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Apple computer monitor on wooden desk in home office. Front End vs Back End Development

Front End vs Back End Development: Key Differences

Are you pursuing your dream of becoming a web developer? It can be difficult to determine if you want to become a front end developer, backend developer, or full stack developer. Luckily, we have put together this handy guide to help you learn the differences between the three. This guide also includes some of the top web development careers in each area, all to help you kickstart your web development career.

What Does a Web Developer Do?

Web developers primarily are responsible for creating and maintaining websites. This job title covers a versatile range of jobs in the tech industry. As a web developer, you could be in charge of building and maintaining the tech that powers a website (backend developer), or you could be involved in designing a site’s user interface, structure, and its various visual elements (front end developer).

As a web developer, you would be able to work in a traditional job environment for numerous companies and organizations. However, you could just as well become a freelance web developer, working for yourself and creating your own schedule. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of web developers is expected to grow much faster than average, by 13 percent. 

What Is Front End Development?

Front end web development focuses on the user-side of the website. Front end web developers have the responsibility of coming up with optimal user interfaces that make the navigation seamless. They work with the visual aspects of a website or application as well as with interactive elements.

To create the ideal website or application, front end development teams use a wide variety of programming languages and development tools. Front end languages include HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. 

What Is Backend Development?

Backend web development is the behind-the-scenes work. The backend development process focuses more on the server-side. This encompasses the technologies and processes that power the website or application.

In order to work on the backend, developers have to use server-side languages. Some of the most popular programming languages used by these developers include Java and Python. Mastering these languages is essential to become a successful backend developer.

Front End vs Backend Development: Key Differences at a Glance

In this table, you will find some of the major differences between front end developers and backend developers. Below, we explore the key differences between these two types of web developers in more detail.

Front End Developer Backend Developer
Skills: Graphic design, responsive design, cross-browser compatibility, testing and debugging, version control software Skills: Data structures and algorithms, database management systems, APIs, web frameworks, servers
Personal qualities: Creative, team player, people-oriented, problem-solver, detail-oriented, Personal qualities: Analytical mindset, communicative, problem-solver, flexible, ambitious
Programming languages: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, TypeScript Programming languages: Java, Python, PHP, SQL
Tools and software: Adobe Illustrator, jQuery, CSS preprocessors, Angular.js Tools and software: Spring, Django, Flask, Micronaut, Git and GitHub, MySQL, MongoDB
Average salary: $87,240 Average salary: $80,258

Questions to Help You Decide Which Type of Web Developer You Should Become

We understand that it can be difficult to determine which type of web developer you should become. If you are still debating between the front end and backend, take a look at the questions below. These can help you determine which type of web development is right for you.

If you are considering a career as a front end developer, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I enjoy creating aesthetically pleasing work?
  • Do I think of programming as an art?
  • Am I right-brain dominant?
  • Do I like working with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript?
  • Am I a creative and people-oriented person?

If you are considering a career as a backend developer, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I enjoy working with algorithms and databases?
  • Do I think of programming as a science?
  • Am I left-brain dominant?
  • Do I prefer working with languages like Python, Java, PHP, and SQL?
  • Am I a problem-solver?

Web Development Skills

While there is a range of skills that are useful for both front end and backend development, such as coding languages, each type of web development draws on a different skillset. Read on to learn about the most sought-after skills for these developers.

Front End Development Skills 

  • Graphic design: Front end developers need to be able to create aesthetically pleasing and attractive websites. 
  • Responsive design: These professionals need to be capable of creating websites that display well on different types of devices, from smartphones to desktop computers.
  • Cross-browser compatibility: Websites must work on the most popular browsers, including Google Chrome, Safari, and Firefox.
  • Testing and debugging: A front end developer has to be able to test for problems and fix any issues with the user-side of a website.
  • Version control: These professionals should be able to use version control software to track and control changes in the code.

Backend Development Skills 

  • Data structures and algorithms: Backend developers need to have a solid understanding of how to use the data structures and algorithms that power websites.
  • Database management systems: These professionals must be able to create and use database management systems for storing information.
  • APIs: It is critical that these professionals have a solid grasp of application programming interfaces to enable the exchange of information between applications and websites.
  • Framework utilization: A backend developer needs to be well-versed in popular frameworks such as Spring or Django.
  • Servers: These professionals have to be familiar with servers such as Apache, NGINX, and Microsoft’s Internet Information Services.

Front End vs Backend Languages

Both front end and backend web development require the use of different programming languages. Most of the languages on this list are strictly for front end or backend development. Full stack developers, however, are able to work with both types. Knowing just one of these languages usually isn’t enough; it’s important to master several of the most common ones.

HTML & CSS

Used in: Front end

The HyperText Markup Language, or HTML, is commonly used alongside Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS. Both languages are essential to website building. HTML is used to create the structure of the page, while CSS is used to style it. To get started as a web developer, you’ll need to master these two programming languages.

JavaScript

Used in: Front end

JavaScript can also be used in the backend but is more commonly seen on the front end. This language is used to add interactive elements to a website. This is critical to improve the user experience and make websites more fun and engaging.

