What’s it like being a back-end developer? Well, it’s different depending on which developer you ask.
- “Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s daunting.” – Reddit user Adventurous Quantum
- “Mostly integrations and more integrations.” – Reddit user zaibuf
- “It’s pure logic and architecture that does or does not work.” – Reddit user Stanjan
- “Bro dont get me started.” – Reddit user ApexWinrar111
This article covers the nuts and bolts you’d expect to encounter in a typical back-end developer job description, but as you go through it, keep in mind that there’s a huge amount of variation depending on where you get the job, what kind of tech stack they use, and what they need you for.
That said, it’s still useful to know what the main beats are.
A back-end developer is someone who builds and maintains the server-side technology that powers apps and websites.
To understand what a back-end developer does, we need to understand the difference between front-end and back-end on the web. When you interact with the visual components of a website or an app, you’re working with the front end. But when you click a button or enter your information, that request is sent to the back-end, to a system that a back-end developer made.
Here are some examples of things that back-end developers might do:
- Design a scalable system that stores Instagram’s billions of photos
- Build a system to stream video content to Netflix’s viewers
- Write server-side code to match Uber drivers with passengers
In short, a “back-end developer” is someone who builds the back-end. A back-end developer’s responsibilities include architecting, building, and maintaining the server-side components of a web application, including the database, APIs, and server-side logic.
If you want to get a job as a back-end developer (and who wouldn’t, back-end devs make bank), let’s look at the job description skills you need to nail to get a back-end developer job.
I’ll break down:
- back-end technical skills, including languages and technologies
- Soft skills
Let’s jump into a back-end developer’s job description, component by component.
🔗 What technical skills do you need to get a job as a back-end dev?
To land a job as a back-end developer, you’ll notice that many back-end developer job descriptions include a lot of technical skills and proficiencies.
Let’s start with languages.
🔗 Languages to master
|Language||Category Winner||Who’s hiring?|
|Go||Fastest growing||Uber, Delivery Hero, Trivago, YouTube, Spotify|
|Python||Most used for beginners||AirBnB, SpaceX, Stripe|
|Rust||Most loved||Meta, AWS, Discord, Mozilla, Brave|
|Java||Legacy||LinkedIn, PayPal, Netflix|
|PHP||Most likely to linger||Meta, Wikipedia, Tumblr, Slack|
|Ruby||Highest paid||Crunchbase, Twitter, Etsy|
|SQL||Best non-programming backend language||Accenture, Dell, Microsoft|
All eight are worth getting your feet wet with, but I can speak with confidence on these three as they’re the ones we have courses for on our own learning platform, Boot.dev:
- Python: Python is used for back-end development because it’s simple to learn and read, and it’s ultra versatile. It has tons of libraries and frameworks that make it easy to build and maintain complex web applications. Here are some great resources to get you started learning Python.
- Go (Golang): Go, developed by Google, is designed to build scalable and concurrent systems. It has a simple syntax, built-in concurrency support, and efficient memory management, making it a popular choice for building high-performance back-end systems. It’s pretty fun to learn Go!
However, every company has a slightly different setup. The good news is that most back-end developer job descriptions will say something like, “Experience with programming languages like Ruby,” (Emphasis mine.)
As long as you know how back-end languages work and you’ve used one or two of them, you’ll be set. You’ll obviously want to seek out positions for the languages you know best.
Now let’s take a look at another key back-end developer job description line item: the database. As I mentioned earlier, a pretty common back-end developer responsibility is to configure, use, integrate with, and sometimes even build databases.
There are two general categories of databases: SQL and its mirror image, noSQL.
Most job descriptions ask that you know SQL, which is a very common, very popular database querying language. SQL stands for Structured Query Language. With SQL commands, back-end developers can access data that is stored in tables that are related to each other.
Most traditional SQL databases are good for vertical scaling. These databases typically scale in size by throwing more hardware at them.
Many job descriptions will also ask that you are familiar with the most popular back-end SQL databases, like PostgreSQL, SQLite, and MySQL.
I’ve covered these in a previous article, so I’ll summarize the main ones here:
- PostgreSQL: the go-to database for production, and high-volume data operations. Aside from storing data, you can define data types, index types, and functional languages. Very customizable.
- SQLite: Easier to get up and running, but only supports some data types, not all. Not super scalable, nor performance-optimized. Best for beginners or prototyping.
