An application that really works? Meet Ordina’s front-end expert.

Jan De Wilde

Jan De Wilde is a front-end developer and front-end practice manager at Ordina. After meeting with Jan, we realise that it’s not just a job he has, but a passion. He talks nineteen to the dozen about how he refines designs and converts them into digital gems that exactly meet or even exceed user expectations. He secretly dreams of having his own business unit full of real front-end experts. “But actually everyone working with applications at Ordina needs to be thinking front-end.”

Front-end developers like Jan focus on the part of an application or website with which end users come into contact. They decide how the site or application should be structured, look like and behave and what functional architecture (web application or hybrid application) should be used. “In other words, we bridge the gap between creative designers and technical back-end developers,” Jan explains. “From a technical point of view, we translate the design into an application that is not only attractive but also works smoothly and is highly accessible, on all devices.”

How do you become a front-end developer?

Jan has had a fascination for front-end applications since secondary school. “I came across it via web technology and thought: “Wow, that’s cool, it is really easy to build stuff with that.” Later, while doing my bachelor’s degree in ICT electronics, I discovered that it is not that easy to fully master the technology,” he laughs. “But that only increased my interest.” Jan’s degree opened the door to a job as a web developer at a web and communications company where he built online applications for five years. “I was gradually given more responsibility and had more contact with customers. That way I gained a better understanding of what constitutes a good application. That’s the basis for becoming a good front-end developer.”

I discovered web technology at secondary school and thought: “Wow, that’s cool, it is really easy to build stuff with that.

Clockwork: user-friendly digital products

At Ordina, Jan took that expertise to a higher level. “I got to know Ordina through an acquaintance in 2013. Johan Steppe from the Clockwork business unit, which offers user experience (UX) design, explained that he wanted to develop a team of front-end experts. I got the chance to head up the team. Extremely interesting, but also a little daunting,” he admits. “The front-ends of Ordina applications are more complex than anything I’d done before. I would have to work with new technologies and methodologies. And Johan wanted me on board as competence lead. That meant that I would have to share my knowledge and coach colleagues.”

Front-end development: in practice

Jan accepted the challenge and is still a front-end developer today, albeit at JWorks, the business unit within Ordina that focuses on front-end and back-end (Java) development. Jan: “More and more companies are evaluating their applications and websites and want them to be exceptionally user-friendly. Clockwork helps them by offering research, advice and design. We provide the follow-up: we programme, test and implement the front-end part of applications.”

Jan is also a practice manager: he coaches, provides direction and, together with his colleagues from JWorks, defines the team vision. Jan: “It is extremely important to map out what we do and where we want to go. We often meet up in order to reach these insights. We list the requests we receive and discuss customer status. This allows us to hone our training solutions, so that we train and recruit the right people, and adjust our solutions to the needs of the market.”

A front-end developer translates the design into an application that not only looks good but is also easily accessible and works smoothly on all devices.

Pattern library for Liantis

The project he is most proud of? Jan and his colleagues built a ‘pattern library’ for Liantis: a library of functional UI elements. “In 2017, Liantis decided to go digital. One of the deliverables was an application for the prevention consultants. Or rather two applications: one for internal consultants and one for external consultants, but in completely the same style,” explains Jan. The internal IT team focused on the development of the applications and called on our expertise for the front-end. Instead of tackling each application separately, we were given the opportunity to work out a complete design system with guidelines, interfaces, a style guide, components, etc.”

Building a proprietary design system

“Building a pattern library or a design system like that of Liantis is very intensive. It is only profitable for companies that run a large number of applications,” Jan states. “But for Liantis, this proved to be a smart choice. If the organization now builds a new application or wants to adjust an application, it saves a huge amount of time. And all the developers can start working on the tasks right away. That means that there is much more flexibility in deploying developers.”
Meanwhile, Jan is working on a proprietary design system for Ordina: “It will be a blueprint of how we work: from technology, architecture, interfaces and the visual layer through to the functional aspect. The system will not only serve as a guide for internal projects but also as a blueprint for working more efficiently and faster for our customers.”

Everyone wants front-enders

Today Jan heads up a team of 26 front-end developers. He secretly dreams of running a dedicated business unit where the brightest front-end developers work together on killer applications. “There’s still a lot of room for optimisation today. Accessible and easily maintainable web interfaces, smart architecture, systems that are efficient and secure: many websites and applications leave much to be desired in this field. So our team still has a great margin for growth,” says Jan. “Although I must admit that this front-end expertise is not exclusive to our team. All our colleagues who are involved in development have to take into account issues such as user-friendliness and accessibility. Yet, in the meantime I am looking for more experts to strengthen our group.”

Accessible and easily maintainable web interfaces, smart architecture, systems that are efficient and secure: many websites and applications leave much to be desired in this field.

Training and soft skills

Front-end developers are in great demand today. Why would an expert want to work at Ordina? And why would a company enlist the help of the Ordina team? “All companies say that they invest in training and coaching. But Ordina really does it. You can see that in our people. We have incredible technical knowledge. And we also work on our soft skills, because these too are very important. You won’t find real IT nerds here,” Jan laughs. “Front-end experts have to work closely with both the designers and back-end developers as well as the customers. Another big plus: we get a lot of autonomy to develop our own roadmap. The combination of all these skills makes us a terrifically strong team,” Jan concludes.

All companies say that they invest in training and coaching. But Ordina really does it.

Want to know more about our front-end development expert? Get in touch with Jan.