How to Become a Backend Developer in 2023: Top 12 Skills
As a backend developer, I have firsthand experienced the booming opportunities in this field.
It's challenging and at the same time inspiring.
Creating the backbone of an application and making an impact on the user's life is an achievement on its own.
In this article, I will tell you all about how to become a backend developer who can create, innovate and solve problems.
I'll be covering the following points:
- What is a backend developer?
- What does a backend developer do?
- Backend vs frontend developer
- What are the skills required to become a backend developer?
- How to become a backend developer?
- How to prepare for a backend developer interview?
Let’s dive right in with the basics and understand what is a backend developer and what do they do.
What is a backend developer?
While browsing a website, ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes?
How a click takes you to your desired page?
The credit goes to the backend functionalities that enable the website to work seamlessly.
Backend developers make sure everything works behind the scenes so that you can enjoy your favourite websites and apps without a hitch.
You don’t see or interact with the functions, but it's there, always running.
By backend, I mean the server side of functions.
It includes writing APIs, creating libraries and working with system components.
Backend developers are actively involved in maintaining databases, servers, security and other back-end processes.
They are the ones who take care of all the heavy lifting so that the frontend developers can focus on making things look pretty.
Like right now, you are here on the website, reading this blog, the texts, images, and buttons are all a part of the frontend.
Now when you click a certain button, through backend processes, you are redirected to your desired area.
What does a backend developer do?
As a backend developer, you have to ensure that whatever data or services are requested by the frontend are delivered.
Let's break down the responsibilities of a backend developer.
🟢 Server Management:
One of the most important responsibilities of a backend developer is to manage servers. You have to ensure that the servers are up and running and that they can handle the traffic to the website or application.
🟢 Database Management:
Backend developers are also responsible for managing databases. They design and optimise databases to store and retrieve information efficiently.
🟢 API Development:
APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, allow different applications to communicate and share data with each other. As a backend developer, you’ll be responsible for developing and maintaining APIs.
Knowledge of APIs will definitely open up more opportunities for you.
Security is a top priority for any website or application.
Backend developers ensure that the website or application is secure and that no breach of data happens by implementing proper security measures.
🟢 Performance Optimisation:
They also focus on performance optimisation. They ensure that the website or application is running efficiently and that the load time is minimal.
They are responsible for testing the functionality of the website or application and ensure that everything is working as expected.
If there are any issues or bugs in the website or application, it's the responsibility of the backend developer to find and fix them.
As the website or application grows, it should be capable of handling the increased traffic. Backend developers ensure that the website or application is scalable and can handle the increased load.
Backend developers work closely with other members of the development team, such as frontend developers and project managers, to ensure that the website or application meets all requirements.
🟢 Research and Development:
Finally, backend developers are always researching and learning about new technologies and techniques to improve the website or application.
These are some of the main responsibilities of a backend developer.
Backend vs frontend developer
Now, we know that web development has two parts, backend and frontend.
But before getting into the difference, let me tell you that both of them are equally important for the functioning of the website.
They are the yin and yang of the website or application.
Without a frontend developer, a website or application would look boring.
Without a backend developer, a website or application simply wouldn't work.
First, let's talk about frontend development.
Frontend developers are responsible for creating the user interface that you see on a website or application.
Backend developers work with servers, databases, and other technical aspects to ensure that the website or application functions properly.
For example, imagine you're using a weather app. The frontend developer is the one who designed the layout of the app, chose the colours and fonts, and made sure that the app is easy to use.
Now, the backend developer is the one who built the server that provides the weather data for the app.
They also designed the database that stores the weather data and created the API that allows the frontend developer to access that data.
In simple terms, the frontend is focused on the visual aspects where the user will be interacting with the website putting down a request.
While the backend is focused on the logic that’ll complete the action taken by the user to deliver the information.
What are the skills required to become a backend developer?
Having a good set of backend developer skills will define your career in this domain. Here I am listing the top 12 skills required to become a backend developer.
🔶 Programming Languages:
As a backend developer, it's important to have a solid understanding of programming languages such as Python, Ruby, Java, or PHP.
These languages are used to build the backend architecture and functionality of a website or application.
Backend developers also need to be familiar with databases and how to use them effectively to store, manage, and access data.
Some common database management systems include MySQL, PostgreSQL, and MongoDB.
🔶 API Development:
APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are essential backend developer skills for connecting the frontend and backend of a website or application.
Backend developers need to know how to create, test, and manage APIs to ensure that the website or application functions properly.
Understand the basics of developing RESTful APIs using a framework like Express or Flask.
🔶 Server Management:
Backend developers are responsible for managing the servers that run a website or application. This involves ensuring that the servers are properly configured, secured, and maintained.
Security is a critical concern for any website or application.
Backend developers need to be able to identify and address security vulnerabilities, implement security best practices, and ensure that the website or application is secure from potential attacks.
Understand security protocols like SSL/TLS, encryption, and hashing to ensure the safety of sensitive data.
🔶 Web Architecture:
Backend developers need to be knowledgeable about web architecture, including HTTP protocols, web servers, and web hosting.