- MySQL: The most standard and popular of the options, though PostgreSQL is overtaking it in popularity since there’s not much it can do that Postgres can’t do better.
There are a few others – MariaDB is getting more popular as another MySQL replacement as time goes on, Oracle is the enterprise option many bigger companies use, and Microsoft SQL Server is typically used for .NET, Windows-based projects.
Now, what happens if your data is less structured, like texts, photos, videos, or PDFs? Enter NoSQL. In my back-end tech article, I describe a NoSQL database as “a non-tabular database that uses different data models for storing, managing, and accessing data. It can be document-oriented, key-value, graph, wide-column, or something else.”
These databases often (but not always) scale horizontally rather than vertically. And while SQL databases all kind of compete with each other, because they’re fairly similar, NoSQL databases are usually more optimized for specific things that you don’t get from a SQL database.
Let’s cover a few you might see on a back-end developer job description:
- MongoDB: The most popular NoSQL database according to StackOverflow’s survey. It allows you to query documents by single or multiple keys, ranges or search texts. It’s got a looser structure, more like JSON-esque documents.
- Redis: You can only query it through primary key access, which means it’s got a more limited query functionality. The benefit of using it is that Redis uses an in-memory key storage value, so data is stored on the host’s RAM, not the desk. This makes it very quick, but you also have to limit the size of the dataset.
- Elasticsearch: Used primarily for search and log analysis.
Frameworks are often used, but it really depends on the language in question. For example, Go is a bit unique in that many developers don’t use a framework at all when writing backend services in Go. However, in Python, Django and Flask are common.
Like with any plug-and-play solution, I will say that I don’t recommend starting with frameworks if you’re just learning a language for the first time. It can give you a false sense of confidence. A framework can help you have something up and running in days, but you won’t have any idea of what’s going on under the hood.
Now, if you’re an experienced back-end developer and you are already familiar with languages that use frameworks, like Python, you lean on server-side frameworks daily. These are technologies that make it easier to build and run these complex, scalable web apps you’re responsible for. A framework provides tools and components someone else built that you can repurpose for your task.
For example, say you want to build a website that displays a list of your blog posts.
In a world without server-side frameworks, you’d have to write code to fetch the articles from the database, format them for display, and handle incoming requests for the article list.
However, in today’s server-side framework world, you can happily just use the tools provided by the framework to fetch the articles and generate the HTML for the article list, which makes the development process faster and easier.
So on every back-end developer job description, you’ll see things like:
- Django or Flask for Python
- Ruby on Rails for Ruby
It will depend on what language the job description primarily wants, but as with languages, most employers will be happy if you have some familiarity with some server-side frameworks.
🔗 API development and RESTful design
APIs are a critical component of any back-end developer job description. They’re how back-end developers build scalable, robust web services that can be used by millions of clients. (“Scalable” and “robust” are a back-end developer’s favorite words.)
An API, or application programming interface, is the interface that allows different software systems to talk to each other.
REST stands for representational state transfer. It’s a set of architectural constraints. A REST (or RESTful) API is one that’s been built in a way that conforms to REST’s architectural style so it can interact with other RESTful web services.
As you might imagine, those two proficiencies are pretty key for any back-end developer to know.
🔗 Deployment, server management, and DevOps
For a long time, “development” and “operations” were separate processes. Then, around 2007, IT operations and software development communities started to say, “Hey, shouldn’t one hand know what the other is doing? Are we kind of headed for disaster because our objectives are competing? Maybe it’s time we had a baby and called it DevOps?”
(Atlassian has an article on the fascinating history of the origin of DevOps if you’re interested in finding out more about this pretty radical change in how the development/operations of companies worked.)
The upshot is that as a back-end developer, you’ll be expected to at least collab with DevOps technologies like deploying infrastructure and managing servers.
As a back-end developer, you’ll be expected to make web apps or APIs available to users. This is the deployment process.
To do this, you’ll need to be familiar with cloud platforms like Google Cloud, AWS, or Azure. You will also need proficiency in virtualization technologies like Docker and Kubernetes. Finally, you may need to be familiar with web server software like Nginx or Apache. Like anything else, you don’t need to be an expert in all of these technologies, but you should be familiar with at least a couple of them.
The day may also come when DevOps and back-end developer job roles coalesce into one!
What do all those back-end developer skills and technologies let you do? They let you handle the very important back-end developer responsibilities. While these differ from one job description to another, these mostly conform to a few common responsibilities.
