1. What is Backend Development?
Backend development refers to the server-side of an application and everything that communicates between the database and the browser. The primary responsibilities of a backend developer are making updates, changes and monitoring a site's functionality. This type of web development usually consists of three parts:
- A server
- An application
- A database.
Code written by backend developers communicates information from the database to the browser.
2. Scopes of a Backend Developer
A backend web developer is responsible for server-side web application logic and integrating the work of frontend web developers. Backend developers usually write web services and APIs used by frontend developers and mobile application developers. Backend developers are always in hot demand because they are responsible for maintaining and monitoring what is happening off-screen. It designs database schemas, writes backend logic, creates Backend APIs, etc.
That being said, there are some crucial technologies that every Backend Developer must know about. Please stick with us until the end of the article to know more about them.
3. Where to Start?
To be a successful backend developer. You need to know the following:
- A Web Framework
- A database like SQL or MongoDB
- Version Control using Git
- Some important non-technical skills
Before we dig into these skills, let's first discuss back end development in its broader context. While frontend developers manage the visible parts of a website, such as the design or functionality of its display, backend programmers dedicate their time to designing, fixing, and altering the aspects of a software application or information system that a typical user never sees. They serve as the wizards to the tech sector's Oz, crafting the core features and components of the programs that drive consumers' digital experiences.
When a user makes a request to the system through a front end (i.e., consumer-side) framework, it's a backend developer's responsibility to make sure that a program can deliver any requested data or information. These developers have other duties, too. They maintain core databases, manage application program interfaces (APIs), as well as test and debug backend processes to ensure that a program functions smoothly and effectively at all times.
Sound complicated? It is. But if the prospect of picking apart the nuts and bolts of an application and learning how to make it run better thrills you, there's no better time to take on the challenge. With the world's growing social and economic reliance on digital channels, employers need talented backend developers more than ever.
4. Things to Learn
The majority of backend developers have at least some formal training, and many have bachelor's degrees in computer science or advanced mathematics. As one writer for CareerExplorer explains, "Compared to frontend developers, backend developers may have to do more abstraction — they could be data mining, writing abstract algorithms, and so forth."
Though requirements vary between jobs, backend developers will need to have a passing familiarity with several technical languages and programs, if not a command of them. These essential backend developer skills include but are not limited to Python, Java, SQL, NoSQL, and Git.
There are countless routes an aspiring development professional can take to hone their skill set. As mentioned above, a four-year degree is a standard option. However, if you're unable to commit the time or funds necessary to complete an undergraduate study — or you already hold a degree in another field, you might want to consider alternative education solutions such as coding boot camps to learn web development, which can teach technical skills that backend developers need, in a short period and at a reasonable cost.
At the end of the day, whichever educational route you take is less important than the technical and non-technical skills you acquire to build a career in backend development. Let's now look at the back end development skills in more depth.
4.1. Programming Languages to choose from:
First and foremost, Developers generally have to be trained in any of the programming languages available for backend development. This is the most important part of being not just a backend of any developer. Some examples are given below:
While it has nothing to do with the snake that inspired its name, Python is one of the premier languages used in development today. In 2019, a study conducted by Stack Overflow deemed Python the "fastest-growing major programming language" in the world above Java and second only to Rust in likeability rankings. A full 41.7 percent of the report's 90,000 respondents said that they used Python in 2018.
The language's popularity is well-earned. It handles simple and complex web projects with equal ease and has been deployed across various fields, from healthcare to finance to travel. Well-known industry giants such as Spotify, Instagram, Disqus, and Dropbox have built their applications using Python's syntax.
The reason behind Python's popularity is simple: It supports multiple programming styles and provides excellent data visualizations. With Python, developers can use procedural, functional, and object-oriented programming approaches with equal ease. The language's support for expansive data libraries makes visualization easy and development speedy. Plus, Python is relatively easy to learn.
