Core Skills to Master for Front-End Developers

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​Job postings vary in what they look for in a front-end developer. Some companies want applicants knowing things like Ruby, Git, design tools, video editing— and the list goes on.

However, there are a few skills that any front-end development job will require—the “core” skills—and a few others that you should seriously consider adding to your repertoire.

What You Need To Know

Browse job listings online in search of what is key for front-end developers to know and understand; there are three key things. Non-negotiable.

And they are:

  1. HTML
  2. CSS
  3. JavaScript (jQuery)

These are the fundamentals. Fortunately, there are a lot of free or affordable online learning platforms where you can learn these skills if you don’t know them already.

HyperText Markup Language, or HTML, is the key structural component of all websites on the Internet. As Jennifer Kyrnin says,

“It is the language of web pages—the markup language that browsers read to render web pages.”

Web pages cannot exist without HTML.


CSS and HTML work together: CSS adds style to HTML. I like to use the analogy that HTML is like a face, and CSS is like the makeup.

Although CSS isn’t necessary to get a website online, basically every site online uses some kind of styling.

Otherwise, it’d be pretty boring. With the most recent versions of CSS, you can do things like animations and more advanced styling that was only possible with JavaScript or Flash in the past.


JavaScript, or JS, has been advancing rapidly over the years. It has many purposes nowadays and can be used on the front or back end.

In relation to front-end development, JS is important because it helps make web pages interactive. You can do awesome things like create polls, quizzes or form submissions. Nowadays there are numerous JS libraries online to help you take your web pages to the next level.

However, to become a front-end developer, you just have to understand basic JavaScript as well as the most popular JS library -- jQuery.

Nice-to-Have Skills

After getting down the basics, these are other skills that are nice to have. (And lots of front-end development jobs look for them.)

MV* JavaScript Frameworks

JavaScript frameworks help you organize and condense your code.

As far as MV* (or MVC) options go, there are thirty out there: two of the most popular being backbone.js and angular.js.

Without a doubt, learning a JS framework is the toughest part of becoming a true front-end developer, but it’s the best way to take your skills to the next level.

CSS Tools

Compared to the JavaScript frameworks above, CSS tools below are relatively easy to learn. There are three kinds to look for:

  • Precompilers: Using a precompiler (or preprocessor) has a lot of advantages, from making code cleaner to maintaining organization. It's an easy way to write CSS and promotes DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) principles. Popular CSS precompilers are Sass, Less, and Stylus. If you’re just starting out, stick to learning one.
  • CSS frameworks: CSS frameworks help optimize your workflow with built-in grids and other CSS components. Two popular examples are Bootstrap and Foundation.
  • Responsive design: These days, there are so many different kinds of devices that your site should be able to adapt to all of them. Responsive design helps you build sites that work on all screen sizes — desktop, tablet, and smartphone. Frameworks like Bootstrap and Foundation have responsive design built in, so if you learn one of those, you’re set.

    Front-End Build Tools

    As a developer, you should be able to manage file size optimization and workflow efficiency. These tools can help.

    • Package Management: It can be difficult to organize all the libraries, assets, and so forth, especially for large projects or ones where you’re working with a team. Use a package manager, like Bower, to get everything sorted out and keep a log of your updates.
    • If you sometimes have trouble getting projects off the ground, use Yeoman to get started quickly with projects and stay productive. It’s run on the command line.
    • Task Runners: Use Grunt or Gulp, which also run on the command line, to compress files and optimize workflow. They can act as compilers for the Sass or Less preprocessors, and also have a wide range of plugins boasting other features.


      While the nice to haves may seem like a lot, think of them as skills you should be adding over time. The core things you need to know are HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

      If you have any other web skills, even if they’re not front-end related, bring them to the table, like design, video editing, SEO, etc.