It is the end of your engineering course, and you do not know what your next step is. Or you have stepped into the software industry, but you want to explore your potential and create an impact. You are browsing to find relevant job roles in software development but still unclear about the road to take for a successful career in tech. If these thoughts are lingering in your mind, keep reading till the end.

Roles to play in Software Development

Front end and backend are two crucial parts of modern web architecture. They are inseparably linked to each other to deliver a fully functional product to the user. Whereas, full stack development is a complete package of the two. Let us dive deeper to find out which of these roles are best suited for you.

Most of us enjoy watching movies and TV shows on Netflix. As we keep scrolling through the numerous options available, what we see is made possible because of Netflix’s front end developers. They make these elements visible to us on an easy-to-use interface and ensure a smooth experience. If you are interested in crafting great user experiences, front end development might be the right career option for you. Many front end developers out there today are self-taught and their skills comprise HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and UI frameworks such as React.js, Vue.js, or Angular.

Sure without front end development, we would not be able to see the available movie/TV show options. But what about when we have chosen a show and want to start watching it? Is this also taken care of by the front end team?

Backend developers are behind the functioning of a product. Take Netflix, for example. Right from the time you sign in to your Netflix account, you will be able to see and choose from a variety of movies and TV shows, as well as personalized recommendations based on your interests and previous behavior. All this data is fetched by the backend from the database server and displayed on the front end.

Thus, a backend developer is responsible for creating a communication bridge between the information stored in a database and displaying the information on the front end.

To achieve this, a strong foundation in programming is a must. If you are looking for a role to pursue your passion for programming and create impactful solutions through innovative products, backend development is made just for you.

Not to forget, a full stack developer is a complete package who has knowledge of both front end and backend development. However, this does not necessarily mean you would be an expert in both. Ideally, if you are looking to start your own company which requires complete knowledge to design and develop a complete product, your focus should be on picking up full stack developer skills (combination of front end and backend).

Even the best full stack developers are usually more proficient in backend development.

Why? Let’s assume you have the best looking car. However, you can’t drive it because it does not have an engine. Same way, while it is good to have an appealing and responsive front end of an application, full stack development cannot be complete without exhaustive knowledge of backend engineering.

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A career in Backend Development

Software developers are aware of new technologies emerging in the industry. As a developer, you stand out by the way you adapt to these technologies. Despite the ever-changing advances in technology, if you had to learn one programming language to build a promising career as a backend developer, what would it be?

The default answer expected by employers in the market is Java.

With a widely supported open-source ecosystem, Java is the language of choice of several product companies. Whether you order your favorite book on Flipkart, send money on Paytm, or hail a cab on Ola, an advanced Java application is working in the background to process your request. The demand for skilled backend developers is huge in India, and it is only growing as India is becoming an important hub for global technology and product development.

For these reasons, as a backend developer with strong Java foundations, you can expect to see a plethora of exciting opportunities in top product companies to hone your skills. Growing into product roles, you will have the opportunity to work with business teams, design, and engineering teams to deliver effective product solutions.

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Role of a Backend Developer

Let us suppose you have to build the entire backend architecture of an online grocery shopping application. Right from retrieving categorized groceries from a database to allowing users to add the desired items to their cart and place an order, you will be creating the logic for the smooth flow of these actions. Not just that, as a backend developer, a major part of your job would be to ensure optimal speed and efficiency of the app. For all of this, your programming and problem-solving skills will play a vital role in the proper functioning of the shopping application.

To achieve all these tasks, you need to be proficient in:

  1. A programming language
  2. Backend frameworks
  3. Database management
  4. Connecting to APIs
  5. Software version control using Git

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Skills needed to be a Backend Developer

Programming Languages

Proficiency in any one programming language is needed to handle the ‘behind-the-scenes’ functionality of an application.

  • Java: As discussed, Java is one of the most popular programming languages for backend development. Java-based frameworks have been used to build the backends of popular applications like Twitter and Uber. In fact, Twitter switched from Ruby to a Java-based backend in order to optimize and scale their applications for their growing user base. The Java Virtual Machine enables Java programs written on one platform to be executed on multiple other platforms with little-to-no changes in the source code.
  • Python: Python is growing in popularity as a choice to build web backends. Python is an interpreted language and has a simple syntax that is easy to get started with. It also has a rich set of libraries that can be used for a wide range of applications from data analysis and machine learning to web applications and scientific applications. Python is also popularly used as a scripting language.
  • PHP: PHP is a server-side scripting language. The most popular application that was initially developed using PHP is Facebook. It is popular as a general-purpose scripting language and is especially suited to build web applications. Another popular web application written in PHP is WordPress.
  • C#: It is a high-level object-oriented programming language developed by Microsoft. C# can be used to develop cross-platform applications using the .NETCore runtime. C# is quite popular. It has the power of C++ and the syntax is easy to understand. If you are interested in developing apps for Microsoft Windows, then C# is your go-to language.

Backend frameworks

We often hear that languages are incomplete without web frameworks. So, what exactly is a framework and why do we need it? A web framework provides all the functionalities, like structuring database, URL manager, and other configuration settings, in a single place. This saves time as developers don’t need to reinvent already existing sophisticated techniques. Thus, it is recommended to use an existing framework based on your preferred language for building rich web applications.

