Sorry I missed JAMstack_conf London 2019 ?. Here’s my talk here instead.

View a YouTube video of the talk I recorded in my booth.

   (it probably has some nuance and enthusiasm that
the paragraphs below lack.)

? I’ve spent my whole career self-identifying as a
front-end developer and trying to help others become
better at it.

and boy are my arms tired

Screenshots of CSS-Tricks and CodePen homepages

I run the site
CSS-Tricks (which recently had
12th birthday), a resource site all about building websites.

I also co-founded the site CodePen,
a social coding platform all about building things with front-end

I also co-host a podcast called
ShopTalk Show which is going
on 400 episodes.

I’m sure I’ve talked to thousands of other developers over the
years, which has helped me understand the industry and the spectrum
of work it takes to make websites happen.

What is a front-end developer?

  • It’s a job and a common job title.

This is important because it’s not just semantics. It’s a job that
people are hired to do, and it is their job title at work. Nothing
more personal than money.

How we define what this job is and what the expectations are
is personal.

Look at any job board that has technology jobs on it and you’ll see
postings for front-end developers.

What is a front-end developer?

  • It’s a job and a common job title.
  • It deals very directly with the browser, devices, and users.

Everybody that works on websites probably has their browser open all
day, but front-end developers live in there. They have
DevTools open. They have multiple browsers open and test across
versions and platforms.

Crucially, they care about the users that interact with those
browsers and assistive technology.

Mina Markham explains what a front-end developers is at a high

There is a distinction from back-end developers. Its not that
back-end developers don’t care about users, it’s just that
responsibility is delegated.

Monica Dinculescu puts it well:

The browser is at the heart of the job of front-end development.
Whatever you are doing, if your concern is how things ultimately
look and work in a browser, that’s front-end development.

It’s harder than it gets credit for.

What is a front-end developer?

  • It’s a job and a common job title.
  • It deals very directly with the browser, devices, and users.
  • There are loads of tools involved, but ultimately it comes down to
    HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Those are the languages that browsers speak. Yes yes, there is SVG
and PNG and whatever else also, but you know what I mean.

Whatever other tooling you use, it all comes down to what ships to
the browser, and front-end developers are responsible for that.

HTML CSS JSThey are gonna come up at work.

Not all front-end developers know all the languages equally well. In
fact, there are lots of developers out there who hardly write any
JavaScript at all, but who are otherwise very successful front-end
developers. And there are also a lot of front-end developers who
write almost nothing
but JavaScript. ?

My article
The Great Divide
digs into the split between front-end developers who are deeply into
JavaScript and those who are not.

It’s not just my thoughts, but a collection of quotes from many
others who feel the divide.

Brad Frost coins the terms “Front of the Front” and “Back of the
Front” as a way to describe another sort of divide. He points out
that it’s not a weakness, but a strength in putting those different
people together.

At Google we have Front End Software Engineers and UX Engineers to
attempt to address these differences. The two career ladders are
very different with different expectations and different criteria
for advancement.

— Steve Paulo (@StevePaulo)
January 21, 2019

At Google, the divide is recognized and split by job title. Plus,
those two career ladders
get paid the same.

There is no doubt about it. Particularly since about 2015,
JavaScript has exploded as a language.

If you need to look at these bigger, use DevTools or whatever. C’mon
you’re front-end developers right?

Our jobs are already facinating! So we all deal with browsers and
users and devices. That’s core. But we all know different stuff, and
actually put that knowledge to work.

Some of us are designers. Some of us are photographers. Some of us
know the law really well. Some of us are way into performance. Some
of us specialize in accessibility. Some of us embrace social media.

Metaphorically, you could map us like this tree.

This metaphor probably doesn’t hold up quite perfectly, but the
divide looks a little something like this. We still share some
fundamentals, and we still branch out and know lots of different
stuff, but one side is heavily focused on JavaScript and “Back of
the Front” type work and the other is not.

Since this talk is about the slow morphing of front-end developers
starting to do more full-stack work and having that role grow wider
and wider, let’s just assume we’re talking about front-end
developers who go down the heavier JavaScript road.

A bunch of stuff you need to do to build websites has sort of
moved stacks.

Back End → JavaScript

That is, from more of a back-end-and-friends skillset to a
front-end-and-friends skillset.

Component-Driven Design & Development

Thanks, Obama JavaScript.

