What is a Front End Developer?

Here's what being a front end developer means for me on the Learner Sales team at FutureLearn:

This week I wrote code that makes our app generate a digital award for learners who have completed a program at FutureLearn. Our talented designer Kieran created a vision of a the award learners can share with the world that celebrates and explains their achievement, and I built it.

So I'm not a designer. I didn't decide how this beautiful page would look. I wrote the code that sits behind the scenes of that award and brings it to life with animations, makes it malleable enough to fit on all devices and screens and I built the mechanics that create this award automagically for every learner in the world who has achieved a FutureLearn Award without us having to lift a finger. That means with a page of code, I can create what will be hundreds of thousands of awards in years to come. It's a great feeling to be an integral part of the team that did this.

I wasn't part of the idea generation process that came up with the concept of awards, that happened before I joined FutureLearn. But I have been part of the idea process for new features we'll test and design and retest in the future. My job is maybe about 60% writing and learning about code. The other 40% is spent talking to people and thinking, and learning about talking and thinking. But this is fluid, it changes all the time. Some days are more about code and some are more about talking. But I love both of these things, so every day is joyful!

A few weeks ago I sat down with our product manager Simon, strategic partnerships manager Phoebe and MBA intern Harish to filter out a long list of ideas for things we could build that would improve the lives of our learners, and help make FutureLearn sustainable. We used a PIE method to rate each idea for potential, impact and ease of implementation. So we rated each one on whether it could work, how well it could work and how easy it would be to pull off. The idea being that we get started with the most effective idea first and work down the list.

I won't discuss the five ideas we narrowed our near term roadmap to yet, but we're confident they're a great place to start our A/B tests to find out if they're things learners want and the best way to deliver them based on data rather than our own opinions.

Beyond my normal role within the Learner Sales team, I'm also part of a team of front end developers from other workstreams who meet every sprint to discuss our front end framework and work together to refactor and improve it.

I facilitate other team's retrospectives to help them work through and process their reflections on the previous sprint as it winds down. Next week I'm joining our fabulous Client Experience team for lunch because I facilitated their retro last week, and I'm super excited to hang out with them again!

I represent the tech team at our people committee, where we review our monthly Happiness Works surveys and figure out ways to tackle barriers to a happy work life for our people at FutureLearn.

I'm part of a gender parity group looking at ways we can improve gender parity at and beyond FutureLearn, including helping tackle the dismal employment prospects for women in development.

I'm part of an internal project to build a company social network we call Watercooler, the result of a FutureLearn Hackday in the summer. The Hackday aimed to solve problems highlighted by our Happiness Works survey. Watercooler is already starting conversations between our people and bringing them closer together socially.

So what is a front end developer? Well it's not this:

In summation, I generate ideas collaboratively, I help organise ideas, I help test ideas and features and I write code that brings those ideas to life. Very little of what I do is done in isolation, even writing code is often done in pairs. We plan our sprints collaboratively and each of us contribute to organising the team's Trello workflow board, and I participate in a range of other activities at FutureLearn that aren't part of a 'job description'.

It's actually a lot more like this:

<img src="{{ "/img/teamwork-at-futurelearn.jpg" | prepend: site.baseurl }}" />