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What Is a Back-End Developer?

back end developer looking at lines of code on a laptop screen

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You’re signing up for yet another service and entering your email for what feels like the hundredth time. Where does that information go? Is it secure? Who manages that? Back-end developers are software professionals who work on the parts of software that keep it up and running but the average user can’t see. So, what exactly do back-end developers do, how much do they make, and how can you become one? 

What Is a Back-End Developer? Definition

A back-end developer works on the back end of software, also known as the server side. The back end is a part that the user can’t see that does a few different things:

  • Data storage and management: It stores all the data on actions users take and information they input. For example, let’s say you’re searching for a new pair of sneakers and check out a new website. That website’s back end stores tons of information about all of the sneakers available on the website, like the brand, model, size, color, price, and availability.
  • Information processing: The back end gathers information from the front end of the software, or user side, and returns information back. Continuing with the sneaker example, as you look through sneaker options, the back end processes your searches, filters the results, and sorts them so your results match your preferences. 
  • Communication: The front end of the website, which is the side that we see as users, has to communicate with the back end. When you click on a pair of sneakers from your results, the front end tells the back end that you’ve requested more information, and the back end responds by showing you more information about that product.
  • Performance: The back end keeps the application running efficiently and smoothly. When you’re searching for the sneakers, the back end ensures the pages load quickly.
  • Security: It ensures that the software is secure from cyberattacks and that the information you input on a website — your data — is secure. Let’s say you decide to buy those sneakers. The back end ensures your credit card information is kept safe.

To successfully manage the server side of an application, back-end developers write server code, work with databases, develop application programming interfaces (APIs), manage server configurations, focus on security, and optimize performance. 

Essentially, back-end developers are the magicians behind the curtain, making sure everything operates effectively, efficiently, and securely.

Front-End vs. Back-End Developer

The difference between a front-end and a back-end developer depends on which part of the software the professional works with. Front-end developers (also known as front-end engineers) work on the front end of the software, which is the part users can see and interact with.

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These developers focus on elements like site speed, UX design and experience, and website navigation. 

Front-End DeveloperBack-End Developer
What They DoWorks on the part of the software that users and clients see.Works on the infrastructure of the software that the user can’t see.
Required Skills-Front-end programming languages like HTML/CSS, and JavaScript
-Frameworks and libraries, like React, Angular, and Vue.js
-Testing and debugging
-Version control
-Responsive design
-Basic design principles, like color theory, typography, and layout
-Back-end programming languages like Python, SQL, and PHP
-Frameworks like Symfony, Django, and Ruby on Rails
-Databases like MySQL, MongoDB, and PostgreSQL
-Version control
-APIs like STACK API, Firebase, and Spring Boot
Who They Work WithOther software engineers, product managers, and UX designersOther software engineers

Back-End Developer vs. Back-End Engineer

What’s the difference between a back-end developer versus a back-end engineer? Sometimes, nothing. Many companies, and even professionals within the industry, use these terms interchangeably.

When there is a difference, back-end developers and back-end engineers work on the same parts of the software, but they differ in scope.

“The difference between a back-end software developer and a back-end software engineer is subtle but important,” says Jamie Craven, back-end developer for Create, a web design company. “A software developer focuses on writing code to solve specific problems, while a software engineer takes a more holistic approach, considering the entire system and how individual components fit together.”

Overall, it depends on what company and team you’re working with. Some professionals use the terms to mean the same thing, while others make a point to differentiate between responsibilities. To figure out what a specific company is referring to, look closely at the job description to see whether the work is more code-focused or system-focused.

What Does a Back-End Developer Do?

The scope of a back-end developer’s work ranges from performance to data management to security. What does that look like in terms of day-to-day work?

Bruno Krnetic, back-end team lead at Async Labs, shares typical responsibilities of a back-end developer:

  • Collaborating with a team to plan, design, and develop new or upgrade old features
  • Writing server-side code in languages such as PHP, Python, Ruby, and Java
  • Debugging and troubleshooting code
  • Covering security issues, race conditions, and edge cases
  • Building and maintaining database systems
  • Optimizing application performance
  • Writing and maintaining API documentation
  • Communicating to a client directly or indirectly
  • Participating in code reviews
  • Staying updated on new technologies and industry trends

A back-end developer works to develop features by planning them with the team, writing the code, checking that code, deploying it, then monitoring that feature’s performance. 

Because their work affects the entire software, back-end developers also have to collaborate with the rest of the software engineering team to ensure the software functions as expected.

A Typical Back-End Developer Day

Muhannad Ajjan, senior back-end developer at Studocu, says that a typical day consists mainly of “coding, debugging and monitoring for bugs on production, and meetings.”

Meeting With the Team

“I start my day by checking my inbox and responding to emails,” Ajjan says. “With the team we have a short standup meeting, in which each team member talks very briefly about what they worked on on the previous day, priorities for the upcoming day and any potential blockers they came across. The time a back-end developer spends on meetings is used to discuss ideas with the team, align on goals, break down big problems, review progress, find bottlenecks and have retros to improve processes.”

