working alongside a team of designers and back-end developers, chances are good you’ll need to learn all of these skills and more to secure the career you really want.

Let’s plunge into some additional questions you might have about front-end developer skills.

What skills should front-end developers focus on first?

The web development landscape is constantly changing, with new tools coming out weekly. It can be hard to determine which tools will best suit the needs of front-end developers, but you should learn the following programming languages ASAP: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Front-end developers who expand their technical knowledge to other languages and frameworks are the most successful in the long run; they have a leg up in job interviews, and can apply to specialized jobs in a variety of fields. For example, TypeScript is an extension of JavaScript that improves the developer experience and enables individuals to add type safety to their projects. It’s increasingly popular within organizations in a number of industries, making it important for front-end developers to learn.

Rod Cope, founder and CTO of OpenLogic, advises front-end developers to also focus on learning several key frameworks like React, a free, open-source library used to build user interfaces, as well as Flutter, another open-source platform focused on UI/UX.

"Developers need to embrace learning new approaches and always be on the lookout for new opportunities to remain competitive in the evolving industry," he says.

Do front-end developers need to know A.I. and ChatGPT?

Front-end developers should also consider using ChatGPT and GitHub’s copilot to experiment with different languages, frameworks, and tools, as many roles will be supported by A.I.-backed solutions, increasing the speed to which you learn new skills and technical understanding.

"The smartest front-end developers will invest in their future and prioritize learning new techniques and methods to deploy software more efficiently, prioritizing customer safety and the user experience," Cope says.

Even if a new approach isn’t used right away, knowing an emerging language or framework ahead of the curve makes developers more creative and inspires different perspectives when problem-solving.

Cope says the numbe-one skill needed today is knowing how to work with AI. “As we continue to integrate A.I. into more and more industries, having the knowledge needed to interact with modern A.I. tools is non-negotiable,” he says.

The best developers are the ones who can leverage tools like ChatGPT to become more productive and learn new things by using A.I. to translate different programming languages. “Having strong familiarity with AI positions you to remain valuable in a changing talent landscape and sets you up for success in a developer role,” he explains.

Chatbots like Bard and ChatGPT are also becoming increasingly adept at writing and debugging code. Front-end developers may see more of their everyday processes become automated over the next few years, which will free up their time for other things, such as coming up with new features or focusing on design. It will also put an increasing premium on front-end developers’ creativity, teamwork, and “soft skills.”

Front-end developers must master the complexities of their jobs.

Austin Gil, senior developer advocate at Akamai Technologies, says the biggest challenge to front-end developers today is the ever-growing tooling complexity, capabilities, responsibilities, and expectations. "It used to be enough for front-end developers to know HTML, CSS, and a bit of JavaScript," he says. "Now, the lines are increasingly blurred between front-end, back-end, DevOps, deployment, security, performance, and even database design."

Karthik Raajkumar, director of engineering at Onymos, suggests that if you know HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, you can build anything: "All the most popular front-end frameworks and libraries like React, Angular, and Vue use JavaScript or its superset, TypeScript.”

The best way to keep up with changing technology is to use it. Even if your current position doesn’t rely on a certain tool or language, find time to play around with it in your free time. “There's a lot of stuff to dig into out there, so find something that interests you in particular,” Raajkumar says. “Maybe that's building 3D JavaScript animations, creating SVGs with CSS, or investigating new kinds of biometric authentication like keystroke dynamics.”

With experience, developers can learn to strike the sweet spot of having a well-rounded understanding of the developer ecosystem. “Even though it may seem that a successful developer needs to be on top of every new thing, keeping up with the pace of change requires realistic expectations on how much you can take on,” he says.

How important are soft skills?

Soft skills are hugely important for developers in any specialty. “The top soft skills I recommend honing are communication, time management and estimating, learning how to learn, and developing a certain level of grit to just push through when things get hard,” Gil says.

From his perspective, the only way to build something meaningfully larger than yourself is to work with others… and being very good or very bad at working with others will impact your career.

Cope agrees developers need to have strong communication skills. After all, they’re constantly interacting with multiple stakeholders and specialists, from back-end developers to marketing and beyond. Front-end developers need to comfortably function in a team setting and provide value to other members through collaboration. 

"Building on communication skills to learn how to influence and convince others is best practice for working with different teams," he says. "Presenting ideas with enthusiasm and a willingness to hear criticism creates more trust and respect among managers, peers, and employees."

While it can be frustrating to have your ideas challenged, getting defensive and ignoring constructive criticism creates a broken culture and team dynamic. Successful developers are always open to hearing others’ point of view. A willingness to engage in dialogue will serve you well throughout your career.

How do I start a front-end developer career?

When you’re just starting out any career, it’s important to experiment as much as possible. Front-end developers who succeed in the market have a constant thirst for knowledge, and they’re willing to quickly learn new tools and languages in order to stay abreast of the web’s constant evolution.

"It’s easier to move from a junior position to a senior one in a shorter period of time than it previously has been," Cope notes. "By staying curious and adapting to new technologies, you can have a fulfilling and successful career. "

Another way to grow your career is to learn how to explain the things you do to non-technical audiences. "It's the difference between having to rely on intermediaries and building relationships with internal and external stakeholders yourself," Raajkumar says. "Nobody can be an advocate for you like you."

From Gil's perspective, one of the best things you can do is find a community or mentor to consult with. "Don't follow tutorials blindly; try to understand how things work and what tradeoffs were made for given decisions," he says. "Put your own spin on things, and don't be afraid to break things."


Related Front-End Developer Jobs Resources:

How To Become a Front End Developer

Front End Developer Interview Questions

Front End Developer Resume Template