What Does a Back-End Developer Do?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A back-end developer writes code that forms the backbone of a website or app. Learn more about this career field and how to get started.

[Featured Image] A back-end developer in a blue shirt and blazer works on a laptop in an open office space.

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of a website? How, exactly, does clicking on a button take you to a different page? And where does your personal information go when you sign up for a free trial? 

Back-end developers are the experts who build and maintain the mechanisms that process data and perform actions on websites. Unlike front-end developers, who control everything you can see on a website, back-end developers are involved in data storage, security, and other server-side functions that you cannot see.

Since the late 80s and 90s, the internet has transformed the way humans access information, and web development has continued to evolve. Its central importance to our digital world means web developers are in high demand. Fortunately, anyone can learn the technical skills needed to be front-end, back-end, or full-stack (both front- and back-end) developers.

What is back-end development?

Back-end development means working on server-side software, which focuses on everything you can’t see on a website. Back-end developers ensure the website performs correctly, focusing on databases, back-end logic, application programming interface (APIs), architecture, and servers. They use code that helps browsers communicate with databases, store, understand, and delete data.

On a team, back-end developers collaborate with front-end developers, product managers, principal architects, and website testers to build the structure of a website or mobile app. Back-end developers must be familiar with many kinds of tools and frameworks, including languages such as Python, Java, and Ruby. They make sure the back-end performs quickly and responsively to front-end user requests.

Back-end developer vs. back-end engineer

Back-end developers and engineers have similar technical skills, but different responsibilities. A back-end developer is like a teacher, whereas a back-end engineer is like a school principal who creates the big-picture strategy. Back-end developers tend to focus on smaller parts of the whole, such as applications and programs, working with teams to prove their design methods are viable. 


Back-end developer tasks and responsibilities

Back-end developers are required to have technical expertise, analytical thinking, and excellent collaboration skills. As a back-end web developer, you should be able to work independently to design the web infrastructure. 

Here’s what many back-end developers do on a day-to-day basis:

  • Build and maintain websites: A back-end developer’s main responsibility is to use various tools, frameworks, and languages to determine how best to develop intuitive, user-friendly prototypes and turn them into websites. This requires an understanding of cross-platform functionality and compatibility.

  • Write high-quality code: To produce sustainable web applications, developers must write clean and easily maintainable code.

  • Perform quality assurance (QA) testing: Create and oversee testing schedules to optimize user interface and experience, ensuring optimal display on various browsers and devices.

  • Assess efficiency and speed: Once a website is up and running, and during updates and edits, developers need to assess its performance and scalability, adjusting code as necessary.

  • Troubleshoot and debug: Be able to troubleshoot issues and resolve them, while communicating them to project managers, stakeholders, and QA teams.

  • Train and support: Maintain workflows with client teams to ensure ongoing support, along with leading training and mentorship for junior developers.

Is back-end development for me?

If you enjoy learning programming languages and using technological tools to build high-quality back-end applications, then a career in web development might be a good fit for you. Learn the basics with an Introduction to Web Development class offered by University of California Irvine on Coursera.



Introduction to Web Development

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What tools do back-end developers use?

Web developers use a variety of tools to develop, test, and maintain web applications. Some common tools for back-end developers include:

  • Programming languages:

  • Frameworks:

    • Laravel

    • Django

    • Spring

    • Ruby on Rails

    • Meteor

    • Node.js

  • Databases:

    • MongoDB

    • MySQL

    • Oracle

  • Servers:

    • Apache

    • NGINX

    • Lighttpd

    • Microsoft IIS

Expert tip from an engineer

Although all of these tools can be useful, it's more important to find the right tools for your specific job tasks. "Debugging is one of the things I have to regularly do in my job, and one tool I cannot live without for such tasks is the browser Developer Tools," says Murtadha Al-Tameemi, a software engineer at Meta. "Getting familiar with these tools and knowing how to wield them have saved me countless hours and helped me get more efficient at my job."


