Awkward stacks

If you subscribe to any link newsletters about front-end dev, you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone is working on shiny modern development stacks, geared towards the needs of the front-end developer. There’s an NPM-based boilerplate to get started with just about any combination of front-end tech going. React, GraphQL and Serverless for everyone!

As is often the case, tutorials paint an idealised picture or gloss over complexities. What might be straightforward when you have complete control over your dev environment does not hold true for the managed, locked-down and policy-constrained systems of real-world work.

And what tutorials there are about working within less fashionable stacks don’t get any coverage outside their specific audience.

I spent much of my early career working around the development stack in larger organisations. The stack was something you had to negotiate. Many of these stacks were designed for the needs of enterprise back-end systems development and management. Front-end concerns were often abstracted, constrained or otherwise subservient to these needs. This meant the day-to-day work of contributing was an exercise in frustration.

With this lack of control, it was frequently difficult to produce good front-end work. Much is made of the opinionated nature of Rails, for example. But in many cases, some of the more enterprise-y stacks were far more opinionated, and not always in a good way. I have particularly ugly-yet-vague memories about Java Server Faces (JSF), for example.

In some ways, I’m grateful that much of my work has now disappeared from the web. It wasn’t good work. It was all we could produce given the limited control and capabilities we had available.

This situation is still very much the reality for many people working on front-end code, particularly in larger organisations that continue to maintain older systems.

It makes the heated discussions around CSS-in-JS look a bit… quaint.

Hit reply and tell me a story about the most painful stack you’ve had to work with.

All the best,

– Jim

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