This knowledge helps them design and build the backend infrastructure of a website or application.
🔶 Testing and Debugging:
Backend developers need to be skilled in testing and debugging to ensure that the backend of a website or application is functioning properly.
This involves using tools and techniques to identify and fix any issues that arise.
Learn debugging and testing techniques to identify and resolve issues in your code. Familiarise yourself with tools like PHPUnit, Pytest, or JUnit.
🔶 Version Control:
Version control is essential for managing changes to code and collaborating with other developers.
Backend developers should be familiar with version control tools such as Git (a version control system that allows you to manage and collaborate on code), and know how to use them effectively.
🔶 Object-Oriented Programming:
Object-oriented programming (OOP) is a programming paradigm that involves organising code into reusable objects.
Backend developers need to be proficient in OOP principles and be able to use them effectively in their code.
🔶 Performance Optimisation:
Now, backend developers need to be able to optimise the performance of a website or application by identifying and addressing bottlenecks in the backend infrastructure.
This involves analysing server logs, optimising database queries, and other techniques. Understand caching techniques like Memcached or Redis to improve the performance of your application.
🔶 Collaboration and Communication:
Can you ever complete a list of skills required without mentioning communication skills?
Backend developers are a crucial pillar of the development team.
This makes it very important to have good communication and collaboration skills.
You’ll need to actively collaborate with frontend developers, project managers, and other stakeholders.
Good communication skills are essential for working on complex projects and ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
Developers are not just programmers, they are problem solvers too.
This job is not all about coding. Whatever system runs in the background of a website or application is based on logical reasoning.
You need to be flexible, and adaptable to build efficient and scalable applications.
Don’t get intimidated by seeing all these backend developer skills, start with one skill at a time.
If you are just starting in this field, I’d recommend focusing on server-side language, database management and web development frameworks.
Afterwards, you can move forward with other skills like version control, RESTful API development, debugging, and testing.
Keep learning and practising, you’ll eventually get better at everything.
How to become a backend developer?
Now that we have discussed the basics, let's move on ahead with the main part of the article.
What are the steps you should take to become a backend developer?
1. Get a relevant qualification:
I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science.
A degree in information technology, software engineering, or a similar field can also be helpful.
Essentially, there is no fixed or specific qualification required, but a formal degree may give you an upper hand while looking for jobs.
But by no means, this is the only way to become a backend developer.
Gaining skills through coding bootcamps, online courses, and real-world experience can also help you in this career.
What's most important is having a strong understanding of programming concepts and the ability to write clean and efficient code.
If you have a passion for coding, go ahead and start your journey. There are tons of qualified individuals out there who succeeded without a formal degree.
3. Get your basics right with Data Structures & Algorithms:
Before moving on to choosing a language and its related framework, get a basic understanding of data structures and algorithms.
Don’t skip the basics like stacks, queues, linked lists, graphs, trees, hashing, sorting, etc. It's the core of programming.
2. Learn a programming language:
Start with learning one programming language.
Choose a backend developer language that has a large community, is in high demand, and is well-documented.
While there are many, some are more popular than others such as Python, Java, Ruby and PHP.
You have to be patient here, learning a language is not something that you can achieve overnight.
Also, if you want to learn more than one language, go for it.
The more the merrier.
3. Get familiar with databases:
As a backend developer, databases are your friend. You'll be working with them a lot.
MySQL and PostgreSQL are popular relational databases, while MongoDB is a popular NoSQL database.
It's important to have a good understanding of how to design and implement databases, as well as how to write queries to retrieve and update data.
Familiarise yourself with at least one database management system.
Focus on SQL, which is a standard language for querying databases.
4. Learn a web framework:
Learning a framework is a great idea if you want to want to code efficiently.
These frameworks can help you build web applications faster and more efficiently.
A web framework lets you create code templates so that you can reuse them and save time. Hence, not every time you’ll have to create chunks of code.
Your framework will depend on the programming language you are selecting.
If you're learning Python, Django and Flask are popular web frameworks to focus on. If you're learning Ruby, you should look into Ruby on Rails.
If you're learning Java, Spring and Hibernate are good choices.
Gradually, introduce yourself to the latest frameworks and opt for pi-shaped learning as I did.
5. Practice, practice, practice:
Being in this industry for 5+ years and managing a team of 15 developers, I still make sure that 60% of my time goes in hands-on.
As a developer, no matter the years of experience, you should be able to write scalable codes.
And this comes with practice. Practise it daily to make it a habit.
To understand what goes on behind the scenes, you need practical experience. All that learning will go to waste if you are not applying it.
Take up small projects or assignments and apply what you’ve learned and gradually work your way up to more complex ones. With this, you can find areas that need improvement.
Another way to gain real-world experience is to contribute to open-source projects, also can be a great addition to your portfolio.
6. Create something:
In this field it is extremely important to stand out.
You know a lot of people will be competing with you for the job.
But if you have created something, have worked on a unique idea, it is safe to say that you will be rewarded.
So get your brain gears going and think about it.
