We met with James Andrew Smith, Creative Front-end Web Developer to discuss how best to go about hiring a Front-end Developer and the kind of questions you should be asking to get the most out of your kick off conversations.
What do you think are the key characteristics of a good Front-end Developer that might be tested at an interview?
Perhaps the most important characteristic of a good developer - particularly in a freelance context - is the extent to which, at an interview, they demonstrate an interest and curiosity in the project or role in question. The best freelance developers are the ones who are passionate about what they do and who actively engage in a project from the start. An interviewer should expect pertinent questions to be raised in an unprompted manner by the interviewee around the main goals of the project. The thought “I’m glad you asked that” should be a repetitive one in the mind of the interviewer.
Asking a developer to talk about some of their recent projects can be a reliable gauge of how much passion they bring to their work.
From a foundation of interest, curiosity and passion should flow other key ingredients of a good developer: transparency, good communication, initiative and honesty.
The world of development can be opaque and difficult to understand from the outside. A good developer should tactfully establish the boundaries of a clients’ experience with web development processes from the outset, and mitigate this during a project with thoughtful communication, underpinned by the use of collaborative workflow tools and technical methods of presenting ongoing work to interested parties, to provide maximum clarity and transparency of their work throughout the project.
A good developer should be responsive to and even anticipate key challenges in a project that may not be obvious to a potential hirer, particularly if there is limited experience on the part of the client of working with developers or in web development.
Have you considered this technical approach as a way to better reach your project goals?
Are the goals of the project realistic in the given time frame?
It is the responsibility of the developer to have the initiative and honesty to raise such questions from the outset and to explore and understand a project and its feasibility through effective communication. A developer who is genuinely interested in the project and wants it to succeed will not rush to start work, but from the outset will strive to reach a mutual understanding and aligning of expectations with the client - even if that involves asking challenging questions of a project and its goals.
What questions should a client ask of a freelancer?
- How interested would you be in working on the project?
- Talk about a recent project that interested you.
- What makes your skills and experience a good fit for the project?
- What experience of similar projects do you have?
- Do you think the goals and scope of the project are realistic within the given time frame and resources
As a freelancer, what questions would you ask a client in regards to the project?
The most important question is the extent to which the design, architecture and content of the proposed website are finalised, and the proposed scope of work I am to be responsible for.
As a creative front-end developer, I am able to assist with design, architecture and content.However, these responsibilities - together with the required functionality and size of the proposed website - obviously require more time to complete if these are included in the scope of work. Therefore, full transparency is important from the outset with regards to the extent and range of disciplines (development, design, UX, content etc.) expected of me, to allow for the development of a timeline and plan for the project, and to assess its feasibility if required.
When I have an idea of the scope and range of my work, I can offer suggestions for optimising the workflow. For example, if there are resources required for managing content for a proposed website, it might be sensible to find resources for this elsewhere (perhaps within an existing client team) to allow me to focus on core development and design tasks, thereby saving time and money for the client.
In general, the following areas are important to discuss with potential clients regarding a proposed website:
- Functionality required.
- Number of templates needed (reflected by the website designs).
- Plans for future development.
- Existing server setup and client resources around that.
- Requirements for ongoing maintenance on project completion.
The above criteria have a bearing on the direction of a project, and may determine the CMS used to build the website - depending on the complexity of the build and what I feel would best serve the client’s needs.
Clear scope, design, structure and content for a proposed website make the life of a developer confusion-free, providing the basis for focused and time-efficient work towards a successful website.
What considerations should a client take into account for the project and freelancer they’re trying to hire?
The most important consideration is whether the freelancer has demonstrated an understanding of, engagement in, and proposed a realistic plan for the project and its goals - obviously backed up with past experience of delivery of comparable work.
I also think flexibility and trust towards the freelancer are very important. All of us who are passionate about our work and have high standards with it and ourselves need the time and space to explore each project in our own way. There is a strong element of ‘deep work’ involved in development, involving a highly creative flow that fuels good work. Provided that the freelancer provides sufficient clarity for the client to monitor the progress of work and of course puts in the required hours, I believe the burden is primarily on the client to respect the working patterns and rhythms of the freelancer that have produced successful results in the past, and to demonstrate a flexibility and a willingness to let the freelancer “get on with” work and trust a successful outcome.
A client should initially defer to the freelancer with regards to the rhythm of their working day -for example how many meetings and updates they feel work well for them in a working day -before later reaching a compromise if necessary.
In my experience, the best creative work is based on an attitude of trust and confidence from the client towards the freelancer.
When is the best time to get a Front-end Developer involved?
This may depend on what the developer can offer.
A common approach is to involve a developer only at the end of the website design process, at which point they take on and build out the designs into a functional website.
Perhaps a slightly better approach would be to involve a developer earlier (or at least before the end of the design process) to consult with them as to the practicality of translating the designs into a functioning website - particularly if the designs propose unusual layouts, animations or transitions.
It is important that during the website build that the developer is able to communicate with the designer of the website. It is inevitable, no matter how comprehensive the designs provided to the developer are, that areas of the design will need to be clarified and coordinated between designer and developer, and a good working relationship between these two elements is important. Two or more creative heads are always better than one - provided egos are kept in check at all times!
Working with a creative developer who is comfortable inheriting and interpreting designs where needed might allow for more flexibility in terms of the developer/designer process described above. However, in general I think the consultation of a thoughtful developer before the conclusion of the design process is important, and can prevent technical cul-de-sacs during the build process.
James specialises in front-end roles that require an eye for design detail and creates performant, fully responsive websites using modern skills, tools and best-practices. He combines working collaboratively in teams as a front-end developer for London-based agencies with projects for his own clients as an independent creative WordPress/Craft CMS developer.