Without back-end developers, the internet as we know it wouldn’t exist.
Behind every website you visit, every application you use, is a complex system of databases, servers, and architectures bringing that expanding digital realm to life.
Companies of every size and industry are in an arms race to hire the best back-end talent. As of publication, there are more than 50,000 openings for back-end developers in the U.S. alone. In this post, we’ll break down the statistics, job requirements, and responsibilities of a career in back-end development.
Overview of the Duties of a Back-End Developer
When you load a website or application, the front end is everything that a user sees and interacts with in their browser. The front end includes buttons, text, links, design, and user experience.
The back end is everything you don’t see that underpins the digital experience, including databases, applications, and servers. Back-end developers are the individuals responsible for building this infrastructure.
Think of it this way: If a website were a car, front-end developers are responsible for the exterior, the wheel, the seating, and paint. Back-end developers, on the other hand, build the engine, ignition, and transmission that make the car function.
On a more technical level, the core job responsibilities of back-end developers include:
- Creating high-quality code
- Web server technologies and server-side programming languages
- Supporting the full application lifecycle
- Troubleshooting, debugging, and optimizing performance
- Building automation tools
- API integration
- Working in an agile environment
- Keeping up-to-date with advancements in technology
- And much more
What Kind of Companies Hire Back-End Developers?
Any company that’s building its own website or online application will likely need to hire back-end developers. The largest employers of developers with this skill set are, perhaps unsurprisingly, the world’s largest technology companies, including Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, Meta (Facebook), and Google.
But it’s not just Silicon Valley and fledgling startups driving the demand for back-end talent. Now, more than ever, all companies are becoming tech companies. The COVID-19 pandemic and our current work-from-anywhere reality only accelerated this trend. Companies in every industry need technical talent to help them modernize and innovate their business practices.
Financial services, fintech, manufacturing, telecommunications, entertainment, retail, healthcare, pharmaceuticals — the demand (and opportunity) for back-end talent is near endless. And this sense of expansion is, well, expanding, and at a rapid clip. While we don’t have data on the growth rate of back-end developers specifically, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does include this job role in its overall data for software developers. From 2020 to 2030, the number of employed software developers in the U.S. is projected to grow by 22 percent — almost triple the 8 percent average growth rate for all occupations.
Types of Back-End Developer Positions
The job title a back-end developer may hold varies drastically depending on their experience and the company or industry in which they work. The title of a graduate from a coding bootcamp might look different than a candidate with a bachelor’s degree. And the job function of a back-end developer in a five-person startup will differ from one at a 5,000-person company.
At the beginning of their career, a back-end developer will typically start with an entry level title like junior-level developer or software developer 1. With how complex and high-stake back-end environments can be, a new back-end developer may spend a lot of time on testing and quality assurance while learning the internal systems. They’ll typically work in that role for one to three years.
From there, they often have the opportunity to move into slightly more senior-level roles with hands-on web and software development responsibilities, including job titles like senior back-end developer, lead software developer, and senior software architect. Spending several years honing their tech skills and mastering a code base, their responsibilities often expand to include taking more ownership of projects, working independently in a team environment, and mentoring project team members. Senior back-end developers might also start specializing in particular technologies, such as databases, cloud computing, information operations, or systems architecture.
With some additional experience under their belt, a back-end developer may also face a crossroads in their career. The first path for experienced developers is to pivot into people and team management functions, where hiring, mentoring, resource planning and allocation, strategy, and operations become a larger component of the role. At the higher levels of an organization, these titles might include:
- IT Director
- Chief IT Architect
- Software Engineering Director
- VP of Engineering
- Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
- Chief Information Officer (CIO)
The other possible career path is to continue as an individual contributor, where they can develop deeper technical expertise in various programming languages and frameworks. A large number of developers opt to stay in roles as individual contributors, and they enjoy equally fulfilling careers.
Salary Comparisons and Job Outlook
On average, back-end developers tend to receive a salary higher than the national average in their country of origin.
In the U.S., for example, the average salary in 2020 was $53,400. In contrast, the average base salary for back-end developers in the U.S. sat between $115,129 and $125,924 — 116 to 136 percent higher than the national average.
