‘Being able to build something so quickly is so empowering’
Ashley Firth, Front-End Developer, Octopus Energy
I’ve been working as a front-end developer since leaving university and continue to love it – but I made a few mistakes before I discovered this was the career I wanted! I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to be when I was preparing to leave school, so started a Law degree because it was an A Level I enjoyed. I quickly realised it wasn’t for me and switched to Interactive Media Production, another subject I’d liked at school. That second course was brilliant and really broad, so we learnt loads of different things. It was there that I first tried web development and was immediately hooked.
The role involves building the user-facing end of a website and designing the experience a customer has when they visit the site. This combines technical skills with creativity, as you want to make the website attractive while delivering what’s its meant to do. My favourite part is making sure sites are accessible. I strongly believe that everyone must be able to access the content online equally, regardless of any impairments or disability. The internet only works if it works for everyone.
My first job was at an agency, which was a pretty stressful environment but a useful way to learn a lot from the large in-house tech team, dipping into all sorts of projects. I joined Octopus almost six years ago and it’s been the perfect fit for me. I love the ethos of the company we’ve built and our commitment to helping the planet; it echoes my own values. It’s important to work in an environment which suits you as a person, as well as your skills.
To be a Front-end developer, you’re going to need to know how to code. When I’m hiring, I pay more attention to a coding test than a CV – the degree and the grades only matter so much, really, as you can learn so much by yourself online these days. The role is so varied that almost any type of person can find their niche, whether you prefer the technical side or the creative side, and almost every company has a website so will need a front-end developer. There’s no shortage of jobs!
Working in technology is fantastic because it’s constantly changing. You need to have the appetite for constant learning and not be afraid of not knowing, because you’ll get new tech innovations every 6-12 months that you need to master. Having good communication skills helps a lot in this role too, because you’ll be talking to different people across a business to understand what they need or explaining to them why something would or wouldn’t work.
I don’t think it’s vital to have a technical degree to become a front-end developer because you can learn so much on the job – and everything is changing fast so anything you learn at university might be outdated by the time you’re hired. Lots of people study something different and then move into this area. My team is full of developers from all sorts of backgrounds and it’s great to have the diversity.
However much technology advances, I don’t believe front-end developers will never be replaced by automation because a machine can never understand how a user journey might feel for a customer, what the person will want or how it might be made better. There’s definitely a human element to designing and building a site.
Find out if a role like this would suit you by learning to code a little bit – just try out the basics. You’ll either be hooked by suddenly being able to build websites from nothing or you won’t. I find it empowering and totally addictive! Learn as much as you can via online courses and then get some experience. It’s fine to jump around between different companies and jobs to start with, if you don’t find a company or mission you love. That’s how you learn lots of different skills, plus you’ll discover what working environment you like best and, in time, find the ‘right’ fit and love your work every day, like I do.