When you arrive at the USF College of Public Health (COPH) homepage, you’re greeted by the familiar USF green and gold, a logo you’ve likely seen many times, and a variety of links and photos that you can click on to access more information. The page is pretty straightforward and user friendly. You probably don’t think twice about it as you click away to find out more about Fall orientation. But what is incredibly easy to forget when using websites is that someone has likely spent a lot of their time perfecting every page you visit. With the COPH homepage, a team of USF Health Information Systems (IS) web developers worked with the college and departments to fine tune every inch of it.
What is Web Development?
To outsiders, web development seems to involve just a lot of coding. But the truth is, a web developer's main job is to take the design of a projected website and bring a fully functioning version of it to the public. Developers often will work to maintain the websites that they have developed as well in order to keep it current for clients. Having a website for customers to find on a business level alone is vital at this point in today's technology revolution. Now more than ever, having a website that is accessible and clear is what can set a business apart from its competitors.
Going back to the COPH homepage, imagine if it had some element that made it incredibly hard to understand. For example, what if the homepage featured hyperlinks that appeared green, but the "About" page had ones that were black? That lack of continuity would make it very tricky to navigate the site. It is the web developer's job to be sure that every page within the sites that they work to develop are effective, project a continuous design, and are visually understandable.
To understand the role and importance of web development better, we called on the expertise of Greg Moore and Daniel Paradise, two of the senior front-end developers at USF Health IS.
How did you get into web development?
My background is in both web design and graphic design. I’ve worked in both. At a lot of places, you end up doing both anyway. Once they find out you can do one, then they want you to be able to do the other as well. I spent the majority of my time doing formal graphic design. I would do a lot of print work, graphic work for the web, and things like that. But I also had a job for PBS. I was working on websites for the TV shows that they actually produced.
I was working freelance for a lot of years, not entirely, I worked for some startups too. I actually came on board here at USF Health IS as a graphic designer, which I had a background in as well. I’ve just shifted more to the web development side of things. Though, I always had an interest in it and it was always a part of my career.
What’s the distinction between front-end and back-end developers?
The back-end developers are doing straightforward programming. And that’s a very different level. So we’ll come up with a lot of the front-end look and feel of things. It involves some code, but it also involves us just planning. My job as a front-end developer so far has been an interesting in-between arena. It’s not totally superficial but it’s also not building this really complex program. You have to know enough of how the really complicated part works so you can say ‘Hey, let’s make this tool and structure it in this certain way because that will be really user friendly once it’s done’. The people who are at that mid-tier level, they're not necessarily in charge of what’s customer friendly, they're behind the scenes and going to wire that all up and make it function. They really know the system in a deep way.
Why do you love being in web development?
I love that it’s varied and that it changes depending on the customer. And it’s overtly complicated enough that you tend not to argue about superficial things as much, like the color of something or where it is on the page. There are people who are artists and there are people who are designers. I’m definitely not on the artistic side. Even though my degree is in art, I’m more of a designer which is all about ‘Let’s all get together, let’s talk about this stuff, and let’s be willing to be wrong about things.’
It is a creative job. Things are always changing. If you work a register or retail that’s probably going to stay the same for a while. Anytime you’re doing anything with technology, it just changes so fast. The change is exciting. It’s just inevitable when it comes to some things. I think that’s one of the best parts about it, it never stays the same for very long.
So, What Have We Learned?
We established that web development is a lot more than just coding and programming. And while web developers do use a wide variety of programming languages to bring a website to life, front end developers must also implement design elements to create better, more user friendly websites. However, back end developers are much more software oriented and are more experienced with the programming side of things. At the end of the day, though, every web developer's goal is to take the desires of their clients and bring those desires to life in a logical, functional way.
Both Greg Moore and Daniel Paradise agree that while it is possible to develop a quality website alone, it can be much more stressful, and that can lead to a burnt out developer. As a web development client, this is something to keep in mind when deciding on an individual or a team for your own business goals. It's likely that hiring just a front end or just a back end developer will not be as beneficial as utilizing the varied specialties of a whole team.