Interested in a career in backend development?
Backend developers are in incredibly high demand—companies like Google and Apple are hungry to recruit them—and they’re paid generously. That said, if you’re new to the field and wanting to learn about backend development, it can be difficult to know how to get started.
A successful career in backend development requires a knowledge of coding languages, algorithms, and a wide variety of programming tools. Not every backend web dev career will require the same skillset, but there are some skills you should have at least a passing familiarity with. There are also some fundamentals that are important to know no matter what you’re doing.
Here are our top ten skills you need to become a backend developer, whether you’re pursuing it full-time or getting your toes wet.
1. Backend Programming Languages
In order to be a good backend developer, you need to speak the language, and when it comes to programming, language is everything.
Programming languages are how developers communicate with computers to execute instructions and implement algorithms. Many of the outputs you want as a backend developer have to go through the use of a language, and there are several languages that are helpful to learn. Three of the most common are Java, Python, and PHP.
Java is a general purpose programming language used by backend developers for application development and is the foundation of the Lambda School Enterprise Backend Development program. It’s one of the most important programming languages to master as a backend developer. It’s the basis for the backends of companies like Amazon, Uber, and Netflix.
Java is used to create complete applications that run on a single computer or that may be distributed among a network’s servers and clients. It can also be used to build small application modules for web pages. Java automates garbage collection and memory management, and it allows users to safely modify a program while it’s running.
Java is a portable, high-performance language used specifically for object-oriented programming. Its syntax is easy to learn. It’s also highly scalable.
Python is another critical language for backend developers, and is popular partly because it’s relatively simple to use and to read. The simplicity of Python’s syntax allows users to work more easily with intricate systems, and it makes it easier for different developers working on the same project to communicate with each other. Python also supports a wide variety of programming styles, including procedural, object-oriented, and functional styles, which makes it one of the more versatile backend languages. It also has exceptional data visualizations, which provide users with clear and easy-to-understand reports. Like Java, its syntax is easy to learn.
PHP is used by 79% of all websites whose server-side programming we know of. Unlike Python and Java, PHP (or Hypertext Preprocessor) is a scripting language, which automates tasks for developers. PHP interprets programming instructions (among other things) to automate routine processes and improve an application’s performance.
As a backend developer, you should have a grasp of several languages and be a master of at least one. We’ve chosen to base our Enterprise Backend Development program on Java because Java is the most commonly used backend language for large enterprise-wide projects.
2. Knowledge of Popular Frameworks
Once you have a preferred language, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the frameworks associated with that language. A web framework is designed to support the development of a web application. It essentially provides a foundation on which backend developers can build specific programs using their language of choice.
If your preferred language is Java, you might use Spring or Micronaut. If your preferred language is Python, you might use Django or Flask as your framework.
3. Data Structures and Algorithms
Backend development is data-driven, and as a backend developer, you’ll want to have a basic understanding of the processes, structures, and algorithms used to implement and display that data. Some of these include linear and binary search, hashcode implementations, data sorting, stacks, queue, and lists.
4. Databases and Cache
Adjacent to data structures are database management systems. Databases are what websites use to store and organize large amounts of information, and database management systems (or DBMSes) are how developers make use of that information.
A few common database management systems that are good for backend developers to be familiar with are:
All of these tools are used to handle large amounts of data, and they also use cache for individual users’ small data.
HTML (or Hypertext Markup Language) is essentially the skeleton of a website: everything you see on the frontend is made possible because HTML gives it its structure.
CSS (or Cascading Style Sheets) is a style sheet language used to describe the presentation of a document written in HTML. CSS deals with things like a site’s colors, layouts, and fonts.
6. Familiarity with Servers
Backend development is all server-side development, which makes knowledge about servers pretty important. A server is a computer or system that provides data, resources, and services like file storage, security, and databases, to other computers or clients over a network. Some of the most popular servers are Apache, NGINX, and Microsoft. Most of these servers support Linux operating systems, so knowing the basics of Linux is also extremely helpful.
7. Knowledge of APIs
APIs have become an increasingly important aspect of backend development. An API (or Application Programming Interface) is an interface that allows different applications to talk to each other. When you use your phone to order something from Amazon, for example, you’re actually connecting to Amazon using an API. APIs play an important role in the creation of server-side architectures, sometimes replacing more complex and complicated programming to allow software to communicate.
8. Version Control and Version Control Systems
Version control is an important component of backend development, because it allows you to keep track of the changes made to a website, computer program, or document over time. That’s why knowledge of a version control system like Git is helpful. Through a version control system, you can easily access, edit, and restore code.
Backend development can be challenging, and that makes it an ideal career path for people who love problem solving. In a lot of ways, you can consider a backend developer to be the problem solver for a website, so curiosity and a passion for fixing problems are important skills to have as you begin.
10. Good communication and interpersonal skills
While there are opportunities to work independently in backend web development, it’s still important to develop strong soft skills like good communication and the ability to work in team settings.
Backend development often requires working closely with frontend developers as well as a whole team of people to ensure a site is functioning at full capacity, so having good communication skills is important.
Learn backend web development
If you feel overwhelmed, we don’t blame you—there are a lot of skills to keep track of, especially if you’re learning on your own. Fortunately, future coders looking for an affordable, structured, and accessible way to learn backend development can find it right here at Lambda School.
This fall, we’re launching our first ever immersive backend development program, co-created with Amazon. Taught by experts in the field, this course will give you strong programming skills, including Java, data structures and algorithms, and software engineering as well as everything else you need to know to become a backend pro. We’ll also give you the skills and network you need to begin an awesome backend development career when you graduate.
This course is not for the coding faint of heart—your work will be challenging—but it is designed specifically to get you out of your comfort zone and make you an excellent hire for a backend development position. Ready to get started? Learn more about our upcoming Backend Development program and how we prepare you for the job market.