This week we had a very insightful interview with Alessandro Muraro, Frontend Developer at navabi.de in Aachen (Germany): he told us how his passion for Lego led him to become a fronted developer and he shared many useful tips and resources for those who wish to follow his career path.

What led you to become a Frontend Developer?
I think the passion started when I was a little kid and I spent days playing with Lego.
The fact that you could take these basic plastic blocks and shape them into whatever you wanted (mainly spacecrafts, in my case) was really appealing to me.
Growing up, I think I maintained the same passion for building stuff out of basic pieces, which is what frontend development is all about.When the internet came about, I was quickly building websites for myself and friends alike, it was 1997 or something like that, and we were all on slow modem connections.

For some (probably wrong) reason at the time I had the feeling this was a job that could not sustain me, so I got into technical support, working mainly for Apple in Ireland for a few years, and for other companies too. I even did other jobs, mainly in restaurants – which I really liked.
However, in 2007 I decided I wanted to finally become a professional web developer. I graduated in Web Design in Ireland, and then started doing frontend as a freelancer at first (while also doing another job), and in 2011 I started being a frontend developer 100% of the time.

What recommendations would you give to any colleague who would like to thrive in your job?

I have a few suggestions that come to my mind:
  • If you are just starting, or if you are struggling in the ocean of techniques and frameworks available, I would recommend to just focus on the three pillars of the web: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
    Focus on getting the HTML clean and semantic, so that your web page is properly readable even without CSS and JavaScript.
    Write clean, responsive CSS, make it work well on all devices, explore the possibilities, take it as far as possible, use the most recent features.
    Learn to write plain JavaScript (also called Vanilla JavaScript) as well as possible, and learn how to use it sparsely.
    Keep improving on these fundamentals everyday.
    Do not get distracted by all those JavaScript frameworks out there because – even if it might speed you up initially – you might get even more confused and clueless, just like I did until I started going back to the fundamentals. When you grow with your fundamentals, your understanding of frameworks and techniques will also naturally and automatically grow.
    These are all things I wish people told me years ago, before I started being a frontend developer full time.
  • Put love into the code you write. You need to love your work and have attention for detail, both for the end result, and for the code that produces it. this will make your work way more enjoyable. Fight for clean code, and be always ready improve on the bad code you will inevitably write.
  • Be curious. Going back to the fundamentals doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of what is going on. Every now and then go on a learning adventure, check out things you don’t know much about, even outside of the frontend field.
  • Keep a blog where you write technical articles to share your knowledge with others.
  • Join a local frontend or development Meetup if possible; nothing beats meeting people in person, you will make friends, and job opportunities will come out of it.
  • Beware of the impostor syndrome, and rest assured nobody knows everything.

What do you like the most of your job? What do you like the least? What are the main challenges?
The thing I like the most is building stuff, plain and simple. It’s really like a game to me, something between lego and puzzles.
What I like the least is probably the speed at which the industry moves, which could produce anxiety when people can’t keep up – I know it did to me – that’s why I recommend to always go to the basics again and again to stop worrying.

The main challenge is probably having to constantly study and learn, daily.

 

What are the tools you find indispensable in your job?
As far as development tools go, I am very very minimalistic. Just a code editor (I recommend Visual Studio Code), a Chrome browser and Git, a collaboration tool that is not strictly made for frontend, or even for coding, but it is really fundamental to know how to use it to work with other people.

I also use linters for all my CSS and JavaScript, and I find them indispensable. Linters are little softwares that make sure your code is formatted correctly (so that you always use the same amount of space, the same format, the same rules, over and over), and they really help you with coding and collaboration.
I also think that to be really productive in any computer-based job it is fundamental to have a multiple clipboard (like a normal ctrl-c > ctrl-v, but with a searchable history of everything you copied in the past month). For mac I use Alfred (alfredapp.com) to do this, but alternatives exist for Linux and Windows too.
 

How do you think your role will evolve in the future? Which skills will you need and how do you stay abreast?
This is quite a tricky question, can anybody confidently say how the world will look like in 10 or even 5 years? I doubt it. I would however say it once again: go back to the roots, and keep up to date. Chances are whatever lies in the future, it will be built on those fundamentals, and you will always need those skills.
Some say that in the future we might go away from a “coded” web towards a “configuration” web, where instead of coding you will have to setup existing products by tweaking their configurations. This might be the case, but knowing the fundamentals will always give you the edge and the agility of mind needed to excel.
In order to keep myself up-to-date I follow a few people and resources that do and teach frontend development right:

1 Comment

Davide Borsatto, PHP Ecosystem Developer @Contentful: this is my job | Meritocracy · September 25, 2018 at 10:57

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