As a tech writer for Django Stars noted on the subject: "The simplicity of the syntax allows you to deal with intricate systems and ensure that all the elements have a clear relationship with each other. Thanks to this, more newbie coders can learn the language."
Of all the skills that back end developers must have, Python tops the list.
Java is a beneficial skill for backend developers; it's a high-performance language that supports object-oriented programming and can run in any system that supports a Java Virtual machine.
PHP, or Hypertext Preprocessor, is one of the most common and usable server-side languages in the development sector. Unlike Python or Java, PHP is a scripting language, which means that it interprets scripts — i.e., programming instructions — at runtime to automate routine processes or improve performance for an application.
According to statistics shared by Guru99, over 20 million websites and applications have been developed via PHP. For a good reason: PHP is open-source, has a gentle learning curve, and is cost-effective because most web hosting servers already support the language by default. As a bonus, it also offers built-in support for the popular relational database MySQL (see below).
While PHP might not be a critical skill for backend developers if they know other major programming languages, having familiarity with it would undoubtedly make an aspiring programmer more marketable.
So, what are these languages?
- HTML: HTML is the most fundamental building block of the Internet. It determines the structure of web pages when working in conjunction with the other two languages.
- CSS: This language determines how elements will be rendered on a webpage and standardize display across all browsers.
The three languages work together for frontend development and form a website design from the frontend perspective. They provide direction and information on the style and content of a website, as well as how users interact with it.
You may be wondering why these frontend skills are essential for a back end developer. The truth is, there isn't a clear distinction between the two career paths. Even when developers focus exclusively on frontend or backend development, there will be some overlap in the skills required for both web development specialties. Moreover, companies like to hire developers with multidisciplinary skills; versatility is the major reason cross-functional "full-stack" developers can be so attractive in the hiring pool.
That said, not all companies will need multi-specialty programmers. While full-stack developers can be useful for companies with thin resources and can't justify separate back and frontend teams, many larger companies have separate divisions for their developers and require back-end-specific professionals.
4.2. Backend Frameworks to choose from:
Backend frameworks are the libraries of server-side languages that aid in building the server configuration of any website. It is essential to use the right technology to develop websites or seriously affect your application usage.
4.2.1. Node.js & Express.js
Node.js has been one of the biggest game-changer since its release. Bigger companies like Uber, Medium, PayPal & Walmart switched their tech stack to Node.js. You can make powerful applications with Node.js, such as real-time tracking apps, video and text chat engines, social media apps, etc. And learning Node.js is becoming one of the hottest skills for developers. Before starting to work in Node.js, Make sure that you have a clear & concise goal of what you want to build with Node.js; otherwise, you will give up on the learning path. Keeping a goal will help you focus on learning the essential skills on the top instead of figuring out whether you need to learn them or not.
Express.js, also known as Express, is a Node.js web application framework and open-source software available under the MIT license. It is used for building APIs and web applications and is considered a standard Node.js server framework.
Express is a MEAN stack backend component along with the AngularJS frontend framework and MongoDB databases. Express is viewed as one of the best web application development frameworks.
Django is a leading open-source backend framework based on Python, which follows the model view controller (MVC) pattern. Django is suitable for the development of sophisticated and feature-rich database-driven websites. Hence, it is considered one of the best backend web development frameworks.
This backend framework facilitates optimal pluggability, reduced coding, more excellent reusability, and faster development. It uses Python for all its operations and provides an optional admin interface to help create, read, update, and delete operations. Django is utilized by many renowned websites such as Disqus, Mozilla, and The Washington Times.
Laravel is an open-source PHP web framework for developing Symfony-based web applications that follow the Model View Controller (MVC) architecture. It offers a modular packaging system equipped with a dedicated dependency manager. Laravel is rated as one of the best web frameworks.
Laravel also provides its users with multiple ways of accessing relational databases along with application maintenance and deployment utilities. Laravel has an MIT license and has a source code hosted on GitHub.
4.3. Databases to Choose From:
Generally, there are two types of databases to choose from based on your requirement: Relational databases and Non-Relational Databases.
