If you’re an aspiring programmer and curious about how information gets from distant servers to a browser on your computer, a career as a back-end developer or back-end engineer might be for you! In this role, you’ll enable the communication between web browsers and information from databases, working with concepts like data models, server-side scripting, and software architecture.
There are several good reasons to consider a back-end specialization:
Just like any new career, becoming a back-end developer is a process that begins with some research and self-awareness. If you’re wondering where to start, we’ve prepared a roadmap.
You may feel uncertain or have concerns about the challenges ahead as you start working toward your goal, but rest assured. This roadmap will:
Every career path is unique, and some information we present may not apply to you. Additionally, we’ll address some questions that are hard to answer definitively. But in the end, we hope you’ll have greater clarity about what lies ahead.
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Let’s get one thing out of the way: individual paths to software engineering careers vary. Previous education, training, and experience will all factor into how you reach your goal. But most back-end developers have completed certain steps on their way to landing a job (as have most software engineers). Next, we’ll review these steps and estimate how long most of them will take.
Before you commit to this goal, make sure you know what it means to work on back-end development vs front-end development. These two disciplines work together to improve the functionality of websites and web applications, but they’re responsible for different things in the development process. In a nutshell, front-end developers focus on the user interface (UI) and client-side functionality of web apps. Back-end developers specialize in the structure and server-side operations of applications, including data management and internal systems. Full-stack developers handle both sets of responsibilities.
All three types of developers need to know some basic technologies, but each specialty also requires specific expertise. We’ll discuss these skills and other requirements for becoming a back-end developer later in this article.
Research and planning will form the starting point of your journey. You can start figuring out how you want to arrive at your goal by asking yourself a fundamental question: How do you want to get your education? Whether you pursue a computer science degree or take an alternate route, you’ll need to learn new skills and information to become a back-end developer. Many employers still prefer candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree in CS or a related field. But you don’t necessarily need such a degree to get a job. In addition to bootcamps, other avenues include earning a college certificate or studying independently.
Note: Paths outside of academia usually provide preparation for less senior roles to begin, like junior or associate developer.
We’re not going to estimate how long this process will take. You’ll want to do your due diligence while researching and planning. The decisions you make will determine how the rest of your roadmap unfolds, starting with the next step of the process: getting an education.
As noted earlier, you can earn a degree in computer science or find an alternative path. But you will need to educate yourself. Let’s look at your options and summarize the advantages and disadvantages.
Typical time investment
Bachelor's degree + Master's degree in CS or related field
4 years + 2 years
Bachelor's degree in CS or related field
Associate's degree + bachelor's degree in CS or related field
2 years + 2 years
Full-time coding bootcamp
1 to 2 years
12 weeks to several years
This step may seem problematic: Employers generally want back-end developers with proven experience in the field, but how can you find real-world opportunities if you’re just starting out?
Fortunately, you can make yourself stand out to employers and get that first role by:
Degree or bootcamp programs will often help you search for projects like these, but you will have to be proactive if you’re on your own. Try reading about:
If you keep track of your accomplishments as you go, you’ll start building a portfolio, which will be invaluable when you look for jobs.
Time estimate: Getting this experience may take several months, though you could pursue some of these efforts during your studies.
Want to stand out to potential employers? Consider earning a certification. Of course, some providers want to see some previous experience in software development, so this step may need to wait until later.
Some relevant certifications for back-end developers are:
Time estimate: Gaining pre-requisite experience may require several years. You’ll also have to plan time for exam preparation, and that will vary based on the certification you’re pursuing.
Starting your job search well-prepared will pay off. Before applying for your first position, you should:
Time estimate: Plan to spend a few weeks to a few months on this step.
By this point you’ve accomplished a lot, so give yourself some kudos, and then jump into your job search. Websites like Indeed, Glassdoor, Dice, ZipRecruiter, etc., will help you research and apply for open positions. You should also track your applications in a spreadsheet or other document.
