By Nicholas C. Zakas and Nick Fogler
Front end web development has traditionally been viewed as rather "lightweight"engineering. Around the world, companies assumed that anyone could write HTML, and oftentimes software engineers were expected to cobble together the front end of web applications without any real training.
Around four years ago, a shift started to happen in the industry: As web applications became more sophisticated on the front end, big companies such as Yahoo! started to hire people who specialized in these skills. These early professional web developers led the way to today’s discipline of front end engineering.
As the industry has come around to recognize frontend engineering as a vital part of their strategy, the demand for frontend engineers has grown.
Big companies are snapping up the best available talent, while the talent pool has remained relatively small. Colleges and universities, traditionally teaching object-oriented programming in languages such as Java, have little (if any) formal training for front end web development. Whereas new Java developers are being churned out by schools every year, new frontend engineers are not. This squeeze has been felt industry-wide as there are far more frontend jobs than there are qualified people to fill them. At a company like Yahoo!, with a significant number of web sites and applications, this lack of suitable candidates leaves many departments shorthanded.
Earlier this year, a team was formed to investigate potential solutions to this problem. The result of this is the Yahoo! Juku.
After completing their training, Juku participants are formally assigned to a business unit at Yahoo!. Participants get to learn about various business units through a series of presentations by managers.
The placement is based both on participant preference and business-unit requirements.
The learning doesn’t stop after participants are placed in business units. Yahoo! has a broad pool of talented and experienced frontend engineers who regularly give talks, answer questions, and interact with others in the company for the benefit of everyone. Even experienced frontend engineers find that they learn more about the discipline simply by being around such a talented group of people.
The Yahoo! Juku selection process is similar to that of any other job at Yahoo!. Candidates are first screened by resumes and then interviewed by a panel of frontend engineers. Since it is expected that candidates will have little web development experience, the focus is more on identifying people with native technical ability, a genuine passion for the discipline, and a demonstrable ability to learn in a fast-paced, intensive environment. Once selected, candidates become full-time Yahoo! employees whose job is to learn.
Though the immediate goal of the Yahoo! Juku is to provide qualified front end engineers to Yahoo!, the long-term goal is much more broad. Ultimately, we want to help grow and evolve the discipline of frontend engineering in the entire industry. Our vision is that the Juku will serve as one model for how this knowledge can be institutionalized, providing colleges and universities with a framework for teaching what the industry needs. We want to bring the discipline of frontend engineering into maturity because it benefits not only Yahoo!, but the Internet as a whole.
The Juku program has a rolling schedule, running several times a year. For information on the next class and how to apply, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you doing something similar at your company? How are you meeting the challenges of finding/developing great frontend engineering talent to meet the needs of your own web-engineering projects? We’d love to hear about your ideas and experiences in the comments.