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Ask HN: Where are all the senior front end engineers?
34 points by badFEengineer on July 6, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments
Anecdotally, our company has been struggling to hire senior FE (web) engineers. I've heard from friends that their companies are also struggling to hire senior FE engineers.

A few hypotheses:

* FE engineering has gotten a bad rap over the past years ([insert joke about web dev])

* Most companies don't have interesting FE work (add a button?)

Curious if others have had similar problems, or if my personal observations don't properly represent the true state of things

I'm a senior FE engineer in Singapore, been doing FE since 2000, here's what I think:

1. Job descriptions and interviews now are skewed towards "full-stack" or backend. Most interviews are lacking or outdated due to the fast and volatile nature of FE.

2. Literally no career progression if you're specialised in FE. Most BE or "full-stack" devs will be given a chance to become principal engineers, tech leads, engineering managers, CTOs, etc. I've seen folks with "FE Team Lead" titles but never goes beyond that.

3. FE is a subconsciously looked-down field. Neither a designer nor an engineer. Product/design team won't involve you in meetings (but will treat you like a code monkey). BE/"full-stack"/API engineers will think your job is easy and keep throwing business logic stuff to FE.

I've done backend/systems development work for over a decade.

Front end is a world of pain I want no part of. Regardless of how the system is skewed, I appreciate your specialty.

Do drop me an email if you want some interesting work. We're hiring lots of senior FE in Southeast Asia, and we involve the engineers in design/product meetings :)

I would be interested to have a chat with you about these FE opportunities. My email is pranitsh at gmail

Wouldn't "full-stack" engineers be coding the frontend themselves?

Sounds like some of this strife and frustration and criticisms being levied has more to do with organization / management vs why there aren't as many senior FE developers as compared to other specializations. I doubt the situation at your organization is the same everywhere.

I’m full stack (infra, backend applications, mobile and web ui applications) engineer and I consider myself proficient in all of those things although my infra knowledge would be weakest since I’ve only been doing that in the last year or so.

IME most full stack people only know backend application development well, and the rest is knowing that the UI applications will make requests to the backend applications. Most self proclaimed full stack folks (again, IME) don’t know JavaScript well enough to build something good, and hardly anyone knows native application development. The only reason they call themselves full stack is they maybe used jquery a decade ago or have pressed F12 to see what happened in the network tab. Again, just my experience.

I take anyone who claims to be full stack at face value. More often than not, they’re not as full stack as they imagine they are. UI development is in my opinion much more involved than backend application development. Most paradigms on the backend have not changed in years, and most problems save database seem to be the same and already solved.

Yeah, "full-stack" does front-end too. Though from my observation it's more like 80% BE, 20% FE. Generally they spend more time working on FE tasks than specialised ones as FE becomes so, so complicated.

I've personally seen many (junior) FE engineers decide to switch to BE, "full-stack", data or devops (or even design) because of how messy FE can get.

I know it's a lot of things (organization, management, people issues, expectations, etc) and this is basically just what I observe in Singapore. Could be different in other cities/countries.

I wouldn't say it's just FE - many of my recruiter friends have this problem with ANY senior developer. It's low supply and low turnover.

Additionally, it could be your job posting not being enticing enough to get hits. I'm a senior FE dev and I saw some pretty bad job postings (hostile programming assessments, unpaid take home assignments, a circus of interviewing rounds). If you don't have your salary listed, that could be the issue too.

I can't speak for everyone here, but I'll take 2nd or 3rd best in compensation if the interviewing process isn't a 3-ring circus. ie, I will actively drop out to protect my time from bad interview pipelines.

My last two gigs were less than 2 hours of total conversation before a contract got signed, as an anecdote. Hell, I had one that was a 23 minute phonecall (it was awesome!). Some people just know how to hire someone after they look at a good LinkedIn or GitHub profile.

Just my 2 cents. As a selfish plug, you could talk to freelancers who have the expertise you need so stuff gets done in the meantime. It's not ideal, but at least you'd have the help...

They have jobs already. I don't know if you're US-based, but our company is having the same issue with off shore devs.

I've been banging my head for the past few weeks trying to get our management team to understand off shoring is by no means an easy solution any more. We've traditionally hired off shore with good success, and management thinks it's still easy. However, our recruiters have been fairly quiet these past few months, and the candidates that we're getting are a lot less experienced than what we want. You absolutely cannot just waltz into a developing country with a US job posting and expect candidates lining up. Everyone did that, and now we're in a situation where the competition is insane. Off shore costs have skyrocketed, and, addressing your second point, you have to have interesting work for them.

> We've traditionally hired off shore with good success, and management thinks it's still easy.

They'll plug their ears and bury their heads in the sand, all to avoid hearing anything that could complicate their bonus/bottom lines.

Being an offshore dev, I can say that its hard finding people that are hiring, its a marketplace issue. There's a limited number of people with good foreign language skills. So any good Seniors with good English are all being scooped up as well.

I second this. Training people is even harder, because you have to train their English and teach them the work culture to avoid conflicts.

