Frontend or Backend Web Developer? How To Make the Right Choice?
December 13th 2022
This text was fully written by humans.
SUMMARY / KEY TAKEAWAYS
The frontend is easier for the start, but the backend will allow you to understand technology on a deeper level.
Both frontend and backend require combining your programming skills with other professional skills in a skillful way.
By the rule of thumb, backend developers earn a bit more but it doesn’t man that you will be poor as a frontend developer!
You can find ton of free training options. It is not necessary to graduate from university to become a professional web developer!
Table of Contents
- Introduction: What Is an Optimal Choice For Your Career - Frontend or Backend Web Developer?
- Responsibilities of a Frontend Web Developer
- Responsibilities of a Backend Web Developer
- Frontend VS Backend Web Developer: A Multidimensional Comparison
- Necessary Programming Languages
- Necessary Skills and Personal Qualities
- Career Opportunities In the Long Run
- Earnings Comparison
- How To Start Your Professional Training For Free
- So, How To Choose? A Little Self-discovery Exercise
- How To Land Your First Job as a Developer?
- Conclusion: Frontend or Backend?
Introduction: What Is an Optimal Choice For Your Career – Frontend or Backend Web Developer?
Software development is one of the safest and most exciting career directions in IT. Virtually all hot professions in IT are more or less related to coding (as you can find out in our article “7 Hottest and Most In-Demand Jobs in IT Industry in 2023”).
However, we live in times of specialization. The market for IT specialists is different from 10 or 20 years ago. The fast development of machine learning and AI automatized many processes and eliminated the necessity for hiring jacks of all trades who can solve the simplest problems in many disciplines of software development.
Therefore, rather than being all around the place, it is better to specialize and become the top expert in one branch of software development who can take active part in building innovation. The most important choice you need to make at the beginning of your career as a developer is: frontend or backend?
Choosing between a career as a frontend developer or backend web developer can be quite a dilemma. It’s a tough decision, especially since both disciplines involve unique sets of skills and require mastering different programming languages and web technologies.
Both these roles are highly responsible, especially if the project is an app or a platform. Backend developer is responsible for the quality of the actual product, while the job of the frontend developer can decide about the eventual sales. While backend is more like cooking a dish, frontend is more like packing and selling a dish; both are crucially important for the success of the bakery.
The right choice depends on your own individual goals and interests. Some web developers are naturally better at designing user interfaces while others are naturally skilled in designing efficient algorithms, solving complex puzzles, and solving technical problems.
So, as a candidate for a web developer, which direction should you choose? In this article, we will compare two career paths along multiple dimensions, from the necessary skills and qualities, to salaries. We also provide tips for how to go through this decision point in your personal journey as a developer.
Responsibilities of a Frontend Web Developer.
Frontend web developers are an essential part of the web development team, as they bring design to life. They need to consider user experience and functionality when coding, as an attractive website is only helpful when it’s easy to navigate.
Becoming a frontend web developer requires expertise in a range of programming languages, as well as various libraries and frameworks. Additionally, a good eye for design and creativity will be necessary to stay competitive. However, once you master all these skills, your career opportunities are endless!
You can work on the site, or remotely. You can get employed or freelance. You can work in a variety of market sectors, all from large corporations to small startups. You can go work almost anywhere and with anyone.
Responsibilities of a Backend Web Developer.
A backend web developer is a professional who specializes in coding the backend software that enables web applications and websites to function correctly.
A backend developer is responsible for the “server side” of web development — the data input and management, as well as the logic behind the various components of the website, such as databases, user authentication, and computation. Work of a backend developer also has elements of business logic.
Backend developers also need to be proficient in writing code, debugging technical and algorithmic problems, and developing new solutions. They must also communicate well within the programming team, understand user needs, and implement changes as requested.
In addition, they should have strong knowledge of the best practices in web development, the latest industry trends, and testing protocols.
As a backend developer, you can be employed directly by a company to work on their web projects, or they can be freelancers on a contract to develop specific applications. Just as in the case of frontend developers, the possibilities for getting employment are almost endless.
Frontend VS Backend Web Developer: A Multidimensional Comparison.
Necessary Programming Languages.
Let’s break down the differences between a frontend and a backend development in terms of the programming languages necessary to start working.
Backend developers also use languages such as C#, Java, and Node.js to handle server-side scripting, design databases, create APIs and integrations, and to manage editing the database, computation on the data and data storage.
Necessary Skills and Personal Qualities.
Some of the key qualities and skills of a successful frontend developer include the following:
- Proficiency in jQuery and AJAX,
- Knowledge of modern web standards and protocols,
- Ability to write semantic, well-structured, reusable code,
- A good understanding of specifications of popular browsers and cross-browser compatibility,
- Knowledge of browser performance and optimization techniques,
- Visual design skills, including the ability to create graphic designs, layouts, and manipulate images,
- Empathy and understanding of user experience (UX),
- Strong problem-solving skills and debugging abilities,
- Excellent communication and collaboration skills, communication not only with the team mates but also the web page users and other stakeholders.
