John P. Simons




Frontend dev with UX envy
or: John Simons describes his ideal role

As I cast about for my next hi-tech position I wanted to step back and consider my dream job scenario, and describe it for you in case it actually exists (now or at some point in the future) in the Seattle area.

I’m a frontend developer. I don’t think much of the term “full stack engineer” because frontend devs are cut from different cloth than general purpose engineers, and calling yourself “full stack” says nothing about what cloth you’re cut from. Frontend development is a different discipline than general purpose software engineering, being higher velocity and less “locked down.” Some companies appreciate this, most don’t.

You often have no specialized frontend people, only fungible general purpose engineers doing the frontend work, which results in clunky UX. Or you might have true frontend folks with no autonomy who receive their engineering standards from on high. Standards such as “high unit test coverage” and “use a Java-esque language and transpile that to Javascript” and similar things which are fundamentally at odds with how frontend development can be at its best.

But this is all just background. Likely I’ll find another frontend software engineering role and fight the good fight in defense of Javascript the language, and the idea of frontend development that’s fast, fun, fluid, agile, etc. But now back to my topic of my dream role.

I look back at my career and ask: What did I enjoy the most?

Answer: Building prototypes and iterating with UX. Riffing on ideas. Bouncing ideas back and forth. If I could do that all day, I tell you I’d never work another day in my life (as that old aphorism goes.)

So great, “Design Technologist,” that’s a role. It’s an engineer who reports up through UX and Product instead of Engineering. Facebook used to have job listings for that but no longer. Google has “UX Engineer” but not in Seattle. Amazon has it but man I just came from there, not sure I’d want to pull a U-turn right away.

In short, I’m keeping an eye out for this kind of opening. Might take a couple years to find so that’s why I’m starting now. You’d be getting a prototyper but a prototyper who writes production quality code, and is perfectly willing to actually put it in production and own it running in production (ideally on a NodeJS/React stack just because that’s what I’m very familiar with).

Sometimes I wonder if all frontend engineering should report to UX. What if it was like “expose some service endpoints, we’ll build the frontend, leave it to us, don’t worry about the details.” Might be an interesting experiment to try. In the meantime though, a highly technical CS grad working on the UX team, if you hear about any jobs like this let me know!

-John
Aug 7, 2020