It seems to me non-JavaScript server-side rendered projects never
really embraced components. (There are examples, don’t @ me, but I
mean across the gigantic PHP CMS landscape and Ruby on Rails and
huge players like that.) You had templates and includes, but they
are a pale comparison to real component-driven development.

It’s facinating to see that while there is a wide variety of
JavaScript-based frameworks that all disagree on plenty of things,
one thing they all agree on is the idea of components. Even native
web components… it’s right in the name.

Let’s take a quick look at CodePen, which is a
React powered site (mostly) these

Even this tiny little SVG icon? It’s a component. We call it an
component because it nicely abstracts
away a few things that are useful to us.

Pairing an icon with a number is another component, because it is
another repeated pattern and might have additional responsiblity,
like being clicked.

That whole row of MetaItem components might become a component,
along with other aspects of an Item’s display

So of course the whole Item itself becomes a component.

These are visual and functional abstractions of what we need to
build the UIs. There is semantic HTML underneath, but the
abstractions are building blocks of our own devise.

Larger and larger areas become components. In this case, it makes
sense that a grid of items becomes a component, so that it can
handle that layout and things like pagination.

It’s true! Not only are components capable of being intellegent
building block abstractions for UIs for front-end developers,
designers are largely already working this way. Tools like Figma,
Sketch, and Adobe XD tout things like “symbols” which are
spiritually connected.

I find other developers are like “cool, components, I get it”.

Site-Level Architecture / Routing

Back End → JavaScript

OK I guess this is my job now. It makes sense and I like the
control, but it’s a big serious job.

Dealing with URLs and overall site structure used to feel primarily
like a back end concern. These days, “routing” is becoming more and
more a front-end concern.


Looking back at the CodePen UI, the components don’t stop at the
grid. Literally everything becomes a component. The tabs, the
titles, the buttons…

… the forms, the menus, the sidebar…

Ultimately the whole gosh-darned page becomes a component.

Once the whole page is a component, what you’ve really done is
turned the the URL into a component.

And now that the URL is a component, all the URLs are components,
and you’re controlling the whole site.

You’ve become an architect of the entire site, in a sense.

That’s… a lot. Think of all the work you already have to do as a
front-end developer. None of that goes away. You’re just responsible
for a lot more now. It’s no wonder that front-end developers are
feeling more and more full-stack-y.

State Management Getting & Mutating Data

Back End → JavaScript

Another thing that has fallen into the hands of front-end developers
is state management. Now that’s kind of at the core of most
JavaScript frameworks and it’s a pretty great concept that wipes
away a lot of front-end spaghetti problems of the past.

But state is often filled from getting data, and that’s now
often on our shoulders as well.

Even more complicated is changing that data when necessary and
sending data back to servers when required.

GraphQL is a pretty great answer
to some of this. GraphQL is a lot of things and meaningful to
different people in different ways. But to me, it’s about

With a strong GraphQL endpoint in place, and tools like
Apollo giving me tools
to use in my JavaScript framework, I can, as a front-end developer,
get my hands on any data I need to build UI.

import gql from "graphql-tag";
import { Query } from "react-apollo";

const GET_DOGS = gql`
    dogs {

const Dogs = () => (
    {({ loading, error, data }) => {
      if (loading) return `Loading...`;
      if (error) return `Error`;

      return (
        { => (
))} ); }}

Note that not only am I getting all my own data, I’m managing the
asyncronous nature of the component. Should I show a skeleton right
away? A spinner? Should I delay rendering until the data is ready?
What happens if it times out or there is another error?

Not only can I get data, but it’s on me update
that data and send it back through GraphQL in the form of mutations.

import gql from "graphql-tag";
import { Mutation } from "react-apollo";

const ADD_TODO = gql`
  mutation AddTodo($type: String!) {
    addTodo(type: $type) {

const AddTodo = () => {
  let input;

  return (
      {(addTodo, { data }) => (
{ e.preventDefault(); addTodo({ variables: { type: input.value } }); input.value = ""; }} > { input = node; }} />
); };

Mutations aren’t terribly more complicated than queries, but it’s
all the more work that is on my plate as a front-end developer. Work
that was almost surely in the realm of back-end development before.

Note that the above examples were illustrative of GraphQL, but done
Apollo Client implemented in React.

While we’re talking about components, queries, and mutations, let’s
throw one more thing on the pile: styling.

Front-end developers have always been in charge of styling, but in a
land of components that are self-contained in so many other ways, it
starts to make sense to co-locate the styling information as well.

