BabelQuest’s Front-End Developer Justyna Wegner talks me through the trends shaping website development today and how to optimise your website around them.
This spooky season, I sat down with our resident lady of horror to discuss something that, to me, has always felt a little bit like magic: web development.
In 2021, Justyna joined BabelQuest as our front-end developer. Since then, she’s revived some truly ancient websites, fixing old code and creating new to bring our clients’ digital selves into compliance with website development best practices today.
What are those standards? Where can you optimise your website to meet them? And how does Justyna approach this work for our clients? Read on, where she reveals all.
Thomas Brown: What do you love about web development?
Justyna Wegner: I love the creativity that comes with making something. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to put something together and see the final product. Sometimes you can spend hours working on a task and feel like you've achieved absolutely nothing, but with web development every line of code brings a change that you can actually see and interact with.
It's exciting to get a brief and plan how you’ll translate it. How can you take an image from your client’s head and turn it into components of a page? You’re working in a completely different language but learn it and you can basically tell a website what you want it to do.
How did you discover your passion for coding?
In 2016, I was working for a web agency in an executive role. As well as social media and content uploading, this involved setting up emails for our clients. These companies would send me HTML, which I would upload to an email platform and send over for their campaign. These were large companies but the code they would send me was always broken. Every time. So I tried to fix it, figuring out the what, the why, and the how of why it wasn’t working. And very soon I realised that not only did I enjoy this, I was actually quite good at it.
Spend enough time looking at HTML and you start to see different things. Over time, I could immediately tell from looking at it that it was broken but also how to fix it. That was when I considered shifting my role towards HTML and CSS. I wanted to learn more about it.
With my manager’s support, I started taking online courses and getting small projects, and this is how I started.
How has the industry changed from 2016 to now?
A lot! It’s such a dynamic world. Every day there’s something new for you to learn. You can't sit comfortably and hope that what you knew yesterday will keep you on top of everything.
Seven years ago, nobody thought about building a website using a mobile-first approach. Desktop was king, so that was what developers prioritised back then. Similarly, responsiveness in general wasn’t so important. People didn’t have the huge scope of screen sizes and different devices we see today so it wasn’t a consideration when developing.
Accessibility has become very important today. As the world gradually becomes more inclusive, more and more companies are paying a lot of attention to how their website caters for people with different needs. This is especially true in the education sector, I’ve noticed. At BabelQuest, I’ve built sites for dozens of prominent universities across the UK. Every one of them thoroughly inspected every element of the website to make sure it was meeting its accessibility criteria. Fortunately, there are several tools that I can use to check that the website I've built is truly accessible and will pass those criteria checks. It's a massive topic.
AI is obviously having an impact on web design and everything else. At the moment, this mostly looks like chatbots and new opportunities for personalisation, but I expect it will continue to evolve fast. AI of any kind wasn’t something we heard about seven years ago.
At one point, cybersecurity seemed to become very important almost overnight, driven by a spate of high-profile cyber attacks. We’re just as concerned about sustainability now and how we can incorporate green hosting and optimised web performance to boost that.
That’s a lot to balance! What's the most important thing to consider for someone who’s optimising their site today?
Build it nicely! [Laughs] Businesses invest so much in content optimisation and adding new pages but if the back-end mechanism isn’t there, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put into creating, say, targeted content. A slow, clunky website isn’t going to work well. On the plus side, web development moves so quickly that every year there’s something you can improve to make your website more responsive, lighter, and better for your visitors.
Responsiveness is probably the biggest, most effective place to focus on first. Improve the look and feel of your website on mobile, because that’s where most people are browsing today. Your prospects might use laptops predominantly at work but as soon as the workday is over they’re back on their phones, and when something’s hard to read or they can't find the information they need they just move on; nobody has time for a poor experience.
Check your page speed. Optimise your images. Minimise HTTP requests. Technical SEO. UX. Security. Accessibility. There are so many things you could look at. I always say to start with the low-hanging fruit: resize your images and check how the site works on mobile.
Halloween is just around the corner. Do you have any web development horror stories?
Maybe not a horror story but Internet Explorer was my nightmare for many years. It’s a thing of the past now, but at the time it was a source of so many compatibility issues. You see, not only do you need to check your website on different screen sizes but you also need to run it on different browsers. Internet Explorer was so poor that even if your site ran perfectly on Firefox and Chrome and even on Safari, you could be guaranteed that it wouldn’t work on Internet Explorer. And back then, Internet Explorer was the browser of choice for quite a lot of companies, especially big corporates. They really liked it. So that was my nightmare!
What does being a good web developer mean to you?
Being curious. When I think back to how I got started in this space, fixing small lines of broken code my clients had sent to me, then dipping my toes into some online courses, it was curiosity that led me here. I never expected to find myself in this career but there’s something so satisfying about fixing things. Discovering a solution so that anyone can experience a website, no matter their physical challenges, or finding a way to optimise it so that it runs more quickly, or more sustainably, or is just safer to use. Sometimes it might take you a day or two, and it might not come to you until you take a shower or go for a walk, but inspiration always strikes. I love trying to find different solutions for improving my work.