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April 1, 2022

What the Heck is a Front End Engineer? - Matthew Yeow

Matthew Yeow
What the Heck is a Front End Engineer? - Matthew Yeow

Hello there, keen student!

My name is Matthew and I’ve been a web developer for over ten years. I’m from South Australia, and studied a Bachelor of IT (Computing and multimedia) at UniSA. It was a broad course which taught technical skills in programming, but also film, editing, music, video games, and even 2D / 3D animation. I very much like video games and movies, so while working full time in my first job as a web developer, I made my own 3d modelling demo reel and did a short internship at a Visual Effects studio in Adelaide who had worked on The Wolverine, Hunger Games, and Harry Potter! I realised quickly though that the VFX industry wasn’t for me, and headed back into the world of web development; making web and mobile apps! When I felt like I had built up enough experience, I applied for a Frontend engineering position at Atlassian and here I am today!

What do you do, and how does this help your company?

A frontend engineer is someone who is responsible for the customer-facing side of the app or product. This can range from all the visual user interfaces / user experiences to setting up the connections to backend services like databases. It is an integral part of Atlassian since without frontend engineers, customers wouldn’t have buttons to click on or have the ability to interact with the web apps.

Atlassian’s main goal is having as many customers as possible using our products! A frontend engineer works with designers, backend engineers, system architects, and management to implement well-researched designs.

What does a typical day look like?

The typical day of a frontend engineer can consist of several things: meetings, coding, debugging, testing, and investigation. A stand up meeting is usually short where everyone mentions what they will be working on for the day, and if they have any issues (blockers). In this current working-from-home environment, this is actually a really nice way to start the day. You see all your team-mates, have a chat, and can ask for help early on.

Regarding the writing of code, it can be the best feeling in the world when you write something amazing and you see it working perfectly. It can also be incredibly frustrating when something just does not work. Spending days trying to figure out something is not uncommon. A good team lead or manager will try to pick up on this and lend assistance with other team members.

Test cases are usually written to ensure that the automated testing passes. Sometimes, writing the tests is harder than writing the code itself and can be frustrating. Luckily at Atlassian, there are always helpful people around to ask for help. We call the process ‘pairing’ and someone will jump on a zoom call to help out.

A non-coding part of the day can be investigative tasks. Your manager or team lead can ask you to investigate the viability of a technology or software that the team is thinking of using but have no experience in. While investigating, considerations given are things such as cost, ease of integration with current systems, and learning curve to implement.

What makes a great Front End Engineer?

There are several key traits that will help you succeed as a Frontend engineer:

Curiosity

Someone who follows the issue all the way to the root of the problem will truly solve the problem and learn from it.

Perseverance

When you run into an issue, are you able to try different things and demonstrate your ability to change your thinking to solve a complex problem?

Flexibility

Requirements change and tasks move around often. A good engineer is someone who can roll with the punches. If you are very rigid in your expectations you will find it hard in an ever changing environment.

Laziness

I don’t mean sit around playing video games on the weekend. A great engineer is lazy in the sense that they don’t do menial tasks over, and over; they write a script to do that. They see opportunities for automation and efficiency.

Any final tips?

The best part of being a frontend engineer at Atlassian is working with like-minded, intelligent people who want to succeed and change the world for good. It’s a rare thing to have that in the workplace. The best tip I can give you when starting out is to be like a sponge. Take as many opportunities as you can get, don’t be afraid to make mistakes (people understand at this point of your career), ask lots of (relevant) questions, and absorb everything. Experience is the most valuable thing and can only come with time and patience.

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