May 11, 2016

Why Drupal Front End Developers Shouldn't Fear the Backend

There seemed to be a pretty common theme during the front end track sessions at this year's DrupalCon: You don't need to touch the code.  However, it read more like, we are afraid to touch the code.  This really frustrates me.  I ended going to more code and back end track sessions because of it, which isn't a bad thing.  But I wanted a nice mix of learning.  I was really disappointed in the Front End sessions this year.

One session, by using Pattern Labs, claimed that you'd never need to twig templates.  (What? Seriously? Why?)  They were spending a lot of overhead in order to avoid touching Twig templates.  I don't think this made things more efficient.  They just have a style guide that when updated, also updates their theme.  That's cool and all.  It is certainly helpful to not have to update something twice but that wasn't their point.  Avoid touching code was the point.

Another Front End session I went to had another even more disturbing claim.  Before I just into this though, I'm still trying to determine if the speaker, who seem like a fairly big name in the Drupal community, was assuming that his audience doesn't know Drupal, or if he really believes that working with Drupal is really difficult.  He made claims of how difficult it is to theme a link.  (Huh?)  He claimed that you can't change the class. (Actually, yes you can, but okay).  He also didn't want to bother this Back End developer to change the class for him. (Really? Why?)  

See, that's really weird to me and that also points to quite a dysfunctional relationship with your partner.  Yes, Front End and Back End developers on a project together should see each other as partners.  Not as separate departments, silos, or even as adversaries.

Perhaps this is just the direction that Drupal 8 and Twig is taking us, by inviting Front End Developers into the Drupal world that only need to know how to write HTML, CSS, and some JavaScript for fancy interactions.  And maybe that is why "headless" Drupal is gaining so much traction.  I think Front Enders are more comfortable producing markup via Angular.JS rather than through php functions.

I'm all for making the theming process more efficient, but being afraid of the code is a problem to me.  I suppose that I am more unique Drupal developer in that sense.  I love the Front End, that is where my strengths lie, but I also enjoy the backend.  I like that I can handle some more intermediate development and site building tasks so that I don't have to ask my Back End partner for help, so that they can focus on the more intensive pieces of a project.

I'm also all for getting more people into Drupal.  While I enjoy this being a developers market, Drupal is not as hard to learn as people make it out to be and with Drupal 8, it's only getting easier.  I'm lucky to be in an environment that is not only okay with me touching the Back End, but welcomes it.  Maybe you are in a place that is adamant about keeping those worlds as separate as possible and that's fine too (not really) but you still should at least understand what's going on.  As a Front End Developer, I feel that by understanding and being comfortable with the Back End it only makes me a stronger developer; an asset to my company.