In a world where every person, company, place, and idea needs its own web presence, Front-End engineering has become a core technology discipline. Those in Front-End these days are unlikely to experience Waterfall-style delivery and the changing constraints of big-business licensing, constant learning and a hunger for change are central to the mentality of those making their career at the front-end of the web.
This has created an ever-evolving minefield of tech stacks and tooling choices that engineers can use in their projects. Some are popular for business reasons. Most are popular for teams constantly striving to use something new. Shiny Object Syndrome – the instinctive wish to use the fancy new technology and tooling that emerges – is a huge factor in creating, hiring, and retaining front-end talent. Initially, this may look challenging – if we want talent, we have to stay ahead of the new-tooling curve, but how can we do this without constant disruption or an unlimited budget?
The reality is, once you know what’s appealing to Front-End professionals, offering it is no major challenge.
To find out what tech stacks and tools modern Front-End Engineers use and want to learn, we spoke to 477 Front-End technologists. This is what we found.
The Rise of React.js
React.js was the most commonly reported framework of choice, with 60% of respondents stating that they were familiar with React and/or used it in their projects.
Of those that don't know React, or that only use it sparingly, 66% expressed an interest in it, or are currently learning the framework.
Going forward, the use of React is expected to rise even further. Since 2018, that usage has increased by 12.6%, going from 27.8% of web developers using it worldwide to 31.3% (as reported within the 2018 and 2019 Stack Overflow Developer Surveys).
This rising interest can be seen clearly within Google Trends, both globally and in the UK (depicted below). Interest in Node.js is plateauing both in the UK and globally, while interest in Angular has begun to show a general downward trajectory in the UK, suggesting it has entered a 'mature' phase, much like the extremely entrenched Node ecosystem. Worldwide, however, Angular has surpassed Node – suggesting developers in the UK are more disinclined toward Angular as compared to developers worldwide.
React was also named the most-loved web framework in the recent Stack Overflow Developer Survey 2019, with 74.5% of global developers voting for it above other frameworks.
It’s also interesting to note that, in the same survey, jQuery largely split the vote; 54.3% developers voted it as their favoured "framework"*, while 54.7% voted it their most dreaded. Nonetheless, despite the varied responses, jQuery was the second most commonly used framework amongst London’s Front-End Engineers, with 41% of our respondents saying they used it in their roles and projects.
* jQuery itself is a library, not a framework, but it made an appearance in both our own applicant responses and in the Stack Overflow survey, so we included it.
A Career Path into Full-Stack
The progression from pure Front-End to Full-Stack usually starts with learning Node.js, after which the developer may choose to move into Express.js, Koa.js, Hapi.js, or any of the other back-end frameworks.
Many Front-End Engineers are expanding their skills to include Node and other supporting tools. In 2019, Node increased in popularity worldwide, going from 66.4% coverage to 72.1%. Among our respondents alone, 38% professed a proficiency in Node. Such shifts toward back-end frameworks allow people to diversify into Full-Stack roles that command higher salaries.
Within our pool of developers, 24% expressed a clear interest in progressing into Full-Stack roles. Of the remainder, 21% were uninterested in Full-Stack work (a figure that includes developers that have worked Full-Stack before and that switched back to Front-End) while 55% made no mention of any preference in either direction.
What this shows is that, while certainly not all, a significant portion of Front-End Developers are interested in or would be open to progressing into Full-Stack roles. However, an analysis of the skills of our respondents suggests that the number of Front-End Engineers developing Full-Stack capabilities is still relatively low.
Move your technology stack to React, retire Angular.
Based on the data this is self-evident. UK Engineers want React as a core framework and are doing what they can to work with it. The longer you remain with Angular, the harder it will be to hire in an employment market driven by emerging technology.
If you can’t migrate, offer side projects.
It may not be feasible to migrate large, popular products or begin a brand-new system alongside them, and this certainly shouldn’t be done just to keep the tech team happy. That being said, it is critical for your team’s careers and value that their skills remain current.
Identify new components or non-core systems that could be built in-house using React or React Native. Challenge your most driven team members to self-learn and pick up these smaller projects alongside their main workload.
Poach from the top level of the Angular talent pool.
Again, self-evident. Angular teams are itching to move on if they see no gateway to new frameworks. They may not have React experience but this doesn’t reflect their ability to contribute to engineering – they just have a learning curve, and that is not a bad thing.
Being challenged may see them become more productive due to their innate logical reasoning, problem solving, or communicative ability.
Give your Front-End team exposure to core engineering.
Node.js is just as attractive as React – maybe even more. Let your team experience it or whichever language and frameworks you’re building your business logic in. Even assigning 10% of their sprints within this part of your platform will allow them to test the water and feel unrestricted in their learning and development.
Screen applicants based on problem solving and drive to learn, not specific technology.
This ties in closely with point #3. The real value in the Front-End employment market is in the top 5% of Angular talent. The top 5% of React talent are inundated with opportunities and probably earning £10-25k more than their Angular counterparts.
Promote a flexible, polyglot approach to languages and frameworks.
Many teams have a monthly “tools down” day during which engineers are invited to demo new tooling and ideas. The value in this is extremely high, in terms of both team motivation and retention, so if you're not doing so already then definitely consider it.
Know what the new React is.