Good UI engineering requires more than tech skills

To become a better web UI engineer, study design, communication, and vocabulary. Even if you cut back on some extra technical training, it’s worth it. That’s because the difference between good and great UI work rarely comes from technical prowess alone. It’s distinguished by creativity, visual insight, and sound organization.

Yes, JavaScript and styling fundamentals are important. You need to understand the tech behind your craft. But the solution to a tech blocker can be a tool or coworker away. And once you learn the basics of one MVC JS framework or CSS coding methodology, you can learn another.

Reusability is a bigger issue. Every time you change styling or write a new UI element, consider its impact elsewhere. Think ahead to where the application will grow and how you can cut repetition. It’s more than an blind grep through the code. It’s finding patterns. And visual patterns or usage trends are especially tricky to detect.

That’s where design skills kick in to shift your perspective from developer to user. When you’ve familiar with common usability flaws and have studied UI aesthetics, you gain a more rounded perspective than a pure coder.

Good UI engineers are also good communicators. Given the forward facing nature of their work, they tend to collaborate with a more varied audience than your average engineer. They might straddle design and engineering teams, sometimes as an informal liaison between both sides. It’s better to communicate an elegant solution to avoid coding a difficult one.

When it’s for time for a code refactor, a good vocabulary is underrated. Smart class and variable naming can pay off. Unlike most programming environments, web styling trends global in scope (the natural cascade of CSS.) And the class and variable names are best driven by outside purpose (e.g. “button–important”) instead of internal logic (“button–purple”).

This doesn’t mean solid vocabulary strictly from a book or language sense. It’s the wording of your industry, of the UI pattern (e.g “dropdown” over “input”) or behavior. Big code bases can have subtly different component and styling work. The right name leads to more clarity than a paragraph of code comments nearby.

Dipping into design, negotiation, and other liberal arts might feel odd. You’re an engineer, so more engineering comes naturally. But mix things up; it will help your career over the long run.