I qualify as a senior FE engineer but the last time I was looking finding open positions for that exact title was difficult. I don't really mind full stack (I guess it would depend on the backend) so I normally take those jobs as I'm more flexible to the company that hires me. Also I prefer smaller companies <100 overall and <10 developer so finding overlap with a small company that also wants someone only focused on the frontend is hard. But, like I said, I don't mind full stack so it's worked out well for me and I get a good amount of frontend work (a lot of it greenfield).

Also if you aren't posting a salary you might be losing people who gloss over the posting since FE isn't always respected/paid well. I think that factors into my gravitating to full stack work, I absolutely love FE work but finding a company that will let me do that and pays well AND is small has been... challenging.

It's hard to give more advice without seeing something like a job posting. I will say, don't limit yourself by framework (but DO say what you use, if it's not greenfield). I prefer Vue but I've built sites/apps in Angular and I have no doubt I could pick up React if I needed to. A "real" senior FE developer isn't going to balk at any of the big 3 frameworks (or minor ones but be ready to explain why you picked something other than Angular/React/Vue).

Most senior level hackers are being hired through very shortened interview cycles. Often a phonecall and that's it. The old school way of a recruiter reaching out, then a screening, then a tech round is falling behind.

True story. I don't mind a few follow-ups to meet management/executive staff before an offer, but a company needs to be able to recognize my talent without a microscope. If they don't have someone to do that, they need to be recruiting me at CTO level.

Low supply of talent, low supply of companies worth working on their product.

Usually the existing frontend is a mess and the company has no intention of scrapping it.

Why shoot yourself in the foot with such a ball of stress? Current FE's are happily married.

If an enticing startup came along, maybe. But in this environment it better be REAL enticing.

I'm a full stack dev that's also somehow excel at react (who also don't mind frontend jobs at all), and also have some interviews for senior front end openings in recent weeks.

The job title senior front end is too broad IMO. Since most of the time at early 2000, if we're talking about front end we'll usually deal with complex css, design, and ui/ux. What's worse is usually that skillset is not in align with react at all, since react is more into programming than design.

IMO, it's easier (and more accurate) to search for fullstack nodejs programmer who also know react (or vue, etc).

I'm surprised at some of the responses suggesting senior FE engineers are in demand, because I've noticed that most job postings these days seem to be full stack. My current job is full stack, but like some others have said, the focus seems to be on the back end.

I think it doesn't help that a lot of places follow FAANG interview style and go for algo/data structures and system design questions.

I think as you grow in your career you'll tend to specialize rather than generalize. You get really good at a few things, rather than somewhat good at lots of things. The "Senior FE" roles are fewer but more specific. Now and then I see listings for "Performance Engineer", "Accessibility Engineer", and "Infrastructure Engineer", but on further inspection these are actually Senior Front End roles, but not in title.

Recently I went through a generic Sr FE interview at Google (still waiting to find out if I've been ghosted after). There were 5 or 6 rounds, and I feel I totally bombed one of them, excelled at one, and did okay at the others. I think that's acceptable at this level. I went through a "Performance Engineer" interview loop at another company, and the rounds were all specific to the role. I had a much better experience in that interview.

I've often gotten the impression that Google interviews more for general applicability to working at Google than for the specific role advertised. Your comment here being no exception -- is that your experience, is that what you mean to convey?

We're in agreement. It reflects my experience. I had to question the recruiter about it, "How does Google hire FE specialists in Accessibility for example?" and I didn't get a good answer. I assume they throw some fungible engineer at the problem and hope for the best?

> Most companies don't have interesting FE work

While true, I think it's a bit more nuanced than that.

The most attractive companies have at least 2 of 3 qualities that make front-end work significantly easier:

  - engineering permission to use sensible tooling (typescript, openapi type generation, etc)
  - strong / focused product team (stable roadmap for project requirements)
  - modern ux designers (able to design a component library & can easily communicate changes (Figma))
I've noticed that companies that get this right tend to have healthier work cultures & deliver on expectations without stress.

Companies that don't tend to have front-end work defined by a sense of impermanence, lingering technical debt, and pain.

All good FE engineers are happily employed and enjoy doing FE stuff. Source: am a FE engineer.

I dunno. I'm a FE dev and have been for 20 years. I'm finding more and more that FE jobs are webpack and dependency management jobs. Far from building bespoke user interfaces or developing new patterns. The design side of web development has grown boring thanks to bootstrap and bootstrap influenced design libraries. All the fun challenges of the early aughts are gone and all that's left is figuring out why library A doesn't work with library B. If I were just starting out, I would go to backend development. It seems more creative development is happening there than the graphical part of the web. Sadly, I'm only in it for the money these days.

Been a FE dev now for almost 12 years. I've grown so exhausted by just being a library manager it hurts. I made my intentions to my team recently that I had ever intention of moving over to the back end side.