To start, you can work on existing softwares, maybe clone them or modify them. After that, you can work on your unique idea.
Add it to your portfolio and see the magic happen.
7. Understand hosting:
Hosting means deploying your website or application on a server so that it can be accessed by users all over the internet.
You can deploy your project either on a dedicated managed server or a cloud cloud-based hosting service like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), or Microsoft Azure to host your application.
Hosting is an important backend developer skill. By mastering hosting, you can ensure that your web application or API is always available and accessible to your users.
Hence learn how to deploy, configure and ensure that it's secure and scalable.
8. Build a resume and portfolio
Before applying for the job or internship, go through the job description to understand the backend developer skills the company is looking for.
You can also take the relevant keyword ideas and make sure that they are listed in your resume.
Also, knowing about the company is a bonus.
As a beginner, you may or may not have work experience to show.
Hence, focus on highlighting your best projects and achievements.
Include a link to your portfolio in your resume so that recruiters can see your work.
It will also deem you capable of handling backend projects.
Don’t forget to tailor your resume depending on different companies to increase your chances of hearing back.
9. Stay up-to-date with new technologies:
There is always going to be something new to talk about in this industry.
With a new release or a new update, you have to keep up with the trends.
Personally, I follow developer blogs and also have a couple of youtube channels in my playlist.
They are my go-to sources to know about the latest technologies or the latest frameworks that are introduced.
Apart from these, I also go through top engineering companies’ blogs like Google, Microsoft, etc. to stay in touch with the latest design practices. Hackernews and subreddits are other great sources of information,
10. Gain some experience:
Once your fundamentals are strong enough, go and gain some work experience.
Do a few internships to get a hang of the work that you’ll have to do. This will also help set your expectations right.
LinkedIn is a great place to look for jobs or internships.
Company portals are another option, if you are targeting MAANG, research the requirements for a backend developer beforehand and plan your preparation accordingly.
11. Be optimistic:
Finally, stay positive.
If you are persistent and direct your efforts in the right direction, nothing will go in vain.
You will be facing challenges but remember to enjoy the process and stay motivated by your passion for coding.
How to prepare for a backend developer interview?
Apart from working on the backend developer skills and your portfolio, here are some things that I’d like to share to help make the interview preparation easier.
✅ Review the job description
First up on the list is checking the required qualifications, skills and experience the company is looking for.
If you are already targeting a few companies, just list down the important details from their job description.
This way you can put your focus on things and will streamline your preparation.
For example, Amazon asks for proficiency in SQL and data modelling skills for a backend developer. Now that you know this, you can work on learning the same.
Also, don't forget to learn about the company, its culture, goals, and vision.
✅ Practise coding religiously
This is the area where I’ll say try to give your best.
Usually, there are 2-3 or even more coding rounds during interviews.
You can find many resources online, such as Codecademy, HackerRank, LeetCode, and others to practice coding. They also host coding challenges, participate in those and challenge yourself.
Here a list of top 5 tips to crack your coding interviews.
With time, you’ll be able to find the common patterns in the data structures and algorithms used in the backend development.
✅ Get familiar with the technology
Research the tools and frameworks used by your target company/companies such as programming languages, databases, web servers, cloud services, etc. that are used.
After that, you can start exploring and building projects using these technologies.
✅ Prepare for the system design round
System design may or may not be present for an entry-level position.
But to become a backend developer with strong foundational skills, having the knowledge will be an advantage.
Focus on the fundamentals of system design such as client-server architecture, RESTful APIs, and database scaling techniques.
After that, you can start by designing simple systems like a blog page or an e-commerce website.
✅ Be ready to talk about previous work or projects
You will be getting questions related to information mentioned in your resume - your roles and responsibilities, your projects and your learnings.
Your problem-solving and communication skills will be assessed. Practice it. Be honest with your answers and open to feedback.
✅ Don’t skip practising for the HR/Behavioural round
Soft skills also have a great impact on making the selection decision.
This round is to see if you are a good culture fit and have the relevant interpersonal skills.
For example, Amazon has their Bar Raiser Round, and Google has Googleyness.
Along with coding questions, prepare for the behavioural interview round too.
You can find company-specific and role-specific questions on websites like Glassdoor, Indeed, etc.
Remember, the most important thing in an interview is to show your willingness to learn and your enthusiasm about this role.
Sometimes, it's okay to not know the answers, you can ask the interviewers for guidance.
Wrapping it up
I hope you got valuable insights on how to become a backend developer now that we have reached the end of the article.
From backend skills to backend responsibilities, I have covered all the major things.
As a lead engineer who has worked at Amazon I can assure you that there is a lot of personal and professional growth in this domain.
So, if you are moving forward, I want you to give your best during preparation.
Be persistent, keep learning, and never give up.
And if you stumble, you can get in touch with me. I am ready to share the learnings that I gained in these 5+ years of my professional life with you.
If you still have doubts, connect with me.
Let us get on a free 30-minute call and discuss your pain points and their possible solutions.
We can work together to help you overcome your challenges and achieve your goals. 🚀