A relational database is a type of database that stores and provides access to data points that are related to one another. Relational databases are based on the relational model, an intuitive, straightforward way of representing data in tables. Each row in the table is a record with a unique ID called the key in a relational database. The columns of the table hold attributes of the data, and each record usually has a value for each attribute, making it easy to establish the relationships among data points.
Non-relational databases (often called NoSQL databases) are different from traditional relational databases in that they store their data in a non-tabular form. Instead, non-relational databases might be based on data structures like documents. A document can be highly detailed while containing a range of different types of information in different formats. This ability to digest and organize various types of information side-by-side makes non-relational databases much more flexible than relational databases.
Technology might get outmoded quickly, but SQL seems to be an exception to the rule. Since being ruled an industry-standard language by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in 1986, SQL, or Structured Query Language, has empowered backend developers to access and manipulate relational databases as needed. SQL allows programmers to insert and delete records quickly, file queries against a database, create new tables and store procedures in a database, and even establish permissions on those tables and procedures. If you ever need to deal with relational databases — and if you're a backend developer, there's little doubt that you will — you need to know SQL.
If you want to familiarize yourself with the language, try an open-source platform like MySQL. Named for creator Mondy Widenius's daughter My and offered by Oracle, MySQL provides free access to SQL database source code. It's also reasonably easy to use, as it can be installed on desktops and servers. It also runs on platforms including but not limited to Linux, Windows, and UNIX.
That said, SQL isn't the only type of language used to manipulate databases. In 1998, developer Carl Strozz introduced the concept of a NoSQL language. NoSQL's name is a point of contention for programmers. While some believe that the term stands for non-SQL, others insist that it means not only SQL. In any case, a NoSQL language communicates with databases that store information through means other than a relational table.
The decision to use SQL or NoSQL depends entirely on a developer's needs. Both work well; as programmers for MongoDB explain in an overview on the subject, "A common misconception is that NoSQL databases or non-relational databases don't store relationship data well. NoSQL databases can store relationship data — they store it differently than relational databases do."
As such, backend developers would do well to have both skills in their repertoire.
MongoDB, developed by MongoDB Inc., is a cross-platform database program. It is categorized as a NoSQL database program that stores data in JSON-like documents.
MongoDB, a distributed database at its core, provides high performance, scalability, and flexibility in querying and indexing data. It is easy to integrate with applications as the document model can map objects in the code. It provides drivers for major languages, and there is also a lot of professional support available.
The MongoDB Community Edition is free and open-source, while the MongoDB Enterprise Edition is for commercial purposes and has more advanced features.
4.4. Version control using Git
In software engineering, version control (also known as revision control, source control, or source code management) is a class of systems responsible for managing changes to computer programs, documents, large websites, or other collections of information. Version control is a component of software configuration management.
If you're looking for a widely used modern version control system to fit your needs, Git is a great option. It is actively maintained and open-sourced, created by the same founder of the Linux operating system. Each developer with a working copy of the code can easily access the entire history of the changes, making it easy to edit and restore the code. Git is one of the most high-performing, flexible, and secure among any backend developer skills list.
4.5. Non-Technical Skills
While there are many technical skills a backend developer needs, there are some useful non-technical ones.
Establishing well-honed communication skills means you'll find it easier to collaborate, whether with other backend developers or with the frontend developers who are working on the same projects. Communicating also helps when working with business leaders and other professionals who do not have the same background in development and programming.
5. A Final Note on Becoming a Back End Developer
A career in backend development is an excellent option for those interested in programming and passionate about technology. As you work toward deciding what career path you want to take, you'll also be deciding what your educational path looks like.
Remember, there are various ways you can gain the backend developer skills you need to be successful. You can choose a formal degree program or opt for a coding boot camp to learn web development. The best educational path depends on your needs, whether you're looking for a variety of topics or want more specialized training that you can complete in a shorter period.