Being a web developer is not for the unadventurous, unless you're lucky enough to be able to evolve with the industry naturally. If you want to be stuck doing the same job over and over again for 10 years in a row, it might be better to try a different profession. That's not to say you can't specialize in one of its many sub sectors, but it's essential to realize that your methodologies and actual job description will change drastically over time. And right now, I feel a shift coming up.
first of all: context
I'm sure this article will not be a very pleasant read for some of
you. It's not my intention to offend certain people or firms, but I do
believe that what follows needs to be said. Also, it's not that I don't
respect the work being done by people out there in the field. On the
contrary, I know for a fact the work and hours some of you are investing
in your job as front-end developer are far beyond my own capacity. But
sometimes reality is unpleasant and yet it needs to be dealt with. So
much for the disclaimer.
In less than 20 years time our profession changed a lot. Not only on a technical level, I'm talking more about workflow and social context here. When we first started to build websites we had to battle the amateur site builder, nephews, relatives and friends who could build you a site for half the price professionals charged. At that time these people were necessary for our job to evolve. Everyone wanted a website and there simply wasn't enough professional capacity out there to fulfill that need. But once the web started growing up these same amateurs became a threat to our job. They simply couldn't guarantee the quality that was needed for the web to evolve as a business-minded ecosystem.
A similar shift is coming up once again. For years the middle regions of the web have been ruled by one-man show developers. People who were capable of handling a single project from start (initial meeting with clients) to finish (sometimes this meant front-end only, sometimes it even included back-end). These people really helped the web to grow and to attain a respectable level of maturity, but nowadays you can feel how they will be limiting further growth in the near future. Not because they aren't capable or they aren't putting in enough effort in their job, but simply because the complexity of building a site is rising exponentially.
from conception to front-end delivery
It is possible to do this all by yourself, but it becomes more and more difficult to do a good job in all these fields separately. Keeping track of all knowledge in even one of these fields is pretty much a daytime job, so the more you want to do and the broader you want to develop yourself, the more you'll have to compromise on quality. If you want to distribute these tasks over a team of people, you only need to take into account extra project management.
One-man show developers these days are a bit like those one-man orchestras. I respect them mostly because what they do is technically very difficult indeed, playing multiple instruments at the same time. But I usually don't respect them for the end product, which is never as good as a well-guided and well-educated team of specialists would have accomplished. This is not so much a critique as it is a simple observation, but it's important to realize this.
the way forward
If we want to respond to the ever-more demanding clients, we'll need to start doing things a little different. Solutions coming from people doing one-man show development are actually pointing in the right direction, but will fail if they are executed by one and the same person. Wireframing and designing in html is okay, but not when done by the same person. The subtleties and knowledge for each job is just too much for one single person to handle, and it will only continue to get harder. So there is a definite need for new best practices and better platforms to accommodate the different profiles working together, something that is still strangely lacking today.
As a html-guy I've noticed important changes in my day to day job too. A lot of what I used to do was copy/paste work from one template to another, from one site to another. These days I'm more focused on writing a specific html component once and referencing that component wherever I need it. It allows for maximum consistency, ease of adaptation and a minimum of errors. I can't really go in-depth here, but the steps we are taking to make our job easier are profound and will have a serious impact on the way I work on a daily basis.
While many people are looking for ways to combine all the work they do into a simpler workflow, they are fighting for a lost cause. It's time to split responsibilities, specialize (without over-specialization) and see how each member of the team can cooperate as efficiently as possible, reducing the amount of work and overhead.
If you're still trying to do everything yourself, know that in a few years time you'll probably become a liability within your own community, holding others down and delivering sub-optimal websites that won't convince your clients of the full potential our web holds. It's a tough truth alright, but it's right around the corner and waiting to happen.