The backend developer has a vital role in web applications' performance. In addition to handling the business logic, they also ensure the frontend's development work is integrated and well delivered according to the project's goals and vision.
Keep reading to find out the primary responsibilities of a backend developer and how his/her unique skills contribute to a web development team.
What is a backend developer?
The backend developer's key responsibility is to understand what is necessary for a web application to work and write code that makes those applications functional and logical. Web applications refer to everything that uses web browsers and web technology; thus, it includes not only websites but also social networks (e.g., Facebook), apps (e.g., Uber), and marketplaces (e.g., Amazon). The technology utilized to work on them consists of a combination of servers, databases, and applications; thus, a backend developer's work is never easily perceived and directly seen by the users, which is why this profession is widely known as a 'behind the scenes' job.
Still a bit confused? Let's dig a bit deeper on this idea of 'behind the scenes' and think of a website (or any other web application) as a theater play. What the audience sees and experiences corresponds to the users' desktop vision when navigating a website. However, there's a whole world behind the curtain that has made it possible to carry on. That world includes the clothes, lights, stage, tickets, security, and other technical details that we do not see but ensure the play has everything it requires to happen and run smoothly without interruptions or other issues.
A similar thought applies to a web application (i.e., websites, apps, marketplaces, social networks, etc.) and its backend development. To ensure a website's success and performance, developers handle a combination of technology that consists of three parts (a server, a database, and a web application) by writing code in programming languages that communicate the database information to the browser. Simply put, it's the developer that makes web applications operative.
What does a backend developer do?
A web development team may include many tasks and job roles that a single person would struggle to accomplish. That's why a web development project usually requires a complete team of specialists that work aligned for the same goals. Every project and company can follow a different structure regarding how the web development team is organized; however, the team usually integrates a project manager, UX/UI designers, quality assurance (QA) engineers, and web developers. There are three types of web developers: frontend developers, backend developers, or full-stack developers.
While the frontend development focuses on everything the users see in their browser or app, on the other hand, backend development is responsible for the server-side and for everything that is communicating between the database and the browser. Finally, full-stack developers refer to developers able to deal with both frontend and backend. Despite having both skills, full-stack developers may not have the same depth of knowledge as developers who are exclusively focused on each web development.
The role the backend developer plays in the development team is crucial. The backender must work closely with the frontend to ensure that functionality is aligned with the user experience. Functionality is a vital characteristic of any web application - otherwise, the user leaves - and it is up to the developer to ensure good performance and speed. Further, it is essential to make constant updates while also monitoring and organizing the database information in a secure and correct way.
As a backend developer, some of the main roles and responsibilities may include:
- Manage and develop APIs (Application Programming Interface) resources that are functional across devices;
- Create payment processing systems that securely store the required data;
- Develop the architecture of a system (and make it logical and functional across devices);
- Keep the web applications updated, safe, and fast;
- Implement algorithms and solve issues related to the system;
- Develop a CMS (Content Management System);
- Support the frontend development with clear communication and even better documentation;
- Store and manage data effectively and provide significant insights through the use of data science;
Overall, the primary responsibilities are always connected to the required technology that powers a web application and how the different components (server, application, and database) communicate.
What skills does a backend developer need?
As previously identified, there's a vast number of different tasks a developer can perform. Databases like PostgreSQL, MySQL, MongoDB, and Oracle are great for finding, storing, and changing the data. Moreover, scripting languages such as Ruby and Python, and compiled languages like C# and Java, are advantageous when coding on the server-side. Ideally, a good developer is proficient in at least one of these languages and has a good understanding of one or two more languages. Further, good knowledge of web development architectures (such as Model-View-Controller, Event-bus Pattern, and Interpreter pattern) can help design the most suitable architecture system according to quality attributes before significant software development begins.
Nevertheless, to truly become an outstanding professional, some skills go beyond language proficiency and other technical requirements. Here are some of the most valued soft skills:
Communication: As said before, backend developers usually work in teams, once it is important to communicate clearly with each member of the project. Further, by establishing good communication with the client and stakeholders, developers can also create a system architecture that meets specific needs and can provide efficient solutions to improve the web application's functionality.