Back-end developer salary and job outlook

The estimated median base pay for a back-end web developer in the US is $82,462 as of October 2022, according to Glassdoor [1]. Indeed reports an average base salary of $95,472 [2]. This can vary depending on your location, your seniority, and other factors.

Back-end developers are in high demand. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), web developer positions are expected to grow by 23 percent between 2021 and 2031 [3].

How to become a back-end developer?

There are many paths you can take to become a web developer. Whether you are a recent graduate or hoping to switch careers, it is important to assess what transferable skills you already have and consider building the new skills needed to pursue a back-end developer role. 

Back-end developer technical skills

As a back-end developer, there are certain technical skills you will need to learn to navigate developing the back-end of the web or mobile application.  

  • Programming languages: Any back-end developer needs to be well-versed in back-end programming languages such as Python, Java, and PHP. These make the website function when used alongside databases, frameworks, and servers. Python is one of the most popular programming languages because it is compatible with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, and works well for writing clear and logical code. Basic knowledge of front-end languages HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is a bonus.

  • Frameworks: Frameworks are the libraries of back-end programming languages that help to build the server configuration. They tend to be linked with programming languages, so if you are familiar with Python, you’ll also know Flask, Django, or another Python-based framework, and so on.

  • Databases and servers: You’ll need to understand how to stack and recover data from databases, as back-end programming controls access to this information, including storage and recovery. MongoDB and MySQL are popular database programs. The database stores and organizes the client’s data so that it can be easily arranged and recovered, just like you might use cloud storage for your photos. This database then runs on a server that provides data upon request.

  • Application Program Interface (API): An API is a series of definitions and rules for developing application software. In addition to internet browser websites, companies often want a mobile app for iOS or Android. Knowledge of application-building languages like JavaScript will expand your job opportunities. 

  • Accessibility and security clearance: You should develop knowledge of network protocols and web security. Knowing how to secure databases and servers will be critical to your success as a back-end developer.

If you are interested in the cloud, consider enrolling in IBM’s Full-Stack Cloud Developer professional certificate for the full gamut of cloud-specific technologies. Guided by IBM experts, you will learn how to build cloud-based applications, understand front-end languages like HTML and CSS, back-end languages and frameworks like Express, Node.js, Python, and Django, and much more. These are foundational tools whether or not you decide to apply for cloud-related jobs.


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Back-end developer workplace skills

Alongside technical skills, these workplace skills will enable you to work more efficiently, effectively, and seamlessly with team members.

  • Communication: A back-end web developer needs to thoroughly understand the engineer’s vision in order to execute it. Strong written and conversation skills will help you communicate any ideas and troubleshoot with team members and stakeholders. 

  • Problem-solving and analytical thinking: You will need to find creative solutions when developing a web or mobile app, such as debugging code and revising it without crashing the entire site. As a developer, you should be able to analyze why a portion of code does or does not work, and anticipate and prevent errors.

  • Industry knowledge: Holistic understanding of the tech industry is always helpful to keep up with overall economic trends as well as updates to languages and platforms. To brush up, look into blogs, forums, news, and books related to web and app development.

Do I need a degree to become a back-end developer?

While you do not necessarily need a degree to pursue a career as a back-end developer, approximately 69 percent of web developers earned a bachelor’s degree [4]. The most common degree is computer science, especially since back-end development requires mining data and writing abstract algorithms. Pursuing a degree in software engineering or data science are also appropriate. 


Read more: 4 Common Back-End Developer Interview Questions

Develop with Coursera

Build job-ready back-end development skills with the Meta Back-End Developer professional certificate, and earn a credential from Meta.

Another good option is the Responsive Website Development and Design specialization from the University of London, where you'll learn the basics of modern full-stack web development and how to create the best user experience on multiple devices.

If you are more interested in brushing up on a specific skill, consider the Python for Everybody specialization offered by the University of Michigan. 


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Article sources


Glassdoor. "How much does a Backend Developer make?, www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/backend-developer-salary-SRCH_KO0,17.htm." Accessed October 24, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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