Here are a few of the most essential skills of the backend developer:
- Analytical thinking,
- Experience with multiple coding languages,
- Strong database management skills,
- Knowledge of frontend frameworks,
- Ability to work with Linux,
- Experience with debugging and troubleshooting, knowledge of version control,
- Experience with collaborative coding, for instance via GitHub,
- Experience with collaborative projects run via coding sprints, also known as scrum (please learn more about scrum in our article “The Basics of Project Management 1.0.1. Key Concepts: Agile, Kanban, Scrum, Waterfall”),
- Strong problem-solving skills and debugging abilities,
- Excellent communication and collaboration skills (especially when it comes to admitting that “this just can’t work”).
Career Opportunities In the Long Run.
First to say, all businesses need both front and backend developers to bring their projects to life. Therefore, you can feel confident about your career prospects no matter which path you will eventually choose.
By a rule of thumb, it is easier to start a career in frontend than in backend, and there are more open frontend roles available.
However, the best aspect of becoming a frontend developer is the long-term career prospects. With so many job opportunities, you can stay in the same role for a while or switch companies every few years to ensure your skills remain up-to-date.
Plus, with the constantly changing landscape in the IT industry, including new trends including web3 or Metaverse, the number of opportunities will only continue to grow — especially if you can marry programming with Digital Design.
Similarly, you have ton of options for growth as a backend developer. As you gain more experience, you can move up the ranks to become a software architect or a lead backend developer.
Or, you can explore opportunities in DevOps, a fast-growing area for backend developers. With DevOps, you can use your coding skills to build and maintain automated systems that can help increase a company’s efficiency and productivity.
Moreover, as a backend developer, you will gain a better, more in-depth understanding of the inner workings of the IT industry. After all, you need to understand how the algorithms work on the backstage in order to optimize them!
For this reason, as a backend developer, you can produce a real innovation. As mentioned in the introduction, backend is like cooking a dish, whereas frontend is like packing and selling the dish. Mind that the real value is in the dish itself — the rest of the job is marketing and distribution.
Moreover, as a creator of innovation, you might find yourself in a position to become a startup cofounder. While working for someone else, many backend developers come up with original ideas that later become new, successful platforms or apps.
So, if you’re looking for a long-term career path that offers stability and growth, consider becoming a backend developer! With the right skills and experience, you can have a successful, life-long career in the software engineering industry, and stay close to the heart of technological innovation.
As a rule of thumb, backend developers earn more than frontend developers. It makes perfect sense as they need more knowledge and skill at the start of their careers.
However, when it comes to earnings, it obviously depends on your skills and experience. A seasoned frontend developer could potentially make a higher salary than a less-experienced backend developer.
According to Glassdoor, an experienced frontend developer can turn $84,681 per year in their pocket in the United States. On the other hand, a backend developer with average experience can earn up to $79,909 in the United States of America.
Ultimately, the choice between frontend and backend development should come down to what interests you the most and how far you want to take your software development career.
So, don’t look at the numbers. If you love coding and want to explore server-side programming, start with the backend. If you have an eye for design and like crafting user experiences, the frontend web development could be the right path for you.
How To Start Your Professional Training For Free.
The best choice for the start is attending one of the free online courses for beginners, for instance one of the courses introduced in this article.
You can also choose to join a free coding bootcamp. Many young people are skeptical about these in-person on-site bootcamps. Why do these even exist? Well, they usually work as talent incubators where client companies can search for their next employees. This is what makes coding bootcamps profitable.
So, a coding bootcamp is certainly a safe choice, especially when you can afford a time commitment and you are motivated by other students’ presence. Plus, it can end up with landing your first job on the spot!
With all that said, remember that today, becoming a competitive front-end developer means more than just sheer web development. Today, automated services such as Wix or Squarespace offer simple web design solutions. Websites such as Framer or Dribbble offer beautiful commercial designs. We can expect that in the future, web design will get further automated.
Therefore, more than any time in the past, today, a competitive frontend developer means more than just a programmer. To get lots of career options in the long term, you should make sure that you also learn the basics of User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) design. Fortunately, there are tons of free UX design courses that you can find online, such as the courses mentioned in this article.
Some additional training in (digital) marketing would also strengthen your portfolio as a frontend developer — it will help you better understand the customer and create better customer journey on the commercial websites that you design. You can learn more about Digital Marketing in our article “White Collar Jobs in Digital Marketing: Hot or Not? On 5 Biggest Myths around Digital Marketing.”
Finding good free online training programs for backend developers is a bit harder than in case of fronted developers. The reason is because professional backend developers usually have some background preparation in mathematics: logic, statistics, combinatorics, algorithm complexity. It is hard to learn it all in just one course, and becoming fluent might take years.