Continuous Learning: It can be an excellent advantage for a developer to keep up to date with the latest technologies. Continually learning about the programming realm can lead to new and efficient ways of coding. Additionally, learning about design concepts and developing frontend development skills can enhance how the backend architecture is created.
Organization: Truth be told, the computer itself is not very concerned about whether the code is (or not) very clean and clear as long as the elements are there and in the correct order. However, the developer is human and needs some organization to work efficiently. It becomes tough to navigate the code when it starts growing and containing too many elements, and what could be a simple task turns into an impossible mission. Therefore, when developing the backend, keeping the code clear and organized can save time and allow developers to make the needed changes and adaptations with confidence. Plus, it becomes easier for other people to interpret it as well.
Systems and DevOps: Once the web application is ready for production by backenders, everything is sent over to operations, which typically includes system engineers, network engineers, security professionals, and so on. DevOps engineers optimize and organize the production of what was created in the backend. Therefore, DevOps is what runs everything once the code is done. In other words, it glues everything together, ensuring stability, reliability, and predictability of everything that supports a web application. A good backend developer would also benefit from DevOps principles knowledge since it can facilitate and speed production processes.
Working in backend development can be a demanding but also an exciting job. In fact, it is often considered the brain of a web application. To become an exceptional professional, be ambitious and humble to learn from every project and challenge you may encounter. Sounds interesting? Find out how to become one.
How to become a backend developer?
Backend developers require formal training, which in most cases consists of a Computer Science (CS) degree, due to the technical skills the job demands. There are some rare exceptions of backenders who are self-taught. However, the odds of becoming a good developer are not on your side if you are self-taught. It's possible, but harder. Therefore, by taking a degree, backenders can understand the theoretical foundations of computation and information while simultaneously taking a practical approach. This first step is essential to developing an in-depth knowledge of how methodical processes work and analyze the structure, expression, and mechanization of information processes.
Afterward comes the first professional experience. To be completely realistic and honest, the early years are not precisely easy-peasy. It won't take long until a junior developer realizes that many technologies and ways of doing things were never even mentioned during the degree (or other web development education specificities). Therefore, it is crucial to accept that the learning process is far from over, even though the pace is faster than ever.
“Programmers are constantly in maintenance mode”
― Andrew Hunt
In the beginning, it is often usual to feel slow or unable to contribute much to the team; however, this feeling will fade. Understanding the team dynamics, researching, and not being afraid to ask for help regarding code, databases, or even how the company works can make a massive difference in the integration process and daily performance. With time and experience, developers can adapt more quickly to new challenges and come up with valuable solutions. Soon enough, the no longer newbie will be the one providing recommendations and helping other team members.
As previously mentioned, it is very important to keep learning and increasing your knowledge, especially considering that our industry changes faster than others, such as the fashion industry. Either you keep learning, or you'll be a sitting duck. Therefore, in addition to taking a CS degree and gaining professional experience, backend developers would also benefit from courses and boot camps, which are usually more focused on the latest technological trends and a great way to meet other developers. Sharing knowledge and experiences with others can be a great way to come up with innovative and efficient solutions.
Even though backend developers work 'behind the scenes', their contribution to a web application's success is decisive. To provide a functional and logical social network, website, app, marketplace, etc. the developer must establish good communication with all the web development team members, from the UX/UI designers to the frontend developers. Moreover, understanding the clients' and stakeholders' needs and wants can help create a successful system architecture and provide valuable solutions.
The developers' responsibilities can vary a lot. In addition to analyzing and organizing databases (by using tools such as PostgreSQL, MongoDB, and Oracle), they are also responsible for working on the server-side, ensuring the database information is communicated through coding to the browser. To do so, backend developers use programming languages, such as Python, Ruby, PHP, and others.
Due to the technical knowledge this job function requires, most start their path by taking a Computer Science (CS) degree. This degree is usually followed by professional experience in parallel with numerous courses and workshops that help backend developers keep up with the latest technologies and improve their skills by getting in touch with new tools.