In web development, there are three kinds of programmers. They back end developers, front end developers, and full stacks, who can do both. If you are reading this article, you’re probably interested in the back end of a website. Good for you because you will soon know what is a back end developer and how to start the journey to become one.
What is a back end developer?
A back end developer is a person who specializes in back end web development as it’s sometimes called. If you are interested in making things work, couldn’t care less about how they look, and thrive with a puzzle to solve. You should consider becoming a back end web developer.
We first need to look at how websites work to explain the role of a back end developer properly. There are two places where the code does work to make things happen: the client-side and the server-side.
All of it is useless without back end developers, who make the whole thing work on the server-side. The work is complicated and requires you to take responsibility for critical parts of the website. On the other hand, the back end web developer salary you can expect is also considerably higher than the national average. In most countries and even in the whole web development field overall.
A back end web developer figures out the best way to store your account data. Verify that it’s correct (a valid email address and a confirmation email to prove that the address is truly yours) and call up the relevant information
Back end developer responsibilities
Hopefully, you now know a bit about what is a back end developer and how his job is different from what front end people do. But what is a back end developer responsible for?
The best way to answer when asked, “What is a back end developer?” is to say that it’s a developer who’s responsible for programming the actions the website performs on the server-side.
Your bread and butter will be:
- User authentication. Making sure that the user’s account details are correct, that he has the necessary permission to see what he’s about to see, etc.
- Order handling. How an order you make on the website is processed to make sure that there aren’t any mistakes.
- Optimization. Making sure that every piece of functionality the website has not only works but does it in the fastest way possible.
It’s said that if you have to do a task repeatedly, you should find a way to automate it. This couldn’t be more true for website development and precisely one of the ways to answer the question What is a back end developer responsible for?
What is a back end developer in the grand scheme of automating? He’s the person to write the code that makes this process work. Imagine what would happen if there were thousands of users online 24/7 and we had to manually send emails. You would have to wait days for a simple validation email.
Aside from coding the server-side logic, another answer to the “What is a back end developer” question could also be: the guy who secures the system. The part of the website you see on the front end can be changed in the browser by editing the HTML and CSS you see when inspecting (F12 on Google Chrome). These changes last until you reload the page.
All the data you can imagine a website needs is stored in databases. When your browser generates the page you’re going to see, it calls the data values it needs, like prices, number of items in stock, etc., from a database. When you enter information, a proposal to update the database is made.
What is a back end developer? The poor guy has to create the processes which make sure that the data entered is valid before making server-side adjustments.
The simplest case to show you how the process works is a simple login procedure.
Let’s say you enter this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org with the password: $uPer$eurr£a$$512.
When you click login, this action triggers a request to see if there’s an account with the email of email@example.com. If there isn’t you get a notification that the login details you entered are incorrect. If there is an account with that email address but the password recorded doesn’t match what you entered, you also get an error.
To put it simply, any information you enter on the website has to be validated by the code written by a back end developer before it can become a part of the database.
While it’s similar to the previous point, it’s worth splitting it off. As a back end developer, it’s your job to access the various databases maintained by the website to make the system do what it’s supposed to. You and your code is the critical point of failure in making sure that the website remains secure and works as intended.
Also, it’s your responsibility to streamline the process of accessing databases in such a way that the website loads as fast as possible and its functionality is carried out as quickly as possible as well.
Some people need third-party APIs to work properly. What is a back end developer? The lucky guy who gets to make sure everything’s alright! You might get to write the API for other websites to use your site’s functionality too.
Working with and creating APIs could be a big part of your job as a backend web developer, so it’s a great idea to get comfortable with them. Fortunately, they can be mind-blowingly fun to work with because they save you loads of time. Or a splitting headache when you have to code a complicated system from scratch.
Sometimes, however, APIs can be annoying and difficult to work with because of the decisions made by the people who coded them.
Better be good, son!
The Tools You Need for Back End Development
On your way to figuring out what is a back end developer, it’s great to know everything we’ve discussed above. You need to know what back end developers are and are not responsible for, what the job involves.
