Job titles in tech will always be somewhat subjective. Still, the haziness is confusing for both job seekers and hiring managers alike. In a space so rapidly evolving, digital roles and their functions need to be clearer. Here’s a quick and dirty run-down of common jobs in web design and development:
Front-end developers are responsible for bringing websites and products to life on your screen. These web developers write the code that gets executed in the browser rather than in the server. This means that front-end devs need to know about the browsers they need to support, which includes mobile browsers. In addition to engineering the code that will deploy the design plans, front-end developers must consider accessibility (will the site work on a broad variety of browsers/ devices/ screen sizes, etc.?), SEO (is the html document optimized for search engines and sharing on social networks?), performance, load times, and analytics.
More about that front-end development life from alumnus Rodney Dennis at Chicago startup Carbonmade.
A web designer, as you may have deduced, designs website. This job function also includes responsive/ mobile design and design of mobile apps.
UX and visual designers also fall under the umbrella of web designers, though they focus on different aspects of design (we’ll flesh these out momentarily). If you work on a small startup team, it’s more likely that there will be designer who works on all of these elements, and perhaps manages your front-end engineering to boot.
Our web design course, rated #1 in the country by SwitchUp, targets these roles, while equipping students with the foundations of front-end development. Visit our web design curriculum page to learn more.
Alternative titles: UX/UI designer; front-end designer
The sole focus of the user experience (UX) designer is to create experiences that will keep website and product users coming back for more. If you’ve ever felt frustration boil up due to a slow-loading page or struggled to find the right button, you’ll appreciate the value of great user experience design. These designers derive inspiration from the their users by studying their behaviors and interactions with digital products, performing research, and testing to inform, refine, and validate design choices. Some UX designers may implement these designs, while UX designers on larger teams will usher improvements through the system to strengthen user experience with each iteration.
Associate Product Designer Julia Feld works predominantly in the realm of UX. Read her career change story to hear about a day-in-the-life in her role.
While the UX designer is focused on ease of functionality, user interface (UI) designers are focused on website aesthetics. This job is more about designing and less about implementation. Thus, UI designers typically have a good understanding of color theory and typography. They are skilled in working with design tools with perhaps only light skill sets HTML and CSS.
Alternative title: Visual designer; interaction designer (similar, but with a focus on movement/ flow)
Note: UI/ visual design is specifically for the web, and thereby not synonymous with graphic design.
The back-end, or server-side, makes up all of the behind-the-scenes workings of the site.
This refers to everything that the user can’t see in the browser, such as servers, applications, and databases.
If you visit Amazon.com, for example, you’ll interact with the front-end/ client-side as you search for books and movies, write reviews, and select your purchases. Once you’ve entered information into a form on the website and clicked to submit, the application stores it in a database that was created on the server.
Web developers are the architects of the back-end. Web devs work with languages like Ruby, Python, PHP, and Java. Unlike front-end developers, web developers don’t work closely with designers, spending more time on deeper programming concepts such as security and structure. At Startup Institute, our web development course trains people in Ruby on Rails to prepare them for junior back-end developer roles.
Check out this interview with graduate Pat Adduci, software engineer at Mavrck, for insights on launching a career as a web developer.
Alternative titles: Back-end developer; web application developer; software engineer;programmer (although the latter two are often reserved for people who are building on the back-end of digital products, rather than websites)
Quality assurance (QA) teams will work closely with product/ project managers (see below), helping to manage the technical requirements for a product. QA developers write test suites that run against the code of the products or sites that their team is developing. These tests verify that all the requirements are met, and are your website’s line of defense against bugs and breaking—targeting certain lines or elements of the code to ensure that the test outcomes align with the web developers’ expectations.
Here’s an interview with web development course alumna Meredith Davies about her experiences in QA development at WeSpire.
Non-technical, functional testers may also be part of the QA team to test early versions of products in the way that they’d expect end users to use them, and to identify problems before they make it to the user’s hands.
A full-stack developer builds on both the front and back-ends.
Product managers guide the design and development of a product or site from a big picture perspective, dealing with coordinating people and plans over the individual design choices or technical aspects of the project.
Alternative title: Project manager (though this may imply smaller projects)
The roles described above are all positions that Startup Institute graduates have pursued after completing our web development or web design training. There are, of course, art/design directors and product heads leading these teams. And, as teams grow larger, additional roles may emerge to bridge the gap between technology and customer, such as content strategists, SEO specialists, and customer service representatives.
In this fast moving space of dynamic, scaling companies, roles and responsibilities are constantly shifting, and blurred lines are nature of the beast. What do you think of the explanations above? Let us know below in the comments.
Interested in adding one of these job titles to your own business cards? Download your free copy of our Program Guide to learn more about the web design and web development curricula.
A Complete List of Learning Resources for the Aspiring Web Designer