Are Interface Developers less worthy?

A manager I had at a previous job, a consultancy company, complained that he couldn’t motivate the same price for an Interface Developer as a “proper” developer when dealing with customers.

The first point that springs to mind is that if you develop a web site, you would want it to be viewable by as many people as possible, right? No matter what web browser they have, what platform they’re on, any potential disability they might have. That most people can interact and navigate around in the web site. Together with that, you’d probably want the content marked up in a correct way for indexing by search engines, gaining the possibility to reach even more people.

And this, apparently, isn’t worth to pay that much for?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Interface Development is worth more than System Developers, Art Directors, Copy Writers, User Experience Experts and so on. My point is that all those roles are vital for delivering a high-quality web site, and that they are worth about the same for reaching success.

Not enough education?

Maybe it is because some Interface Developers don’t have five years at a university (yours truly included), but I would say that in this craft, real-world experience is more important than ever. Besides, lots of people developing web interfaces nowadays do have a Bachelor’s degree or something equivalent, so don’t worry if that’s an important factor to you.

Not real coders?

Maybe a long time ago, people coding HTML only knew about table elements and that was it. But from my own experience, and from most people I meet today, an Interface Developer is just as skilled as any System/Web Developer when it comes logical thinking, syntax and development environment knowledge and technical know-how.

They have chosen to develop web interfaces, out of interest, but could just as well have become .NET Developers, Java Experts or PHP Gods. It’s their favorite trade, not something forced upon them because they are the least competent Web Developer in the team.

Less worthy?

So, you tell me. Am I wrong, and Interface Developers are indeed less worthy? Or are they just as any other type of developer?

14 Comments

  • kimblim says:

    Interface Developers rule. Everybody else is expendable.

    (Guess what I do for a living…)

  • George says:

    Some clients don't even know the difference between a designer and a coder. Educating clients is part of our job and if you can get it right then you can quickly build up trust. In my experience once clients get what they are paying for they are very happy to pay for it. So I think largely education and moreover showing the client the benefits is what is required. Experienced Interface Designers know they do a better job than Front Page jockeys so should be telling the client what makes them different and also show clients the benefits that they are getting.

  • Jules says:

    Even some of us who have experience in the industry can become confused by all of the terms used to describe people (or their tasks) such as User Experience, Front-end Developer, Interface Developer and so on. I met a fellow a few years ago who seems to focus on only SQL queries (and gets well paid for it).

    Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine your boss having difficulty explaining the difference between some of these types of activities to clients who aren't in the web design business.

  • Any chance you could define “web developer”?

    Someone who builds Web applications – skill set would include: X/HTML, CSS, JavaScript, server-side scripting, SQL, basic component development (COM, Java Beans, or .NET libraries) and Web server configuration.

    my company would have a real hard time replacing me

    There is one way to find out. Ask for a slightly higher annual pay raise than you are normally used to receiving. If the answer is no, then you are easily replaceable.

    I don’t mean to be cold about this topic. I have worked for 4 different employers in various job titles including software engineer, Web developer, etc. and I have experienced different salary issues with every employer. So from my experience, salary levels depend on the perception of how replaceable you are.

  • It's much easier to replace a Web developer than say a C++ developer. So that is what's affecting salary levels for different types of developers.

  • kimblim says:

    @Vlad:

    Any chance you could define "web developer"? I know for a fact that even though I am "only" an interface developer my company would have a real hard time replacing me. I am sure they could easily find someone who can write the same code as me, but… it's not only about the skill set, but also about the experience, the knowledge of the platform, the social skills and a lot of other things, that make me/you valuable to the company.

    No one is irreplaceable, but that has nothing to do with your actual position in a company.

  • Wictor says:

    Robert, I agree with you and not. When it comes to business – money talks. It's easier to motivate for a client to pay more for a systems developer, as they believe have more education, are more skilled etc.

    I prefer to use, and we do at our company, just Developer for both interface and back-end programming and when it comes to the "fun" stuff we use Interface/Systems Architect, to show the customer that we bring in the cavalry.

