What in the world is a backend developer? And what skills do I look for when hiring mine?

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You are in charge of a project and you know it is critical that you hire an excellent developer.  A great backend developer with current framework experience can be difficult to find.  I want to spend a few minutes to demystify the definition of what it means to be a “backend developer”  and give you some things to look for when selecting your backend developer.

What in the World is a Backend Developer?

Typically, when people look at a website what they see is the efforts of frontend development, but little does the viewer know that there is a whole world behind the scenes, this world is called the backend. A backend developer is a type of programmer who creates the business logic of a software application or information system. The developer typically creates components and features that are indirectly accessed by a user through a frontend application or system.

The key job role of a backend developer is to ensure that the data or services requested by a user through the frontend system or software are delivered through programmatic means.

Backend developers also create and maintain the core databases, data and application program interfaces (APIs) to other backend processes.

In addition to writing new features, backend developers often have to conduct maintenance while testing and debugging systems.

What is the Difference Between Backend and Frontend Development?

Like icebergs, the majority of software applications are hidden from the viewer. Concerning software development, the frontend or “Client Side” is the part that the user can see while the backend is the part that the user can’t see. Again, the best example of this is a website. HTML and CSS compose the Front-end which is what the users see. These two programming languages (HTML and CSS) are for Front-end developers. A typical job for a Front-end developer is web design which is essential for pleasing the viewer and presenting the brand. If you need a greater explanation of HTML and CSS and how it can help your business -stay tuned we have a future article coming! 

The backend or “Server Side” is usually the core of the program that controls the server calling and the databases; it is the internal logic and oversight of the program, it is everything that the user can’t see. If we go back to the website example, the backend would be more of the security, content management and structure of the databases and servers. For additional information, this site explains the differences between Frontend and backend as well.

Which Programming Languages do you use for the Backend?

A programming language is a formal constructed language that communicates instructions to a computer. Programming languages can control the behavior of a machine or express algorithms. Backend developers use many different languages, but usually, they are more efficient in one specific language than the rest. Java and C are two of the most common probably. Other programming languages are becoming popular include Python and Ruby to name a few.  To learn more about the popularity of programming languages, check out the TIOBE index.


What programming languages does the backend developer know?

In addition to having a basic understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of conventional programming languages, a backend developer should aspire to be an expert in a core language. Whether creating APIs or creating databases, mastering a particular language can benefit the backend developer to execute specific tasks.  This basic language should correlate with the needs of your project.  

The language, while important, isn’t as important as learning a framework that supports the application you are building. We will talk about that next.  

What framework should your backend developer know?

“A software framework, in computer programming, is an abstraction in which common code provides general functionality. It can be selectively modified by user code to provide specific functionality.”

But what does that even mean? Simply put a framework gives you a base to build on. Instead of starting and working from the ground up, you can start to develop on an existing platform, and you are free to modify it and add to it. Imagine you are building a house, you can start from cutting your own tree, blacksmithing your own nails, and make your own shingles for the roof…or you could buy all of these items and stick them together and still build your own custom house! Django is a common backend framework for Python. Instead of writing all of the low-level functionality a backend needs, Django sets that all up for you so you are free to work on specifics.

Back to the original question of what should your backend developer know

Like many answers, it depends!   If you are building a new startup, we recommend Ruby on Rails or Python’s Django.  They will help you ramp up quickly and make new features as fast as possible.  If you are building on an enterprise level with Java, then the Spring framework would be more appropriate.  Every decent backend developer should have a lot of experience with one of the multiple frameworks.  For a list of more current web frameworks, check out the file list at HotFrameworks.

How many years of experience does your developer need in your desired framework?

If you have an awesome developer but they inexperienced in the framework that your company utilizes what do you do?  Well, you can use them but be cautious.  It will take months to get their skills up to speed. For critical projects, in particular, I would not recommend using them. If you are adamant to use their services you should pair your developer up with a seasoned developer who has experience in that framework.  If you don’t do this, I fear that it will most likely go badly…. very badly.  An experienced backend developer with 5 years of experience using the framework you are are going to implement is most likely going to make your life much easier.

What does your developer need to be good at System Administration? 

System administration is one of the necessary hard skills to have. Otherwise known sys-admins, these software superheroes can fly through programs and spot trouble before it even happens.  It takes years of command line typing, core dumps, server failures, and good old fashion head banging before a sys-admin is worth their salt.  Once they are, look out -they are pretty much unstoppable! 


I hope that I have been able to demystify what a backend developer does AND I have provided you a decent understanding of what skills to look for in your backend developer.  Having a great developer with experience in system administration, programming language expertise, and mastery of a web framework is going to make your project run smoothly and help you get your product to market faster. From all of us here at Bytelion, we wish you the best of luck! What did you think are the best qualities a backend developer should have? Let us know in the comments below! 

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