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I have applied and have been approached for different roles in web development recently. The one thing that keeps coming up is that I am more suited to front end development than back end development. This makes sense given my background starting out as a designer.

The problem is that while I have worked on a large app using ExtJS, I found designing and developing in ExtJS really frustrating. Oddly enough, it was working on this project that landed me in web development because my coding skills were recognized by some senior developers. I highlight that in my CV but I wonder if this might be a mistake.

I also use JavaScript quite a bit outside of web development. Specifically in Photoscript and InDesign to create batch operations. It's often assumed that I have expert knowledge in JavaScript, whereas I'm only just getting to grips with the OOP style of JavaScript. I use a lot of procedural code or I just use libraries like jQuery and Google Maps. I have created some experimental apps in Node and Knockout which I fortunately have enjoyed although Node is back end. I used to avoid JavaScript and jQuery in certain web projects since I was focusing on SEO and would only use Javascript if I really needed it.

During the interviews, I'm asked questions about JavaScript and front-end development. But I really wanted to talk about PHP and the server side development, so I guess my background shows. How do I address this when I am either contacted for a role or I applying directly without selling my short?

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Welcome to Programmers. While your question involves programming it isn't about programming and is off-topic for this site. Workplace might be a better location for your question, but it might be closed as too localized. Please consider flagging your question for moderator review and request consideration for migration to Workplace. –  GlenH7 Feb 1 '13 at 20:10
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@GlenN7 interestingly I had originally written this for the Workplace.SE but thought it was too technically detailed so I asked here instead –  anon Feb 1 '13 at 20:14
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@KarlBielefeldt I think the back/frond end development divide is unique enough to the programming world, I can't see how this question could be answered by non programmers, as far as I'm concerned it's on topic for Programmers. –  Yannis Rizos Feb 1 '13 at 20:35
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@GlenH7 We do allow questions about "business concerns" that are unique to our profession. We really need to do a much better job at defining what "business concerns" means, but I think this question is fine for Programmers. Closing (to clear the close votes) and re-opening. –  Yannis Rizos Feb 1 '13 at 20:37
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@YannisRizos - thanks for the clarification and resetting the close votes –  GlenH7 Feb 1 '13 at 20:57

3 Answers 3

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Consider that you are evaluating your interests and skills with respect to each other. Employers are evaluating your skills relative to other applicants. In other words, maybe you feel better suited for back end work, but maybe the interviewer has lots of qualified back end workers and has had trouble finding people with front end skills as good as yours.

My first job was at Taco Bell. I almost always got put into the "back ups" position, the guy who heats up and refills all the ingredients. I hated getting pigeon holed into there until one day I complained and my manager told me I was the only one with the planning skills to keep up with it properly. Conversely, he had lots of people who could easily fill the slots I thought were more "fun." That made me feel a lot better.

At my current job, I was often getting pigeon holed into the "glue" layers. My manager pointed out that he doesn't have very many people who understand both the top and the bottom layers. Sometimes what we want to do doesn't match up with what the company most needs us to do.

So, how to resolve it? Just express your preferences. That's what performance reviews and such are for. I told my manager that I prefer the lower layers and eventually he was able to gravitate me mostly towards those tasks, but when he can't, at least I can feel good that he feels I am the one most suited to a glue layer task. He is being cognizant of my abilities, not merely ignoring my interests.

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Well, let's look at it from the point of view of those doing the hiring.

Sometimes they are looking for a specialist, often to fill in a skill they are lacking. If they are talking to you because they think you are a specialist with deep knowledge of a particular front end technology, don't take the job and expect it will be easy to switch to back end development. Also, if you talk about how you really want to do back end development you may talk yourself out of an offer, which is fine if that's not what you want to do anyway.

If they are looking for a specialist in some back end technology then you probably won't get that either, because you aren't one, yet.

However, there is value in versatility as well. So you could probably most easily get a job doing some back end programming by selling yourself as a versatile full stack developer with more experience in the front end but more interest in the back end. In practice, companies usually prefer you not learn on their dime, so make clear that you do have real, immediately applicable, skill in doing back end development - it's just not as extensive on your resume. It would be easier to transition to more back end development from such a position, if you continue to think back end development is where you want to focus.

You could also try to get a job as a pure back end developer, but it will be somewhat harder without a resume to back it up, and you might come in at a lower salary. But there isn't much harm in trying as long as you don't burn bridges by marketing yourself so hard as a back end developer that you remove yourself from consideration for other positions (which would be unlikely to happen if you are honest).

Smaller companies tend to have more generalists than larger ones, out of necessity. Agile teams also tend to prefer less specialization, for certain values of Agile.

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Beside @Karl Bielefeldt excelent answer that your interviewer need someone for the part where you are not so much interested in there may be more.

> During the interviews, I'm asked questions about JavaScript and 
> front-end development. But I really wanted to talk about PHP and the 
> server side development

[Speculation]

  • May be your interviewer is already shure that you know enough for the job with php and server side development. He wants to find out where you limits in other fields are.
  • May be the server side development is not with php but with java/c# or something else.

[/Speculation]

But without asking the interviewer we can only speculate about the interviewers behavior. I have made good experience in having a more active role in the interview situation and asking many (detail) questions in the topics i was interested in.

Remember you are applying for a job but also they (the stuff where the interviewer belongs to) are also applying to become your contractor.

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