It doesn’t help you to become a back end developer, though. What is a back end developer? The guy who knows the following tools inside out:
Server-side programming language
Let’s go over each of the top 3 most popular server-side programming languages in more detail and no particular order:
This programming language has been there forever but it shows signs of being out. While it’s true that you can do a lot of amazing things with PHP, critics of the language point to it being a structural mess.
It’s understandable because PHP wasn’t built as a complete language. Its creator didn’t even set out to create a proper programming language. As time passed, more and more people picked up PHP and started adding to it. The result is that it’s not consistent.
The number of PHP job openings has significantly dropped down from what used to be normal too, which would mean steeper competition if you tried to get into PHP back end development right now and took a while learning it to professional standards.
Even last year, there were still more job openings for PHP developers than Node.js. On the other hand, while PHP demand is steadily falling, Node.js is likely to rise.
Python is one of the hottest programming languages in the world at the moment, albeit for machine learning purposes instead of back end development. With that said, it’s a well-made language, learner-friendly, fun to work with, and extremely powerful.
Its strongest pro in Python’s ability to handle huge amounts of data. If you want to work on projects with big data applications, Python is your best bet.
If you want machine learning in your back pocket, Python is a great language to learn too, in case you decide that being a back end web developer is not for you after all.
As you might have noticed from previous sections, working with databases will be a big part of the complete answer to the What is a back end developer? question.
While we’re all for freedom, your choice of the programming language is likely to decide for you when it comes to choosing a database system to learn, especially when you account for popular stacks (or technologies which are used together) in your decision.
Before we talk about the web frameworks you may wish to learn to work with, we have to define what a web framework is. In simple terms, a web framework is a frame on which your web application is built.
It’s the tool that defines the structure of your website, allows you to build APIs (Application Programming Interfaces, which allow your product’s features to be used in other products) and reuse code in different places.
There are two frameworks and a CMS (Content Management System) built on PHP, so you may have to know it if you ever apply for a job using these systems. If the job advert mentions Symfony or Laravel, know that the job will require PHP.
If the website you are going to work with involves WordPress, you may need some PHP in case custom plugins are needed. WordPress was written with PHP, after all.
If you choose Python, there’s a very good chance that you will have to learn the Django web framework. It’s best at easing the process of creating complex websites driven by the extensive use of databases and works to Python’s data-handling advantages over other languages.
By settling on C#, you sign up for the Microsoft ecosystem, which makes it mandatory to know how to work with the .NET Framework.
How much can I make?
The back end web developer salary question is very important when making a future career decision. It shouldn’t be, though.
What is a back end developer? A guy who makes Internet stuff work on the server-side. The answer isn’t and should never be something like, “The guy who makes the big bucks!”
No matter how much you get paid, it will all be worthless if it’s a slog to get through the day. Before you consider the back end developer salary factor, figure out if back end coding is even something you would enjoy doing.
Making the server-side logic of huge website work, securing back end operations, working with APIs, and being responsible for the integrity of your databases are extremely important duties. Carrying this responsibility has to be reflected in the back end web developer salary you are offered. On the other hand, don’t expect to make a fortune as a Junior developer. At this stage of your career, you still have a lot to learn before you can be trusted with the responsibility, which brings in the generous compensation packages.
In the parent field of web development, the back end development salary is the highest overall. You can expect to make upwards of $100,000 a year in New York City, for example. In other countries and cities, this figure may be quite a bit lower but then again, the cost of living in these places is appropriately lower in most cases.
The back end developer salary also varies by country. In some lower average income countries, the back end developer salary you can expect is significantly lower than the New York City figure but still amazing when you take into account the national average. It’s almost guaranteed that you will pay the bills and have plenty left over if you make it in back end web development.
With that said, remember that back end development and programming overall is a tool to solve a problem and build things. Don’t pursue this career for a paycheck, do it because you love it. Build things, solve problems, be happy. Don’t do what you hate for a fat paycheck.
At this point, you should understand what is a back end developer pretty well. You roughly know what you might end up working with. You have a general idea about the tools you should learn to use. Now, it’s time to take action! Not tomorrow, right now.
Sit down, think carefully about the tech you want to use and start learning. The best place to start is the front end side because you need to understand it to grasp the concepts in more advanced subjects.
Good luck and happy coding!