    Of course all salary levels are based on the person doing the job and their monthly cost. The fact is that there are more "interface" developers available than there are "system" developers which leads to the fact that they can demand more cash.

    It's up to your employer, and in the end you, to set the correct "title" for you – and if your employer doesn't think that you belong to the cavalry maybe we should discuss employment once again :-).

  • Matthias says:

    I've come to the conclusion that most people still think of the web and IT industry as something where there's a lot of dilbert-style talk about nothing, and when the right money was paid and some time has passed, someone presses a button and everything comes magically together.

    Of course people don't say that, because they don't want to piss you off, and you're still the one giving them a web site/application/whatever in the end. But whenever things have turned ugly in my working history, this opinion shines through, sometimes even inside the company.

    Your salary is then determined by how easy it is to find another person that knows about this magic button. As an application is, usually, much longer entirely invisible, the application button is accepted as more expensive. As everyone and their mother claims they can quickly throw together a web interface, and as things like accessibility, web standards and search engine friendliness are still more or less invisible to most, they can't tell if you're a great web-interface button pusher or a crap one.

  • I used to be a frontend developer for alienware. While they have a ton of .NET people doing there backend dev, there web design team was always hiring and couldn't find anyone…. ever

  • I totally agree with You Robert, expecially when You say:

    in this craft, real-world experience is more important than ever

    Here, in Italy, things goes exactly in the opposite way: if You have a generic University degree but You don't absolutely know anything about Web, Interfaces, JavaScript, Ajax, (x)HTML, CSS, XSL(T), different server-side program languages, best practices (… on and on …) You'll be hired instead of certified skilled "about 10 years experience" Web Architet / Developer (just me, for example :P) … and that's probably why Italian IT is about 36th position for both tech and quality … quite hilarious!!!

  • Oskar says:

    What company was that? Hang it out so that none of us ever will get employeed there!

  • Steven Clark says:

    User Interface Design and Human Computer Interaction are not only legitimately equal but scientific endeavours of themselves! But yes getting people to realise that is a bit hard.

    My perspective on the Australian experience of IT in general and the Web in practice is we have a chicken and egg scenario – IT company advertises for developer with 5 years experience in about 8 different specialty languages / skills, therefore there is a culture that people juice up their resume to fit the pattern. Then everyone gets unhappy. I've read resumes that said 'Java programming' and I know for a fact they wrote 'Hello World' about 6 years ago, and they have XHTML and CSS but have to email and ask how to change their keywords?

    About all I can suggest is getting a name for quality work is going to win out in the end and people will hunt you out as a specialist or at least a shortlisted option. Blogging is good because it markets you to the right community, personal marketing is more important than ever.

    Ultimately the difference between good interface design and bad is that the client will make money using good rather than bad design. There is a lot of science behind it. Take that a step further to coding specialisation and the value adds.

    K I have to run – 15 minutes to get to work! ouch…

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Good to see different opinions here, and not just one side's!

    In the end, naturally, it's up to what developer it is, not the trade. It's about experience, personality, education and so on, but also about availability in the market. Then, sadly, people boost their resumes to no end, which is just a download spiral for what people customers actually get from the developer in the end vs. what they expected and paid for.

    I'd say that there are probably a good deal of people that think they can develop web interfaces, but I would say that at least here in Sweden, seriously skilled Interface Developers are hard to find.

    I think Matthias hit the head right on the nail with:

    <blockquote cite="http://www.robertnyman.com/2007/09/13/are-interface-developers-less-worthy/#comment-103829"&gt;

    As everyone and their mother claims they can quickly throw together a web interface, and as things like accessibility, web standards and search engine friendliness are still more or less invisible to most, they can’t tell if you’re a great web-interface button pusher or a crap one.

    The price though, in the end, comes down to how you can sell it to the customer. In my mind it's about motivating different skill sets and how they will make it better, but if that doesn't seem to struck home, the sales man has to be versatile and adjust the selling points.

    And no, Oskar, I won't name the company mentioned in the post. 🙂

  • it is true that most people think designer is not that intelligent. and as you have send earlier designer means few html tags.

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