Ever wonder what’s happening behind the scenes as you use a website or an app? 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? In this guide, we’ll cover:
- Definition of a Back-End Developer
- What Does a Back-End Developer Do?
- Back-End Developer Salary
- How to Become a Back-End Developer
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Definition of Back-End Developer
A back-end developer works on the back end of software, often known as the server side. This part of the software is what makes everything function as intended. It’s also where data is collected and stored.
“A typical day in the life of a back-end developer involves designing, building, and maintaining the server-side components of a web application,” says Jamie Craven, back-end developer for Create, a web design company. “This includes working on database management, creating APIs, and ensuring the stability and scalability of the system.”
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 work on the front end of the software, which is the part users can see and interact with. These developers focus on elements like site speed, UX design and experience, and website navigation.
>>MORE: What Is a Front-End Engineer?
Back-End Developer vs. Back-End Engineer
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,” Craven says. “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.”
However, it depends on what company and team you’re working with. Some professionals use the term interchangeably, while others make a point to differentiate between responsibilities.
What Does a Back-End Developer Do?
If a back-end developer works to get the software up and running, what kind of tasks do they do?
Bruno Krnetic, back-end team lead at Async Labs, shares some day-to-day work back-end developers might do:
- 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. They don’t do their work in a silo; they have to collaborate with their internal team and external stakeholders to ensure the software functions as they imagined.
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 with 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.
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).
Indeed reports the average back-end developer salary as about $115,000, while Glassdoor reports the average as around $82,000. However, both sources report similar salaries for top companies; for example, back-end developers at eBay make an average of almost $150,000-$190,000, and those at Twitter make an average of over $200,000.
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 $120,990 per year as of 2021. The projected job growth for this career path is well above average at 25% from 2021 to 2031.
How to Become a Back-End Developer
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 Insitute, 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 boot camp, a virtual experience program, or self-teaching.
What 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.
Some hard skills back-end developers have include:
- Back-end programming languages like Python, SQL, and PHP
- Back-end frameworks like Symfony, Django, and Ruby on Rails
- Databases 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
- 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
>>MORE: Practice MongoDB, Git, Unit Testing, GitHub, and more with Commonwealth Bank’s Software Engineering Virtual Experience Program.
Besides technical skills, soft skills like communication skills are crucial. For efficient software building and deployment, you’ll need strong collaboration 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 skillset 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.”
Learn what it’s like to be a back-end developer at Lyft with Lyft’s Back-End Engineering Virtual Experience Program.
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