But it's not just the library management that kills me. It's the complete lack of any form of respect I see time and again in regard to FE. BE folks say something is hard and will take time? They get all the leeway they need. FE says something is hard and will take time or just flat out want to do it right? Now you have 20 people from the marketing department crying foul and claiming the FE team is just lazy. I tell them the specs are incomplete and I get told to just deal with it and make it work. I ask for clarification of interactions and everyone expects me to tell them how the thing they designed should function for a user. I used to love FE because it was the "fireworks"... but lately it just feels like a lot of people have no respect for the craft at all.

At the end of the day I think my organization would kill to just have a FE they could manage like Wix and do away with us. So on to something new...

Management in my case. I lead a few teams now after having been mostly responsible for just the FE portion of things. I’ve always been a full stack dev but being the lead for FE team meant working a lot with business and presenting things, taking feedback and communicating back to devs etc. So moving up was a natural thing for me. Just a lot of meetings now, unfortunately.

I’ve had no problems hiring senior devs across the board - FE, BE, DBA, DevOps, etc etc. The existing ones recommend their friends so I imagine it’s a company culture thing as well.

Blame this on the low bar to entry. HTML, CSS & JS are relatively easy to learn. So you have everyone applying for these jobs and we’ve reached peak front end candidates.

The real trick is to find those who use that tech in new and interesting ways. Those who push the envelope.

What? No, the real trick is to find someone who is reliable, honest, consistent and well rounded.

Those would be 98% of your staff.

Exactly, from an employer's point of view, they want someone that can work well with others and not be the "lone genius" stereotype. Most companies don't need people to innovate, they just need people that can maintain and work within their boundaries.

Well also, the low barrier to entry in the web development world means literally almost anyone can become a "developer" or an "engineer" just by following some stupid React / Vue tutorial. The problem is - this doesn't include knowledge fundamental to being a strong computer scientist - like understanding how a computer works or how data is stored and retrieved in memory.

I think the web offers a very limited slice of what folks can potentially learn about computing, and this is why many folks don't stick around in FE for long.

Maybe try check the recruiting funnel/pipeline. It's possible majority of them got dropped at the initial interview stage where they were asked questions not relevant to their expertise, so by the time the funnel reaches you it's just drips.

I would be considered a senior FE engineer, and I do interviewing at my employer. I recently interviewed an individual for a L6 role (senior engineer) who didn't know how to listen for clicks on a <button>. What's going on?

Did you sense that it was a lack of experience or was it nerves?

Senior FE is high demand, low supply position. In a similar boat for hiring, but I think it helps when you are able to present your company as one that values FE (a good website for starters).

Since I leveled up on React over the past couple years I've mulled adding some FE projects on the side but backend consultancy seems to dominate the demand on my time/skills. Backend just doesn't give me the tangible feeling of FE work.

probably no one wants to deal with all the headache that comes with it tbh. my experience, management just always fucks it up. the first org i ever did FE at didn't even have daily standup or any kind of scrum or agile processes... no jira. no version control. no separate environments. no nothing. and then they blamed devs for not delivering when business/ownership couldn't even define what we were supposed to be delivering.

> Where are all the senior front end engineers?

There's heaps here in Australia, G'day!

I've been tinkering with the idea of switching to FE, preferably, full stack second.

I'm a founder of CIS Force - freelance platform for pre-vetted high quality software devs. We have lots of great FE engineers, happy to recommend you some great matches - please contact me dlazarev@cisforce.com

i think it’s more of the second point you mentioned. additionally, pay seems stagnant for senior frontend positions as opposed to backend.

We all got promoted, sorry.

Hello, someone calling?

Because senior engineers realize what a dumpster fire the modern web is and then don't want to work on it since they can make more doing backend feature dev just as easily if they learn another skill set / language.

There is also a limit to what you can do in a browser. Many folks get tired of working in this environment and want to branch out and explore more areas of programming / application development.

Also, the constant churning of overengineered tooling, libraries, and frameworks in the modern web ecosystem is another big turn off for a lot of folks.

> There is also a limit to what you can do in a browser.

While there are limits, the web and browsers are the most exciting they've ever been in my ~15 years of breaking things on the internet.

There are so many cool things being built right now. If you've got a varied enough skill set and an appetite for learning, now is an incredible time to be a senior full stack/front end engineer.

I personally disagree. I find the internet and web browser to be the least interesting portion of the computing stack - I get my kicks doing graphics programming and systems programming. The browser and web are the last technologies I want to write code for in my personal time. This is why computing and programming a great though, no matter what your interests are, you can probably find some niche or specialization that suits your personal interests and strengths.

Certainly if your interests lie elsewhere, there’s not much the web can do about that. I’m more so speaking from the perspective of working on it for over a decade and still wanting to. From my perspective, it feels like things are actually in a better place all the time.

I do like the odd break from the chaos of the browser, I can’t deny that. I totally get why some people can’t stand dealing with it.

I've been working on it professionally for over two and I still abhor it. I think it's much worse than it's ever been.

Haha, I’m a glutton for punishment. The worse it gets the more I want it.

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