Time estimate: Given current hiring freezes at tech companies, you may not get quick responses after you apply. Even if companies get back to you right away, you should still expect a couple of months of applying and interviewing. Interviews for developer jobs often consist of several rounds over four to six weeks. If you encounter rejection, take heart. Many developers before you have dealt with prolonged job searches. Besides, the more you interview, the easier this process will become.
Getting a back-end developer job can take three months to six years, depending on:
If you already have some technical skills, experience, and a degree in computer science or a related field, you might find employment within a few months of starting to look if demand is strong. Otherwise, you might need several years to complete more education, get real-world exposure, and build your skills before you land a role, especially if demand is weaker.
As we’ve noted, your education choices will have a clear impact on your career timeline. It’s worth noting that employers may be more likely to expect candidates for back-end developer roles to have a CS degree than might be the case for front-end roles, so factor that in. (It’s also worth pointing out that this isn’t always the case! Bootcamp grads and self-taught developers also get hired to back-end positions.)
You’ll probably spend a few weeks to a month preparing for your job search, so plan for that, as well as meeting certain requirements for becoming a back-end developer.
Becoming a back-end developer will require education, experience, and a technical skillset, all of which will vary based on your background and aspirations.
You’ll need to learn about software engineering, as we noted earlier. A bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field will be expected by some employers. But bootcamps, certificate programs, and self-study will also prepare you for some roles.
The seniority of the role you’re trying to land will influence how much time in the field you’ll be expected to have. Many companies prefer back-end developer candidates to have multiple years of hands-on experience. But if you’re just starting out, try the following approaches to building experience and boosting your chances of success:
You’ll acquire technical skills through your education and professional experience. But it’s important to continue learning back-end developer skills independently. To specialize in this area, you’ll definitely require certain specific knowledge, like basic web development skills and back-end languages. Here are some of the basics commonly expected of back-end developer candidates:
As you gain experience, you’ll likely want to go beyond the basics to stand out and advance in your career. Here are some other skills and concepts relevant to back-end development:
Finally, rounding out your profile with certain intangible qualities will help you launch your career. These six characteristics are borderline requirements if you want to excel as a developer:
Like many best-paying jobs in tech, back-end developer jobs can pay well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay in the United States for web developers (a category that includes back-end developers) in 2020 was $77,200 per year ($37.12 per hour). If that seems low, keep in mind that back-end development applies not only to web development, but also to the more general area of software development. According to the BLS, the median pay for software engineers in 2020 was $110,140 per year ($52.95 per hour). Because these are median figures, your actual salary or wage could be higher or lower.
Of course, the BLS data might not reveal the full compensation picture. In the United States, the total estimated pay for a web developer in 2022 is $111,020 per year, according to the jobs website Glassdoor. That number is based on an average salary of $72,476, with cash bonuses, commissions, and profit sharing making up the remaining compensation.
Whatever level you start at, keep in mind that back-end developer jobs have plenty of room for compensation growth.
Demand is also important to consider. This can be measured by the number of jobs available. The BLS projects that web developer jobs will grow 13 percent from 2020 to 2030 in the United States, faster than the average for all occupations. Meanwhile, the BLS projects that software engineering jobs will grow 22 percent in that span, which is much faster than the average. You can also gauge demand by searching for back-end developer jobs on Indeed, Glassdoor, Dice, ZipRecruiter, etc., to see what’s available in your geographic area, though this is a less scientific approach. At Glassdoor, you’ll also find salary estimates for companies based on anonymous reports from employees.
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By now, you should have greater clarity about what it takes to become a back-end developer: the time commitment, the skills required, and the earning potential. If this knowledge has persuaded you to take the next step, you can start by creating a career plan.
After making your plan, it’ll be time to start learning. Whether you pursue a credential or not, you’ll need technical skills training, and Educative provides interactive instruction for all levels of learners.
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