  • Spring: Spring is a web framework that supports enterprise Java. Spring is known to create simple, portable, and flexible applications. A popular variant of Spring is Spring Boot. It provides a default set of configuration parameters that make it easy to create new Spring applications from scratch.
  • Django: Django is a popular Python framework used to build web applications. Django uses a Model View Template framework. If you have Disqus or Instagram, you are interacting with a Django application. Since it is based on Python (which is a popular choice for most first-time programmers), Django provides an accessible and powerful web framework to build rich applications. Another popular Python-based lightweight backend framework is Flask.
  • Laravel: Laravel is a framework in PHP. It follows a Model View Controller architecture. Laravel is well-known for simplicity, readability, and elegance.
  • Ruby on Rails: Ruby on Rails (RoR) is a web application framework using Ruby for development. Ruby on Rails also follows a Model View Controller pattern. The key difference in Ruby on Rails is that it stresses on convention over configuration. RoR uses intelligent defaults while providing simple ways to override them. This makes it very easy to get started and build web applications using RoR. Prominent examples of websites built using RoR are: AirBnB, Hulu, Shopify, GitHub, and SlideShare.
  • ASP.NET: A popular framework developed by Microsoft, ASP.NET is used to build robust web applications for both computers and mobile phones. It is a lightweight framework and uses C# for development. ASP.NET provides an MVC framework to build rich web applications. C# allows for high scalability and has a very low footprint. ASP.NET is a popular choice among Windows developers. Some of the most well-known websites built using ASP.NET are Stackoverflow, GoDaddy, Microsoft and TacoBell.

Database Management

Web applications store data in database management systems (DBMS). A DBMS facilitates access, retrieval, and updation of data. DBMSs are broadly of two types:

  • Relational Databases: Relational databases store data in tabular form (rows and columns). They use Structured Query Language (SQL) to enable applications dealing with the management of several transactions. Relational databases like MySQL, SQLite3, and PostgreSQL use a foreign key to link two tables. If you plan to store a lot of data that can be structured and not undergo many changes, relational databases would be your ideal choice.
  • Non-relational Databases: Non-relational databases on the other hand do not store data in a  tabular form. They provide the flexibility to store highly detailed documents in varying formats and perform querying much faster as they do not have to scan through tables to return an answer. MongoDB, Redis, Cassandra are a few widely used non-relational databases.

API

An Application Programming Interface (API) acts as a bridge layer between two applications. It accepts incoming requests to a backend application, retrieves the relevant data and returns it in a response message.

You can use APIs to fetch data for your application. For instance, if you are building a weather forecasting application, you will need real-time weather data of particular places. You can get this data from OpenWeatherMap API.

Software Version Control Systems: Git

Software version control systems store all the previous versions of your code in repositories so that it can be accessed later. This is useful, for example, if you lose some piece of your code or if a bug is introduced. Having a software version control system like Git enables you to roll back to a previous version of the codebase.

Git also allows multiple developers to collaborate on the same project. Each developer works on their own Git branches. When features are ready to be integrated into the main application, the relevant Git branches are merged into the main branch which is then deployed to the staging servers (where all the features are tested together) and eventually to the production application servers.

Services like Github allow online storage of Git repositories that can then be seamlessly shared with collaborators.

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Journey of a Backend Developer

There’s no shortcut to be a backend developer, you need to work patiently and methodically to become a skilled backend developer. That said, there are several paths you can explore and choose the best one that helps you pick up the skills you need:

  1. Start by picking a project and writing code for it from scratch.
  2. Study other backend codes first. There are plenty of repositories available online on GitHub. You can pick any and try to understand the code. Clone it to see how it runs on your browser. It’s okay to learn from studying code written by someone else. Remember, even they were in your shoes once.
  3. There are plenty of videos available on Youtube and many articles on Medium which you can refer to before starting your journey.
  4. Don’t feel demotivated if you find a lot of bugs in your code. There’s always StackOverflow to come to your rescue.

No matter which route you take, know that you will only begin to learn once you start building a real product. Wondering where to start? Here's how some developers began their journey to become a skilled backend developer.

With no experience in many of the tech stacks like Spring Boot, MongoDB, etc I still managed to build a scalable distributed backend system that is running live in Google Cloud. You work as to how a developer works in a company. Building some real stuff that you can showcase.   – Piyush Pant, Backend Engineer @CRED
I got to work on 4 different projects and a mini project which covered tracks like REST API, networking and network security, OS concepts, unit testing, Java libraries and frameworks (JUnit, Spring, Jackson, Mockito, among others), python libraries and frameworks, build tools (Gradle, Maven) and applied data structures. They also taught some uncommon skills like regression testing and debugging which are of importance while working on a big project but are often neglected by tutorials. Apart from that, the projects are completely scale-able applications which are modular to every need, as how it is supposed to be in a big product company.   – Apoorv Goyal, VIT, Batch of 2020

Make a dent in the product-driven world

If you are yet to begin your journey to becoming a backend developer or are stuck somewhere in the middle, know that it is always going to seem impossible until it is done. If it is tough, you are on the right track because one does not simply become a skilled backend developer by embarking on an easy journey. The learning process is never going to stop but you will know you are on the right track when you experience the joy of touching the lives of millions of users who use a product you have developed.

Further learning

Java: Create a simple application with Spring Boot

Python: Create a simple application with Django

SQL Essentials: Practice SQL queries online

Restful API Design

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