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Software development has quickly become a fast-moving train that many people want to get on. However, diving into web development involves learning quickly, in addition to facing a lot of moving parts. One of the most important parts is deciding the career track that suits you best - frontend or backend?

In this article, I’ll take you through what backend and frontend are, as well as highlight the roles and skills needed to thrive as a frontend or backend developer. We’ll conclude with how to determine the perfect track for you. So, let’s get to it!

What is Backend?

Backend refers to any part of a software or website that users do not see. It is sometimes referred to as the "data access layer" and encompasses the database where data is stored and processed. 

What is Frontend?

Frontend refers to all the parts of a software or website that users see - the whole user interface. It's sometimes referred to as the “presentation layer”. Any data processed on the backend is displayed as useful and presentable information to the user on the frontend.

What is Full Stack?

Full Stack is a hybrid of both frontend and backend. A Full Stack developer can single-handedly build the frontend and backend of an application. That could mean delivering an amazing user interface, with a highly effective database.

Defining Backend and Frontend using a Live Webpage

Imagine a user, Jacqueline, hears about Microverse. If it piques her interest, the first step would be to navigate to the website, www.microverse.org. When she types that URL into her browser, Microverse’s server processes the request (backend) and returns the page below for Jacqueline to see (frontend).

Register at Microverse

If it further interests her, she would click on the “APPLY NOW” button, which requests the application page from Microverse’s server (backend) and returns the page below for her to see (frontend).

Microverse Account Creation Form

Then, Jacqueline would fill the form and click on the “Sign Up” button. When she does that, this continues on. Now, you should be able to distinguish the processes and understand which are the frontend or backend.

Before diving into deciding which track is right for you though, you need to know and understand the responsibilities of each type of developer in a company, as well as the skills needed to thrive in these positions.

Roles of Frontend and Backend Developers

Frontend Developer Roles

A frontend developer specializes in everything the user sees, this means the design and structure of each page in an application.

A frontend developer also:

  • Codes out pixel-perfect pages that align with the intended design
  • Delivers a simple and clean user interface
  • Fixes bugs and errors relating to the frontend
  • Optimizes web pages for speed and scalability
  • Ensures pages are responsive (adaptable and viewable on different screen sizes)
  • Develops features to improve the user experience
  • Builds high-quality reusable codebase
  • Collaborates with the designer (where available) to provide the best user interface
  • Collaborates with the Quality Assurance (QA), where available, to improve speed and performance in addition to helping avoid and squash bugs

Backend Developer Roles

A backend developer works hand-in-hand with frontend developers to provide efficient server-side algorithms to process each request sent by the user from the user interface.

A backend developer also:

  • Fixes bugs and errors relating to the backend
  • Interacts with the database to ensure that users have access to the correct set of data as, and when, needed
  • Builds the architecture of the system
  • Ensures the overall security of the system to prevent hacks
  • Implements and integrates APIs (application programming interface)
  • Builds high-quality reusable codebase
  • Collaborates with the frontend developer to know the structure of data needed, among other things
  • Collaborates with the QA (where available) to improve speed and performance in addition to avoiding and squashing bugs

Skills to Thrive in These Roles

Thriving in this fast-moving industry requires several soft skills like remarkable adaptability, excellent communication, resilience, and constant learning mode. Below are some technical skills that would further help you thrive in these roles.

Skills needed to thrive as a frontend developer

The core skills needed to thrive as a frontend developer include:

  • HTML, CSS, and JavaScript
  • A JavaScript framework like React, Vue, and Angular
  • A testing framework like Jest, Mocha, Jasmine, and Cypress
  • CSS preprocessors like SASS, and LESS
  • Git and version control
  • Responsive design
  • Browser developer tools

Skills needed to thrive as a backend developer

The core skills needed to thrive as a backend developer include:

  • Proficient knowledge of a backend programming language like Ruby, Python, and JavaScript (Node)
  • Superior understanding of data structures and algorithms
  • A testing framework like RSpec, Pytest, and Jest
  • Knowledge of accessibility and security compliance
  • Git and version control
  • Proficient in the use of the command-line interface
  • Database design and administration

Choosing the Right Track for You

If you enjoy figuring out algorithms, designing the architecture of a system, and/or coming up with initiatives to improve the speed and performance of a system, then you might prefer backend.

However, if you enjoy working with simple and complex designs, bringing them to life, and/or building amazing user interfaces and experiences, you might prefer frontend.

Either way, deciding which track to opt for can be challenging sometimes, especially if you have no knowledge of web or software development. In such instances, don’t overthink it, just dive into learning and see which track interests you along the way. After all, you could become a Full Stack developer and handle roles that encompass both skills.

Good luck choosing, and happy coding!

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