4 Common Back-End Developer Interview Questions

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

As companies expect to fill thousands of new web development jobs over the upcoming years, there will be many opportunities for a back-end developer to interview for a position on an exciting and innovative team—plan ahead and be prepared.

[Featured image] A woman applying for a back-end developer job shakes hands with a hiring manager standing next to a desk in a brightly lit office.

You may have a portfolio filled with great website projects you’ve completed. These examples of your work may have excellent navigability, speed, and functionality. However, it's also crucial to be prepared to answer some difficult questions during your interview to secure the job you want.

Even though each company is unique, there are common questions that many human resource managers and C-suite executives use when looking for someone to fill their need for a back-end developer on staff. They present challenging questions to determine strengths and weaknesses—and decide if you’re right for the team.

To feel more comfortable and confident, consider your answers to the following questions in advance. Suppose you can point to specific areas in your work history or portfolio that can prove your capabilities in a calm and friendly manner. In that case, you’ll set yourself apart from the competition.

Expert advice

"Getting good at coding interviews takes time," says Mari Batilando, a Meta software engineer with eight years of experience. "Make coding exercises a habit. Learn how to love problems you don't know how to solve. Be genuinely curious and don't be afraid to fail. If you're not failing then you're not trying hard enough."


1. How did you first get involved in computer science?

Why do interviewers ask this question?

This is often the ice-breaker question, designed for you to provide an overview of your early years, training, and importantly, the motivation that drives you in this career.

Example answer

“When I was a child, I always loved technology. I would spend hours looking at programming code, and I was even able to teach myself some basics. As I got older, I became interested in how mobile app development worked. That’s when I decided to focus my studies on back-end development and majored in computer science. I love the idea of creating a framework structure that makes all the pretty designs and features operate exactly as the team envisions. I feel like I help bring dreams to life.”

2. What has been your role in development projects in the past?

Why do interviewers ask this question?

This type of question hits on a few important points that interviewers care about. First, they typically will want specifics concerning what kind of work you are capable of doing. If you’ve worked in a particular programming language or object-oriented programming, bring it up as part of your answer.

Second, this is a question about how you interact in a team environment. Although coding can often be done in nothing more than a quiet corner, a back-end developer must frequently work directly with digital designers and managers who may require help in finding solutions. Be sure to highlight times when you managed other team members or if you’ve had to compromise to create an end product that everyone loved.

Example answer

“Let me show you one of the projects I’ve brought with me as part of my digital portfolio. Here, I built out the back end of the site using Ruby, although normally, I am more comfortable working in JavaScript. The digital designer and I agreed on the functionality of this interesting feature, which allowed for a search of tourist activities from a constantly expanding list of recommendations by the company. Based on that plan, I was able to oversee the work of two other developers, and together we built out the framework in just a matter of weeks. It was an exciting project.” 

3. Can you identify limitations within the development languages you prefer?

Why do interviewers ask this question?

This question may start a series of detailed questions meant to extract the technical skills and knowledge required for the role. While in the interview seat, the best course of action for you is to make sure that whatever you discuss—anything from stack overflow to loose coupling to domain logic—is completely understandable to the person asking the question.

They want to make sure you’re well-trained, so show them you can speak the language of technology in a way that also demonstrates humility and a willingness to listen to others. If you don’t know the answer, take a breath. It’s better to say that you don’t know but would like to have an opportunity to research and find out than to stammer with the first thing that comes to mind.

Example answer

“I love working in Python, which is powerful enough to support two of my favorite apps, Spotify and Instagram. It’s open-sourced with asynchronous coding, and I appreciate my ability to integrate AI into the back end. However, there is plenty to critique. It’s slow, and it’s not the best for mobile app development. It also uses a lot of RAM.”

4. Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?

Why do interviewers ask this question?

This question is so common that it’s almost not worth including—except that it so frequently trips up back-end developers. Managers want to know that they are hiring a forward-thinker with long-range goals. Especially in technology-based careers, the work you’re doing is constantly evolving. Show the interviewer that you plan to stay up to date. That way, the company can be, too.

Although being a professional means setting personal matters aside, this question also allows you to share something about yourself they may not know.

Example answer

“Five years from now? I think about that a lot since I’ve recently proposed to my long-term partner and hope to have a family someday. I am very interested in having the stability of a solid career with this company, which I admire for its domination of the industry. Beyond that, I want to keep learning. I have full intention of continuing my education through online courses and certification programs so that I can be a better team player wherever I work. The best thing about this work is that so much will change in the next five years; I can’t wait to see.”

General interview tips

To land a job securely, it takes more than a strong resume and strong answers to questions, even like the ones above. Be sure to consider the following when planning for the big day.

1. Research the company.

You should know as much as you can about the company, including its online presence, back-end structure, goals, and team. Follow them on social media, if that is a possibility, and be current on any news that may impact the business’s business’s overall success. An interview is an excellent time to ask informed questions, not basics.

2. Come prepared.

It goes without saying that you should look tidy and dress professionally, even if the company is famous for a casual brand. Also, bring a jump drive, laptop, and links to your portfolio of professional work. Include a list of references with whom your interviewers may follow up afterward.

Read more: How to Prepare for an Interview

3. Ask questions.

Interviews aren’t just for your potential boss to decide if they like you. These meetings are also opportunities for you to determine if you will fit into the company culture and be an asset to the projects they will assign you. Make sure the day-to-day responsibilities and expectations are clear. Ask about performance measurements. See if they pay for additional education.

4. Follow up with an email.

When you finish the interview, give a firm handshake to each person in the room and look them in the eyes. Make sure they know you’re grateful for their time and consideration, whether or not you end up being the person for the job. Get each of their names and contact information, and that evening follow up with an email. Answer any lingering questions from the interview, and again, thank them sincerely.

Read more: How to Write an Interview Follow-Up Email: Guide and Samples

How certifications and certificates can help 

Sometimes, managers and human resource professionals can be more trained and experienced in hiring psychology than the minute details of back-end development. After all, that’s why they are considering hiring you. An easy way for you to show your skills in a way they’re sure to understand is by providing credentials you’ve earned over the years.

Certifications and certificates show that you’re interested in staying current with the latest technologies and processes that are constantly evolving in your line of work.

Prepare for your back-end developer interview for free with Coursera

Prepare for your upcoming interview with an industry leader by enrolling in IBM's free course, Software Developer Career Guide and Interview Preparation. You'll practice code challenges and learn about common developer interview practices.

Just getting started? Consider completing the Web Applications for Everybody Specialization from the University of Michigan to validate your proficiency in PHP, MySQL, jQuery, and Handlebars, or completing the Meta Back-end Professional Certificate.

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