Almost every new developer faces the same question when they’re just getting started: Should I focus my energy on learning frontend or backend development?
When I was just a newbie - and mind you, I’m still nowhere near an expert yet - I constantly jumped back and forth between the two.
- Was my progress a bit slower than someone who chose to focus solely on the backend? Maybe.
- Would I burn out less by mixing it up and going with the flow? Probably.
- Did I enjoy the learning process a lot more? Absolutely.
For beginners facing this dilemma, my advice to you is this: Experiment with both disciplines, master the one you enjoy the most, and keep the other in your back pocket.
When you’re brand new to the game it doesn’t matter too much what you focus on. You know so little that action of any kind is 100% worth the time and effort as long as you’re moving forward and making progress.
The trap that I fell into was feeling like I needed a complete plan or roadmap from the beginning. What this does is it boxes you into a narrow learning path that can be daunting, stressful, and could make you more susceptible to burnout.
Instead, consider letting your hair down and just having some fun with whatever sparks your interest at any given time. Whether that’s the frontend, backend, or an entirely different skillset.
Now that I’ve been learning web development for a while now, I’m finally starting to realize what I want to focus on and, more importantly, why.
Before you worry about the result, learn the basics and jump into a project you enjoy ASAP. You’ll only uncover your why when you have something tangible to show for your efforts. Those projects can then form the basis for your long-term purpose as a developer.
Many industry figureheads insist that specialization is the ideal route to take from the start. Your pay will be higher, you’ll be more skilled than a generalist, and the list goes on.
However, I have a different view on this.
Where complete specialization falls short is in its propensity to foster narrow-mindedness.
- If you’re a backend whiz but you don’t understand at least the basics of frontend, how can you best design an API for frontend clients to consume?
- If you’re a frontend engineer and you disregard the UX of your app, it doesn’t matter how good your code is. Users are going to hate using your product.
There’s a huge problem today, not just in tech but society in general, where we constantly crave instant gratification. As a result, the 6-month, zero-to-hero success stories are heavily romanticized which in turn can be discouraging and derail us.
What everyone fails to mention is this: Those are outliers. Developing a skillset takes time and dedication. Many years of it, often.
Keep your eyes on the prize and focus on your progress, not the accomplishments of strangers. Don’t ever forget that.
Here’s the caveat. That doesn’t necessarily mean jumping from one skill to another constantly for all of eternity.
The perfect balance is to eventually settle on a primary specialization with at least 1-2 auxiliary skill sets. But again, you don’t have to have this fleshed out from the start.
My story began with picking up basic frontend design skills from my WordPress exploration many moons ago. Then I decided that I wanted to jump into Python to try my hand at creating server-side web apps.
I’ve learned a lot since then, and now I can comfortably dive back into frontend stuff to help round out my skills. Why? I want to build full-stack apps and be able to navigate both sides of the development process. It’s that simple.
Does this mean that I’ll switch gears completely and never build a backend ever again? Of course not. It’s all about learning skills that you know will complement each other and staying focused on your bread and butter.
My path may be completely different than yours. I just love the process of building stuff. That’s why I got started with this journey in the first place. Mastering the backend and getting just good enough at the frontend to be dangerous is the best combo for my goals.
Maybe you’re less spacially inclined and want to focus purely on the backend. You can lean heavily on Bootstrap or Tailwind and basic JS for building out frontends and get by just fine.
But first, you need to pick something, start building cool projects on your own, and the path will start to become more clear.
Whatever that path is, be patient, keep an open mind, and don’t be afraid to switch it up if you’re feeling unfulfilled.