Having that said, if you have any background in STEM sciences, it will probably be easier for you to retrain and jump to backend development as you already have the required background knowledge.
How to gain the necessary programming skills? To earn the technical skills required for backend development, you can follow one of the YouTube channels, such as the freeCodeCamp.org YouTube channel. They offer a ton of free courses, for instance, the free backend web development course in Python and Django.
Of course, just as in the case of frontend development, you could also consider joining a free coding bootcamp in person!
As mentioned before, in the case of backend development, it is good to pair your coding skills with at least a basic understanding of mathematics. As a starter, the free training program in Statistics and probability from Khan Academy is a fantastic choice.
So, How To Choose? A Little Self-discovery Exercise.
Both frontend and backend development involve strong programming skills. However, they require different side-skills.
Suppose you’re more of a design-focused creative thinker and visual learner who naturally understands people and their needs. In that case, frontend development may be the better choice for you.
However, if you are more technically inclined and with a sweet tooth for math, interested in building new technologies and new software, and you are comfortable with complex programming languages, backend development is a path that’s worth exploring.
To gain a better picture of which career is more appropriate for you, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- When I code, do I prefer to make things look beautiful, or rather, make them work fast and smooth?
- Is it important to me that people can see my work? Or, do I prefer working behind the scenes?
- Do I enjoy playing with numbers and learning interesting tricks in logic and mathematics?
- Do I have a natural interest in sales/marketing? Do I have a natural drive to make projects appealing, impressive, and handy to users?
- Do I have a natural taste for design? Do other people often tell me that you have a good taste?
- Would I take critics on my chest, kill the babies, and redesign my project if the client doesn’t like it?
- Do I have a formidable working memory, able to handle multiple components of a backend at a time and make sure they work in sync?
- Am I passionate about following trends in AI and machine learning?
The answers to these questions should greatly help you choose the right path!
How To Land Your First Job as a Developer?
Remember that whichever path of development you choose, and whichever course or bootcamp you go with in your training process, you should take care of your portfolio. So, create a repository of your working projects and deploy it in open access online, for instance via your GitHub account. This is the real CV for a developer!
Your portfolio will greatly help you in getting your first project or a job — technical recruiters do respect your completed courses and certificates as much as your completed projects and deliverables that you can show.
And if you peg the link to your portfolio to your LinkedIn profile, recruiters might even find you by themselves and invite you to interviews. To learn more on how to create a competitive LinkedIn profile, please find our article “10 Steps to Create an Effective LinkedIn Profile.”
You could also consider taking a trial LinkedIn Premium account as it will give you access to over 15,000 LinkedIn Learning courses that end with certificates that you can peg straight to your LinkedIn account.
Regardless of your choice, sheer professional skills are not enough as it is easy to get skipped in the online buzz and the hiring process is often chaotic. Especially now, when we expect recession and many IT companies lay off their staff.
Remember that networking is always essential to get jobs, particularly as a newbie. To find out more about the principles of professional networking, please find our articles “10 Good Reasons To Build Efficient Networking Strategies and Treat Networking as a Mindset” and “Top 11 Rules For Effective Networking on LinkedIn.”
Conclusion: Frontend or Backend?
To sum up, the frontend is easier for the start, but the backend will allow you to understand technology on a deeper level. In either case, you don’t need to attend university to become a professional as software development is one of the areas of the job market where you don’t need a university degree.
Please find more information about such professions in our article “High Paying Jobs Without Degree: How To Start a Career Without Higher Education?“
While training for a developer, please also remember that “pure” frontend or backend doesn’t even exist anymore. Ever since cloud platforms such as AWS or Azure have become popular, they changed software development forever.
There is no such thing as a “backend cloud” or “frontend cloud” — the whole computation process is tangled together. Therefore, whatever direction you choose, it is best to at least lick the other side of software development.
Moreover, once you successfully become either a frontend- or a backend developer, you can plan your further career development and embark on a path to become a full-stack developer. As the name suggests, full-stack developers are one who can handle both sides of the process.
As such, a full-stack developer can single handedly build the whole website, from head to toes. No need to mention that full-stack developers are highly wanted and respected in the IT industry.
On your career path, you should also think about further specialization to become the top expert and build your personal brand in your field of expertise.
For instance, as a backend developer, you can think of specializing in blockchain development or security systems. Or, as a frontend developer, you can narrow down your interests to eCommerce or mobile development.
Lastly, remember that becoming a developer is a relatively lonely path. You will need to spend hundreds, or even thousands of hours on your own, learning how to write efficient code. You need to motivate yourself along the way.
The best way to find yourself a peer group of enthusiasts who are also not their way to learn. Plus, find idols or role models (such as, for example, Steve Wozniak) to follow and read their biographies.
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