🔗 Design and implement back-end systems and architecture
Back-end developers are responsible for designing and implementing the architecture of the back-end systems that support a web application.
This typically involves defining the structure and organization of the system, including the components and interactions between them, to ensure that the system is scalable, efficient, and easy to maintain.
For example, a payment system employer might put on their back-end developer job description that they expect you to design and implement a system for processing customer orders and payments.
🔗 Integrate front-end and back-end systems
Back-end developers also ensure the data and functionality provided by back-end systems are accessible to front-end systems, and vice versa, to provide a seamless user experience.
For example, a social media employer might require that any back-end developer integrate the front-end and back-end systems to enable users to upload and share photos on the platform.
🔗 Manage databases and data storage solutions
Back-end developers are responsible for designing the schema, optimizing queries, and ensuring that the data is secure and easily accessible by the application.
Here’s an example: a back-end developer job description for a healthcare company might include the requirement that you design and optimize the database for viewing medical records.
🔗 Develop APIs and services to support front-end applications
Back-end developers are responsible for developing APIs and services that provide access to the functionality and data of the back-end systems to front-end applications. This includes designing RESTful APIs and implementing the necessary server-side logic to support the APIs.
For instance, a back-end developer at a weather company might develop an API for providing weather data to front-end applications.
🔗 Optimize back-end systems for performance and scalability
Back-end developers are responsible for optimizing the back-end systems for performance and scalability.
A back-end developer job description for a video streaming company might ask that you implement caching strategies, like caching frequently-used data in memory, to reduce the number of database queries, and optimize performance by reducing the amount of data sent over the network.
🔗 Implementation of security measures to protect data and systems
Protect sensitive data. An example could be a financial company hiring a back-end dev that can encrypt data at rest and in transit, implement authentication mechanisms, and run security audits to make sure there aren’t any vulnerabilities.
🔗 Soft skills you’d see on a back-end developer job description
I get so tired of the image people have of back-end developers as lone cowboys, working long, lonely hours into the night. It’s not true! Almost all companies hire back-end devs that have soft yet valuable skills, like collaboration or flexibility.
All the technical proficiencies in the world are useless unless you can problem-solve, talk to people, and learn new skills as needed.
Let’s break down a few of the most common soft skills you’d find in a back-end developer’s job description:
🔗 Problem-solving and critical thinking
A back-end developer is expected to be able to solve complex problems and come up with innovative solutions quickly, using the tools at hand.
For example, a back-end developer at a transportation company might need to design a system for routing vehicles in real-time, taking into account traffic, road conditions, and other factors.
🔗 Strong communication and collaboration skills
All back-end developer job descriptions will include the ability to communicate effectively with other members of the development team, as well as with clients and stakeholders.
For example, a real estate company might list that you need to work with front-end developers to ensure that the front-end and back-end systems are integrated seamlessly.
🔗 Flexibility and adaptability to changing requirements and technologies
Remember how I said all those back-end developer technologies and languages were mutable? Jobs may not expect you to know every single back-end programming language on the planet, but they’ll expect you to pick them up as needed.
The technology landscape is constantly evolving, and a back-end developer must be able to adapt to changes and learn new technologies as needed.
For example, a travel company might need to switch to a new database technology to support the growing needs of the business. As a back-end developer, you’d have to be ready to learn how that works.
🔗 Communication with clients and stakeholders to gather requirements and provide updates
Like at data science companies, a huge part of the job description of back-end developers is being able to explain what you’re doing and why it matters to people who have never touched a line of code in their life.
For example, imagine you’re at that healthcare company, designing a new database. You’d have to talk to medical practitioners who talk to the patients to make sure the database you build is accessible and serves their needs. If you come in talking about APIs and server-side logic, they’ll run screaming.
You need to know how to explain complex concepts in lay terms.
🔗 What can you expect to find in a back-end developer job description?
In summary, you can expect to find a mix of technologies, languages, and soft skills in any back-end developer job description. Those components will be used to fulfill the back-end developer’s responsibilities.
For example, you might use Python, Flask, and problem-solving to “build improvements that will speed up the sales using various new technologies and solutions including AI,” as I purloined from this back-end developer job description.
Hopefully, this helped you make sense of the most important items on a back-end developer’s job description, so you understand exactly what you need to put on your resume to stand out as an applicant. Good luck as you prepare for your next interview!