TriComB2B Blogger - Patrick McMullen

What is a Developer?

Patrick McMullen

Let’s start with a question: What is a developer? If you Google the term, you will find something similar to the following:

1. A person or organization that develops something.
2. A person who grows or matures at a specific time or rate.
Well, that was helpful. Since I’m nowhere near qualified to lead a discussion about maturity levels, I’ll focus on definition #1. In particular, I’d like to discuss a website “development” team. This should be simple, since a website is a website, and a developer is a developer, right? I’ll only accept that mindset if you would let a plastic surgeon operate on your ticker because they are, in fact, a medical doctor.
Janitor replacing a Doctor in a Hospital - Infographic
Development occurs at various times and in many different ways throughout a system or website project. First, it is important to develop a message or purpose, or your website will, um, not exist. Then, content must be developed to portray the message and explain the purpose of the website, and it must be organized in a clean, user-friendly way. Otherwise your viewers may go into mental shock as if they were watching Inception for the first time while simply trying to learn about your company. Next, you need a designer to develop a layout using colors, typefaces and images that help represent your company and tell its story. Picasso painted some very nice pieces, but a banking website probably shouldn’t resemble the abstract nature of The Weeping Woman. After that, someone has to develop the actual website to tie together all of these pieces. We’re done, right? What if you need the website to do something really in-depth, such as offer products for sale? That’s right, someone has to develop it.
So, a lot goes into a website. Do that many people really need to be involved? Sometimes not, but a lot of the time they do. Even roles that seem similar may differ greatly in nature. You will notice that I mentioned someone building the website who ties together all the other pieces, and right after I noted that the site may also need to do something. Isn’t that the same thing? Would you trust someone who frames houses for a living to run your electricity? Both are technically builders, but I know I don’t want to be the first person to plug in a lamp! 
If you look at people who are technically “developers” by job title, you will find two very different roles that are handled by people with very different mindsets. A front end developer, (e.g., me), brings the design to life by keeping the same aesthetically pleasing feel, but adding the motion and content flow. They typically enjoy getting their hands dirty in the design phase, and they are happy to contribute to meetings where designers, analysts and project managers bump heads on how the finished product should come out. When a part of a website is randomly hovering over something else or hiding nearly off the screen like it is running from a wildfire, you can usually blame them. They are usually decent at actual programming, but eventually those sitting around them will start to smell smoke from their brains melting down. 
That is when you need a true back end developer. They will be more likely to build a database of products you offer, and create a shopping cart to sell them online. They are often found contently staring at what seems like senseless strings of letters and numbers in text editors. They love pizza, bacon and Mountain Dew, but don’t ever mention Photoshop in their presence!
Just to detail the differences in mentalities among individuals in different “development” roles, I asked a few of my coworkers who I regularly work with on website projects to share their thoughts on what makes a website great, as well as what they contribute.
John Nagy, Creative Strategist
“My role in website development is to make sure the final site is conceived and designed with the user in mind. The user must find the content (e.g., verbal, visual, motion, etc.) useful, engaging, moving, actionable and credible. They need to find a connection between themselves and the brand. They have to find the site easy to use.”
Dan Williams, Designer
“My job is to create an enticing and attractive design with an intuitive user interface. It must also promote the project and/or message clearly.”
Jon Berry, Content Developer
“What makes a website great is the ease at which the end user can find the information he’s looking for. Two things have to be in place for the user to have this experience: 1) obvious, intuitive navigation and 2) plenty of useful, pertinent information once they get there.”
Jesse Gifford, Developer
“A great website is simple, user friendly, and should work the way the user expects it to. My job is to make sure the site works, does what it is supposed to do in a user-friendly way and is easily maintainable. It can look flashy and have great content, but if it doesn’t do what the user needs it to do, then you can say goodbye to that user. It is also important that the owner of the site can easily retrieve data from their site and be able to easily maintain and improve their site.”
Me, Analyst/Developer
“A good website will be enticing, functional, easy to use, informative and relevant. It is my job to help communicate and resolve technical implications among design, content and functionality elements so that they may be combined into a complete website.”
And for fun, this shows some stereotypical mindsets that sometimes describes those of us involved in development all too well…
War Between Developers, Designers, and Project Managers - Infographic
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