Glossary of Web Development Roles

Web development teams are usually complex and made up of a variety of people. It is often difficult for foreigners to understand who is doing what.

Many roles within a development team are described with industry jargon, which hampers understanding, even for insiders. Also, the roles change. What was a central role five years ago may now be redundant. Five years from now, new roles will emerge and existing ones will likely change.

And there is often no clear dividing line. Members of a development team can fill many roles, especially in small businesses, where one or two people do almost everything.

The terms “designer”, “developer” and “engineer” are now mostly interchangeable. Designers usually deal with more visual and graphic aspects. Developers and engineers deal more with technical and code aspects. But many designers write code and many developers create graphics.

In this article, I’ll explain the different roles of a web development team – to help marketers and other (non-developer) executives make better decisions.

Glossary of Web Development Roles

Webmaster. The concept of webmaster is outdated. A webmaster uses to operate a site and update content. With sites being more complex, this role split into specialized tasks, such as a system administrator and operations and content specialists.

Front end developer. Front-end developers create the code that produces a web design. They mainly work in HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Some front-end developers will also create the site designs, graphics and layouts using tools like Photoshop, incorporating part of the graphic designer role (below).

Backend developer. Back-end developers create the server systems and code that send data to a visitor’s browser and log the data on the back-end for processing. They operate in a server-side language which can include PHP, Ruby, Python, .NET, or any number of other programming languages ​​or a mix of languages.

Database developer. A database developer is a specialized backend developer. It creates databases, plans how data is stored, and tunes everything for maximum speed. There can be a lot of overlap between the database developer and the backend developer. Small teams may have one person who does both. Database developers work closely with database administrators, who are in charge of day-to-day database operations and maintenance.

Data scientist. Data scientists are a new role. They analyze all the data from a website, like an e-commerce store, and use that data to make technical and business recommendations. This could be, for example, recommending that “sales starting on Tuesday at 10:15 a.m. with a 10% discount will perform better and increase average order value.” This role is highly specialized. This might not make sense for small businesses. Often other team members can perform these tasks.

Full stack developer. A full-stack developer combines front-end and back-end development roles. This person, for example, could create a new design, implement the front-end of the design in HTML and CSS, connect that HTML to the back-end servers, and create a database model to store that data. It may sound like a superstar that could replace all other roles. But there are limits with full-stack developers, in my experience. Since they cover so many disciplines, they are usually not as strong as a specialist.

Full-stack developers can supplement a specialized team by floating to areas that need more help. For example, they might help on the back-end of a major new feature with deadline pressure, then move to the front-end to help build landing pages for an upcoming event.

Graphic designer. A graphic designer is in charge of creating new visuals and models of the evolutions of the site. Graphic designers usually don’t convert these designs to HTML, but instead pass them on to front-end developers. They will work closely with marketing departments (to follow brand guidelines) and with user experience developers (below).

UI designer. UI designers are specialized graphic designers who step into the role of front-end developer. They deal more with the functioning of a site (its interface) than with its appearance. They decide, for example, whether buttons should be blue or green, have three-pixel rounded corners, and be positioned with at least 10 pixels of margin around them. They are not used as much on e-commerce sites, but are common on web applications.

User experience developer. User experience deals with how the site works for visitors. This often overlaps with graphic and UI designers. But UX developers usually approach it differently. They are more concerned with workflows and tasks a visitor will perform and less concerned with visual design. For example, the add-to-cart and checkout processes would be essential for a user experience developer.

Mix and match roles

I omitted many managerial and operational roles. They are just as important, but they depend more on the size and scale of the website.

Web development roles are not rigid. They can and will evolve over time as technology evolves and an organization and its people change. A person can start as a graphic designer, learn front-end development, and then cross-train in user experience for a third role.

For example, I started my career as a webmaster. I added skills in system administration and back-end development. Then I added front-end development and user experience design. My primary role now is back-end development, but I’m well-versed in front-end development, database development, UI, UX, and many operational roles including marketing.

Developments like mine are common in web development. It’s rare to find a senior developer with experience in just one area. Keep this mix in mind when looking at potential team members. Someone’s title may be “graphic designer”. But she might have the talent and the potential to do so much more.

James S. Joseph