Here we’re using
CSS modules
to scope the styles to a specific component. We can and do still
have global styles, and we even continue to use
Sass for useful global

.root {
  display: grid;
@import styles from './styles.scss';

The result of this componentization and co-locating is nice little
folders that have everything from logic, to view templates, to
queries and mutations, to styling all together.

It’s convenient, but it has cool interesting side effects. For
example, JavaScript bundles may contain what they need (code
splitting). Styling doesn’t get
because when components stop being used because their styles leave
with them. Not to mention naming things is a lot less stressful
since the naming is file-scoped.

The GraphQL documentary is kinda fun. I like what Kyle Mathews says
(about 20:24) about React wiping away a whole class of front-end
development problems, and how GraphQL does a similar sort of thing.

For every project? Of course not. But for the somewhat large and
complex apps that we’re so often expected to build and maintain:

All the very huge responsibilities front-end developers already

  • Pulling of the design
  • Making the design part of a system
  • Making sure it is accessible
  • Worrying about the performance
  • Testing things across browsers
  • Testing things across devices
  • Sweating the UX

Oh hello, big pile of new responsibilities

  • Component-driven design, designing our own abstractions
  • Site-level architecture
  • Routing
  • Fetching our own data
  • Talking to APIs
  • Mutating data
  • State management

The haystack of responsibilities grows and grows and grows.

That’s not to say that all of us need to know every single part of
this and do it perfectly well, but it is to say that these are tasks
that fall within the realm of front-end web development.

Peggy Rayzis talks about how wide the term front-end developer has
gotten and that it’s likely we’re specializing.

Again, a bunch of tasks have sort of moved stacks. From what used to
be rather back-end jobs to being in the JavaScript realm.

Let’s draw a spectrum and see how that has morphed through time.

LAMP is Linux, Apache, MySQL,and PHP. It’s a rather old stack, but
it’s still very huge. It’s what an awful lot of CMS’s run. LAMP is
how the stack is talked about.

If I’m a front-end developer working in that stack, I’m way over on
the other side of the spectrum, not touching much of the technology
the stack is referring to.

MEAN is another stack, referring to MongoDB, Express, Angular, and
Node. Notice the OS isn’t mentioned anymore.

Notably, Angular is a front-end framework, so the stack is starting
to include that. If I’m a front-end developer, what I’m working on
overlaps with the stack.

Serverless moves the stack further to the right. We don’t even care
what servers the code runs on anymore, it’s just server-side code
using and creating APIs.

If I’m a front-end developer working in this world, I overlap in
that I might even be using my JavaScript abilities to be writing
these serverless functions and digesting the APIs.

Shawn Wang called
Design Systems, TypeScript, Apollo GraphQL, and React a STAR app.

That’s… like… all front end stuff.

It seems to me the way we talk about the important technology that
powers websites shifts more and more toward the front-end developer

Let’s take a quick look at how serverless is
expanding our front-end powers.

JAMstack logo

I consider JAMstack to
essentially be a part of the serverless movement.


Javascript, APIs, and Markup. Although I would say, half
tounge-in-cheek, that
makes a bit more sense.

title: JAMstack_conf_ldn
url: ''
cocUrl: ''
date: 2019-07-09T08:00:00.000Z
endDate: 2019-07-10T16:00:00.000Z
location: 'London, England'
byline: 'Learn how to design, develop, and deploy fast, modern web projects that run without web servers.'

Following the inaugural [JAMstack_conf in San Francisco]( in 2018, we're now also bringing an edition to London where we'll have talks about how to design, develop, and deploy fast, modern web projects that run without web servers.

Each conference is a
Markdown file with
Front Matter
to describe meta data associated with the conference, like the city
and dates.

I wasn’t deliberately trying to avoid a database, but this just
seemed like the perfect kind of site to use a
static site generator
for and the data needs are so basic that flat Markdown files are a
natural fit.

So each conference is a Markdown file, and there are some basic
templates in
Nunjucks, and
Eleventy is wonderful for
processing that kind of setup.

The site is
a public repo on GitHub. That seems obvious, perhaps, but I think it’s hugely significant

It means that:

  1. The entire site is in the repo. To run it, you pull it down and
    run a single command.
  2. There is no fiddling with log ins, permissions, or credentials.
  3. It opens up the content of the site for public
    contributions, as well as the design and functionality. This has
    been huge.