Working on Code

Once he’s met with the team in the morning, Ajjan usually writes code to develop new features, improves old code, and writes automated tests. In his automated tests, he will put the business logic in the code “to make sure that changes in the code won’t break the business logic or parts of the website,” he says.

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Helping Team Members Out

During the day, Ajjan says he gets some pull requests, which are requests from colleagues to review their code. For example, at his current company, at least two colleagues have to check any code changes.

Testing and Looking for Bugs

“A big part of the day will also be spent on debugging and monitoring for bugs on production,” Ajjan says. “This includes checking tools like bugsnag, automated alerts, and fixing the issues that were raised by these tools and alerts.” 


Finally, Ajjan spends time documenting his work so he and his team can refer back to it. “A back-end developer should spend time on documentation, both on the code itself (in-line) as well as on processes, architectural changes, new features, API documentation for front-enders to use and company-wide standards,” he says. 

Back-End Developer Salary

Back-end developer roles are usually well-paying, as are many software engineering and development roles. However, salaries for these positions can vary greatly depending on your location and what kind of company you work for (e.g., start-up vs. Fortune 500 company).

For example, Indeed reports the average back-end developer salary as about $160,000, while Glassdoor reports the average as around $97,000. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage for software developers (which includes all types of software engineers and developers, not just back-end) is $132,900 per year. The projected job growth for this career path is well above average (5%) at 25% from 2022 to 2032.

Do Back-End Developers Make More Than Other Software Engineers?

When looking up salaries for back-end engineers (using the term here interchangeably with back-end developers), most sites report higher salaries compared to salaries of different types of software engineers. Why? Back-end work typically requires more advanced technical skills and a larger breadth and depth of work — data management, security, performance, communication — than other types of software engineering.

Back-End EngineerFront-End EngineerFull-Stack EngineerSecurity EngineerDevOps Engineer
0-1 year experience$106,000$86,000$89,000$96,000$92,000
All years experience$126,000$103,000$106,000$121,000$106,000
15+ years experience$187,000$143,000$155,000$150,000$145,000
*All salary estimates from Glassdoor. 

How to Become a Back-End Developer

To become a back-end developer, you’ll need technical hard skills that allow you to navigate the server side of software, and soft skills like communication and collaboration to work with other members of your software engineering team.

Do You Need a Degree to Be a Back-End Developer?

According to Stack Overflow’s 2023 Developer survey, nearly 70% of current developer professionals have at least a bachelor’s degree. A college education is still one of the most popular ways to gain the skills you need to become and land a job as a back-end developer. Many back-end developers major in a related field like computer science or software engineering.

However, skills are becoming more valuable than ever when entering a software engineering career path — and for some companies, even more so than degrees. As a result, more companies are looking for a candidate’s skill set during the hiring process, rather than where they learned those skills. 

According to the Burning Glass Institute, nearly 40% of software engineering roles don’t have any education requirements. So if you’re interested in becoming a back-end developer, you should prioritize learning the skills you need for this career path — whether with a degree, a bootcamp, a job simulation, or through self-teaching. 

What Hard Skills Does a Back-End Developer Need?

As back-end development is quite a technical field, having the right hard skills is crucial. 

“Successful back-end developers have a range of technical skills, including proficiency in at least one programming language, experience with database management, and an understanding of software architecture and design patterns,” Craven says. 

  • Back-end programmings skills: knowledge of back-end programming languages like Python, SQL, and PHP
  • Back-end frameworks: server-side frameworks that help make development easier and more automated, like Symfony, Django, and Ruby on Rails
  • Databases: places to collect and store information, like MySQL, MongoDB, and PostgreSQL
  • Version control: systems that track changes in code, like Git
  • APIs: what helps the back end communicate with the front end, like STACK API, Firebase, and Spring Boot
  • Testing: writing automated tests, identifying code errors, and addressing them
  • Documentation: documenting your work so your team and external stakeholders can look back on it
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What Soft Skills Does a Back-End Developer Need?

For efficient software building and deployment, you’ll need strong collaboration and communication skills on code changes, roadblocks, and overall feature design. 

“Having soft skills is always a great plus and often a must-have for successful functioning in a company,” Krnetic says. “Proactivity, strong problem-solving skills, giving and receiving feedback, self-criticism, punctuality in attendance, respecting deadlines, effective communication and respecting behavior towards others are some of those.”

Overall, becoming a successful back-end developer is about honing your technical and soft skills while always being eager to learn the next thing.

“Don’t be just a developer, be an engineer too,” Krnetic says. “Always do your best to see the big picture and expand your skill set with not only back-end skills. And yes, falling in love is usually a spontaneous process, but if you really want to become a back-end developer, make sure you fall in love with data organization.”

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Image credit: Christina Morillo / Pexels

Zoe Kaplan is a Senior Writer at Forage. Prior to joining Forage, she wrote and edited career and workplace content for Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women.

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