Thinking about a career in back-end development? We spoke with Doug, a senior back-end engineer here at Codecademy, to find out more about what the day to day looks like for someone in a back-end role.
What’s Doug’s favorite thing about being a back-end engineer? He tells us, “I like that there’s a really wide realm of things that you could be working on. The servers that you’re writing code on are really big and powerful and can process a lot of data at once, so you get to work on really big problems.”
In our interview, Doug defines back-end engineering, talks about why someone might choose a back-end role vs. a front-end role, and shares tips for aspiring back-end developers who are just starting out. If you’re interested in becoming a back-end developer, our new Back-End Engineer Career Path is designed to prepare you with everything you need to get an entry-level job in back-end development.
What does a back-end web developer do?
“In the context of web development,” says Doug, “you have code that runs either on the client side (the user’s web browser) or on the server side (the computers at the company that are creating the website). The back-end engineer writes all the code that happens on the server side.”
This includes things like looking up data, doing calculations, and more. Back-end developers are responsible for preparing all the information that needs to be sent over to be used on the client-facing side of the web browser. Once that information is sent over, front-end developers are responsible for ensuring this data gets displayed in a way that’s appealing to the user.
What types of things do back-end developers work on?
“There’s really no limit to what a back-end engineer might be working on. It could be just the data that’s shown on the page — who the user is, what sorts of products are available. But you can do a lot of complicated things like recommendations and using machine learning, too, or creating code that’s constantly running in the background, crunching numbers and solving problems.”
Doug shared an example of what a back-end developer at an ecommerce company might work on. “Let’s say you’re shopping online and go to a product catalog and you see all the things you can buy. That information comes from a database somewhere — a list of products, maybe a list of inventory.”
“The back-end engineer will write the code that goes and talks to that database and looks things up. When you go to check out and pay, talking to your credit card provider also happens on the back end. You might have code that saves what a user has bought in the past and looks up similar products and recommends those. All those sorts of things are happening on the back end.”
Is back-end development right for you?
“One of the nice things of working on the back end is that you don’t have to worry about making things pretty and showing them to the user,” says Doug. “But the flip side of that is that you don’t always get to see your work visually. So if you like just solving problems and getting to that ‘ah-ha moment’ of figuring out something tricky and logical, then back-end work is great — especially if you don’t care about having an artistic eye.”
“But if you’re looking to make things flash and appear and look pretty on the page and have a really engaging, beautiful user experience, then you should look more at front-end or full-stack.”
Advice for aspiring back-end developers
Doug says, “I think the best way is always to learn by doing. Even though back-end engineering has a reputation of being tough or complex, it definitely doesn’t have to be. On your own time, on your own computer you can set up a simple website and use a back-end framework. It doesn’t have to do anything too complicated — maybe just create some simple data and save it and look it up — but once you have your first webpage up and running, you’re basically halfway there!”