The site being on GitHub means I could just leave it on GitHub
Pages, but it’s like a 2-second process to put in on Netlify, which
is a massive improvement. Here’s a few reasons:

  • Deploy previews.
    When I get a Pull Request, I can take a look at a live URL of what
    the site will be like with that Pull Request merged. Amazing.
  • I can activate
    on the site and get the most accurate possible numbers.
  • I can
    fiddle with my images

There are a couple other big ones though…

With Netlify CMS, I get a
UI to edit content right on the site itself. No code editing or Git
involved at all once it’s set up.

I don’t even need Netlify to use Netlify CMS, but
Netlify Identity
makes the auth part a million times easier.

Check out this feature of the conference site. For each conference,
you can click a button that reveals an email input form. Enter an
email and submit, and the site fires off an email with details about
the conference.

That’s a back-end thing. You can’t really send email with
client-side technology alone. You can communicate with APIs that
will send email, but even that requires API keys that need to be
kept secret via back-end code.

const SparkPost = require('sparkpost');
const client = new SparkPost(process.env.SPARKPOST);

exports.handler = function(event, context, callback) {
      content: {
        from: '',
        subject: `Conference!`,
        html: `

Hello, World!

` }, recipients: [{ address: email }] }) .then(data => { callback(null, { statusCode: 200, body: `Message sent!` }); }); };

I’ll use Sparkpost to send
the email. They offer APIs to send email (that’s the entire point).
They also offer a Node.js library to make it very easy. Ultimately
just a few lines of code.

And that code? It’s JavaScript. I’m a JavaScript developer. This is
not a stretch.

How do I run this?

That’s the meat and potatoes of serverless:
cloud functions. I’m talking about
AWS Lambda,
Azure Functions,
Google Cloud Functions, etc.

The Netlify version, which is AWS Lamba under the hood, is
Netlify Functions. It’s stupid easy. You just toss your functions in a `/functions/`
folder and run them by hitting a relative URL.

It feels very powerful to be able to build the entire site from front
to back like that.

Let’s revisit the spectrum of technology again with this modern stuff
in mind.

I don’t really have to care about operating systems and servers.
Entire products can be built without having to care about these.

I probably don’t need to care much about databases either. It’s not
that databases aren’t important, it’s just that my dealing with data
is likely to happen through APIs. Perhaps a Headless CMS (e.g.
Contentful). Perhaps a data
storage tool that is designed to work through APIs (e.g.
FaunaDB) or on-page libraries (e.g.

So now I’m left with a spectrum of technology where I can work with
all parts of it.

So I’m feeling pretty full-stacky already. But you take all that and
add in:

  • I know Git
  • I can write tests
  • I design
  • I know about build processes
  • I care about performance
  • I can make sites accessible
  • I can set up a basic deploy pipeline


You’re Gosh Danged Right I’m a Full-Stack Developer!


The haystack of skills here is getting extremely large.

You can totally specialize. You probably will anyway. That’s good.

“Actual” unicorns, those people that are very good at every task
across the entire spectrum of building websites: as rare as actual

I’m also not trying to insinuate that back-end developers are
becoming obsolete. In fact, the fact that building websites has
gotten so damn complex, they are more important than ever.

Right now, I can open up the CodePen issue tracker and see 89 issues
that I can’t solve alone. I need back-end developer help to dig into
them and fix them. I can think of myself as full-stacky if I want,
but I know that back-end stuff is where my rough edges are.

Things tend to end up a bit more like this.

Or in my case, more like this:

That’s not to make fun of anybody. I mean, maybe a little, but it
draws a nice metaphor that is kinda perfect for this talk. We are
the whole horse! The whole dragon! But we’ve got rough edges. So

It’s cool to see the tech around our job evolve to the point that we
can reach our arms around the whole thing. It’s worthy of
some concern when we feel like complication of web technology feels
like it’s raising the barrier to entry. That happens sometimes and
it’s not great. But it’s also worthy of cheer when web technology
becomes simple enough that people can build things from start to
finish all by themselves. That’s pretty cool.

While we’re being all productive and amazing, let’s just remember
that doing a good job is everybodies job.

  • Good UX is everyone’s job
  • Good performance is everyone’s job
  • Good security is everyone’s job
  • Good accessibility is everyone’s job
  • Doing right by the people that use your website is everyone’s job

Even if you aren’t writing the code that directly affects any of
those things, you care about them and fight for them to be handled

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