Java

Used in: Backend

Java is a general-purpose, object-oriented programming language. This server-side language is most often used for creating web applications. It can also be used to connect to the front end for a seamless experience using a webpage’s interactive features.

Python

Used in: Backend

Python is both a server-side scripting language and an object-oriented programming language. This language is often used for large-scale web applications and websites. Python also works well with a variety of frameworks, making it quite versatile.

SQL

Used in: Backend

SQL is used in server-side development to work with databases. This popular language allows backend developers to communicate with, manage, and manipulate website databases. SQL is great for handling structured data, which is data that incorporates relations among entities and variables.

What About Full Stack Development?

For those who are still on the fence between front end and backend development, full stack development may offer a solution. This area of web development involves using both front end and backend skills together. Essentially, rather than doing one-half of the job, you’d be able to offer the whole web development package. 

The average annual salary for a full stack developer is $103,292, according to Glassdoor. These professionals are hired by plenty of big tech companies. Google, Adobe, and Amazon are among the top companies hiring full stack developers.

Top Web Development Jobs

A conference room full of people sitting around a table and using laptops. Front End vs Back End Development
Front end, backend, and full stack development encompass a wide range of jobs.

As a web developer, you can work in many types of companies across different industries. If you learn web development, the skills you’d acquire will allow you to perform a wide range of jobs. Even though you are trained as a web developer, you could eventually transition to a career as a data scientist, software developer, or web project manager.

Cloud Architect

Type: Full Stack

Average salary: $137,340

Job outlook: 5%

Cloud architects help companies develop and manage their cloud computing systems and strategies. These professionals use full stack development skills to oversee the entire cloud computing process. Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon are among the top companies hiring cloud architects.

Machine Learning Engineer

Type: Backend

Average salary: $130,978

Job outlook: 22%*

Machine learning engineers use artificial intelligence (AI) systems and algorithms to create predictive models. They create these systems using backend programming by assessing, analyzing, organizing, and testing datasets. Machine learning engineers are often employed by companies such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Data Scientist

Type: Backend

Average salary: $117,181

Job outlook: 22%*

Big companies such as Apple, Accenture, and LinkedIn employ data scientists to help them make sense of valuable data. To become a data scientist you need to acquire backend development skills to collect, organize, and simplify important company datasets.

Technical Product Manager

Type: Front End

Average salary: $113,432

Job outlook: 5%

A technical product manager is responsible for the success of a particular product. They transform the product’s development roadmap into actionable steps. These professionals typically need basic front end development skills to work with the engineering team of a project. PayPal, Amazon, and Google are some of the large companies that employ the services of these professionals.

Software Developer

Type: Full Stack

Average salary: $97,763

Job outlook: 22%**

Software developers use full stack development skills to design and develop software applications for computing devices. These experts may work on anything from useful business and financial applications to computer games. Become a software developer to work for companies such as Oracle, Apple, and IBM.

DevOps Engineer

Type: Backend

Average salary: $105,008

Job outlook: 22%**

As the name indicates, DevOps engineers bridge the gap between the development and IT operations teams. Their goal is to streamline collaboration between these departments to ensure release deadlines are met. These backend developers often find jobs at companies like SAP, Verizon, and Capital One.

Mobile Developer

Type: Front End or Full Stack

Average salary: $97,097

Job outlook: 22%**

Mobile developers spend their workdays designing and creating mobile applications. This is often a front end development job, but sometimes can be full stack. Become a mobile app developer to find work at big companies such as Microsoft, Apple, and United Airlines.

Systems Engineer

Type: Backend

Average salary: $92,379

Job outlook: 7%

Systems engineers are responsible for analyzing an organization’s systems and finding better, more efficient alternatives. They also help solve issues with these systems. Large tech companies such as Cisco Systems and Apple often hire systems engineers.

Database Developer

Type: Backend

Average salary: $91,744

Job outlook: 8%

Database developers usually work as part of software development teams to ensure databases are working optimally and meeting the needs of the company. This involves designing, developing, implementing, and maintaining various databases. You can find plenty of database developer jobs at Cisco Systems, Fidelity Investments, and Accenture.

Web Project Manager

Type: Front End

Average salary: $82,132

Job outlook: 13%***

Web project managers are usually part of the web development team. These professionals lead projects and ensure everything is completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Companies such as Amazon, HubSpot, and Oracle hire many web project managers.

*Figure from the BLS report on computer and information research scientists

**Figure from the BLS report on software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers

***Figure from the BLS report on web developers and digital designers

Should I Become a Front End or Backend Developer?

If you are still torn between becoming a front end developer or a backend developer, that’s okay. It can be a difficult decision to make. Take your time to consider the different skills required for each job, the programming languages needed, and the types of jobs that will be available to you.Whichever decision you make, you are bound to start a great career. Whether you want to become a front end, backend, or full stack developer, you can get the training you need by attending one of the best online coding bootcamps to jumpstart your career in web development.

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