Junior back-end developers can expect to occupy a lower salary band at the beginning of their career. In contrast, more senior positions provide an average compensation of $162,598. Industry, location, company size and other factors tend to affect the salary band dramatically.
Historically, geography in particular has had significant influence on the compensation of back-end developers. The U.S. leads the world in developer salaries by a wide margin, with compensation sitting 23.3 percent higher than the next closest country. Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom round out the top five highest-paying countries.
But compensation doesn’t just vary between countries. It also varies within each country on a regional level. For example, an average software developer (including back-end developers) in San Francisco can expect to make about $147,900 a year, while the average for a developer in Miami is $79,600. That’s an 85.9 percent variation in compensation based on the city you work in.
What remains to be seen, though, is how the rise of remote work will affect developer compensation. Should employers determine compensation based on where the company is located, where the employee is located, or the national average? The answer to this question depends on who you ask.
In 2020, both Twitter and Facebook announced they would decrease the compensation of remote employees moving to regions with lower costs of living. Meanwhile, Reddit announced it won’t lower compensation for remote employees and is instead scaling their compensation packages to reflect the pay ranges of high-cost areas.
Companies will take their own approach, but the prevailing trend appears to be the latter.
“We’ve seen salary convergence, or the removal of location-based pay scales, for C-suite executives over the last several years,” HackerRank CEO Vivek Ravisankar said in an article in Fortune. “This coming year, we will see the same trend pick up steam for individual developers’ salaries. The remote-first model and ongoing tech talent shortage will further drive this convergence. We have started to see this convergence taking place across the globe as well.”
Requirements to Become a Back-End Developer
Back-end developers use a range of programming languages to build applications. These include:
Out of the above languages, the most widely known are Java, C, and Python.
Back-end developers also use database tools such as SQL Server, Oracle, and MySQL to manage user data. Recruiters and hiring managers looking for back-end developers should also look for in-demand competencies beyond programming languages. These include PHP frameworks (Zend, Symfony), Linux experience, cloud frameworks, and version control software (SVN, Git).
One detail that technical recruiters and aspiring developers alike will notice is that there’s no standard way to learn this skill set. There’s a wide variety in the technologies back-end developers know and the order in which they learn them.
Take, for example, the first programming language developers learn. While most developers master multiple languages throughout their careers, the most common language that developers start with varies across generations. BASIC was once the go-to introductory language (32.9 percent of baby boomers and 45.3 percent of Generation X got started with this technology). In contrast, C is now the first language for most new coders, with 30.5 percent of millennials and 39.5 percent of Gen Z beginning their coding journeys with C.
Technical competency alone isn’t enough to succeed in a back-end role. Analytical, mathematical, and problem-solving skills are a must in any software development job. And in a digital-only or digital-first environment, soft skills are even more critical.
As virtual collaboration and co-working environments become the norm, employers may put even more stock into developers with strong, demonstrable soft skills, such as:
- Time management
- Project management
- Problem solving skills
After competency, the most important qualification for back-end developers is experience. For some employers, on-the-job experience and training is a critical requirement.
Then, there’s the question of education. About 75 percent of developers worldwide have a bachelor’s degree or higher. If you’re recruiting, screening, or hiring developers, there’s a high likelihood that many of them will have a degree. And many companies still require developers to hold four-year degrees.
But companies looking to hire developers should also be prepared to recognize other forms of education and experience. Competition for skilled back-end developers is sky-high, and it’s not uncommon for job openings requiring a degree to go unfilled. But employers that prioritize real-world skills over pedigree gain access to a much larger pool of skilled talent.
Research has shown that 86.7 percent of developers have taught themselves a language, framework or tool outside of a classroom or course. And bootcamps and online training are popular ways to learn new technical skills.
It’s becoming increasingly more common for the best candidate for an open role to be one that has no higher education or on-the-job experience. Because of this, many of the world’s leading tech companies no longer require a four-year degree. Employers that are willing to hire developers from a diverse range of backgrounds will have a much easier time scaling their team and can diversify the perspective the team brings to the table, as research shows diversity of thought is beneficial to the bottom line.