It is no secret that web development is one of the hottest professions in the world right now. The problem is that web developers are usually split among two specialties. So, front end vs back end developer, which is better for you?
In this tutorial, you will find everything you need to know to make that decision for yourself and thrive in your new profession; once you learn enough to start working. We will talk about the technologies involved. We will discuss the type of work you will do. We will describe the typical tasks you will have to deal with.
Table of Contents
- 1. Different spheres of influence: front end vs back end developer
- 1.1. How do websites work?
- 2. A day in the life of a front end developer
- 3. A day in the life of a back end developer
- 4. Technologies you need to know
- 4.1. Front end toolbox
- 4.2. Back end toolbox
- 5. Different specialties for different interests
- 6. What am I going to get paid?
- 6.1. Front end salary
- 6.2. Back end salary
- 7. The Verdict
- 7.1. So, which one do I choose?
Different spheres of influence: front end vs back end developer
Despite both specialists falling under the term “web developer”, the truth is that no matter which side you choose in the front end vs back end developer debate, it could exclude you from working on the other side forever. Unless you’re prepared to go full-stack.
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So, front end vs back end developer and the responsibilities of each, let’s go!
The first thing we should figure out when making the front end vs back end comparison is what each specialty does. It’s not hard because the two specialties couldn’t be more different despite being a part of the same field.
How do websites work?
To explain how websites work, let’s use a really popular one as an example. Amazon.com is perfect for this purpose.
Imagine that you are a user who wants to buy a new book. You see the Search bar, enter the title of the book you want, click the magnifying glass icon and get a list.
Then, you click the product you want, open that product’s page, click buy, put in your data, choose a delivery method and off goes the book.
Sounds simple, right? It’s much more complicated than it looks.
What was made by the front end developer vs back end developer?
Everything you see on Amazon was built by front end developers. The buttons, the product list, the product page, the checkout page, everything.
All these elements only work because of the systems back end developers built. You use the search bar built by front end guys but the results are generated using search algorithms back end people created, from databases maintained by, yes, the same back end people.
When trying to make a website work, it’s not front end vs back end developer. It’s front end and back end developer, together.
Essentially, front end developers make everything that’s generated in your web browser or the client-side. Back end developers, on the other hand, create server-side systems, which make everything the front end guy built work.
A day in the life of a front end developer
Is there a better way to make up your mind on the front end developer vs back end developer issue than living a day in the life of each? Probably not.
Let’s say that you’re a front end developer at Company X, which has its own hip online skateboard shop.
This company has a team of UI/UX designers, front and back end developers and system administrators.
If you belonged to the front side of the front end vs back end developer debate, your day would start at, let’s say, 9 AM. You would come to work, get a latte and go to a meeting with the web designers to discuss their latest mind-blowing idea about the new and improved look of the website
If it was approved, you’d have to rebuild 60% of the website’s front end. As they present the new design, though, you can’t help but get excited.
Their new design is fully responsive (a feature your website needed forever), looks better than anything you’ve ever seen. It’s full of animations, parallax images. It’s going to be a challenge to build it.
That’s the dream scenario. In reality, you’ll probably be annoyed because the previous version worked just fine, looked okay and this new redesign will just mean months of work for you. And programmers don’t like unnecessary work.
A day in the life of a back end developer
Now, let’s look at the front end vs. back end developer issue from the other side. Now, let’s say that you’re a back end developer at the same company. Your day starts at the same time, you make a cup of coffee (a proper espresso, no pany lattes for this guy) and then go to a meeting with the CTO of the company.
He says that your main competitor’s website has more accurate search results and their website loads much faster. You discuss the issue and decide that improving the search algorithm while streamlining server processes to improve loading speeds is something that has to be done.
Now, it’s time to go to your bat cave and start figuring out how to make it work. It ain’t gonna be easy but you're determined. It’s a difficult puzzle critical problem for the success of the company. You love solving puzzles.
At lunch, you hear about an incoming revamp of the website’s design. You suggest making sure that all the images are optimized properly but don’t care about it too much. As long as it doesn’t stop you from making the website faster, it’s not your problem.
Technologies you need to know
As we’ve already found out, it’s not front end vs back end developer. Both specialties are supposed to supplement each other, making the whole website work on the client and server-side respectively.
With a single exception, there is a clear difference in tools and technologies they will use to make it work.
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Front end toolbox
First, let’s keep going through the front side of the front end vs back end developer problem.
To help them out, there are libraries and frameworks like Angular.js, React.js, BootStrap, etc., which streamline the process and allow you to repurpose ready-made tools for your use.
If you don’t use crutches in the beginning, you will learn more. Libraries and frameworks are a crutch, which only makes newbies stronger codes while turning strong developers into speed demons. In fighting, it’s better to be both strong and fast. The same is true in web development.
With that said, Company X’s skateboard shop design’s extremely fancy-schmancy, it will require a lot of custom scripts to make it all work properly. As an experienced front end developer, you should take care to save your valuable time and use libraries like React.js and frameworks like Angular.js when appropriate.
Back end toolbox
The tools front end developers use are relatively straightforward. That’s not the case on the back end of the front end vs back end developer toolbox.
Server programming languages
The peripheral technologies used in the back end can also determine the language you’re going to use. For example, if your website is built on Symfony or Laravel, you will almost be forced to use PHP to code. For the Django framework, Python would make more sense, while using the Express framework forces you into Node.js.
There are two main database types, relational and non-relational. The database type choice will determine which database system your project is going to use and even the programming language the whole project will be coded in.
There are several popular database systems, like MongoDB, MySQL, Oracle, Redis, and others.
Different specialties for different interests
Outside of technologies involved and different responsibilities, your front end vs back end developer choice may balance on your personality.
If aesthetics are important to you, you should choose front end development as your career. A big part of what you’re going to do is make everything the user sees on a website look pretty and comfortable to use.
A great front end developer will be able to understand and participate in design-fu.
What the hell is design-fu? It’s the 21st-century Kung-Fu variant, where designers take a blank document and make a beautiful website.
Anecdotally, front end web development is a great choice for people who wanted to be designers sometime in their lives but never learned to draw.
Back end development, on the other hand, is completely different. The only thing back end developers are concerned with when it comes to esthetics is writing clean code. Even that can be forgotten in the face of a looming deadline.
Elegant algorithms, genius solutions to difficult problems, that is what makes back end developers sit up at attention.
Now, you may get the impression that we somehow consider back end developers superior.
That is not the case at all. The two disciplines are equal, only requiring a different skillset and priorities.
Some people have a natural talent for… visual stuff, while others like to tinker with how things work. Don’t choose your specialty according to what sounds cooler, that’s one of the biggest mistakes you could make!
Pick the job that interests you the most. If that has nothing to do with development, good for you! There’s nothing worse than spending your whole day doing things you hate, even if you make a fortune.
What am I going to get paid?
While both kinds of web developers are well-compensated when compared to national averages around the world, your choice between the two may still depend on what you can expect to make in both specialties.
We will look at average salaries on the front end vs back end developer spectrum in several different countries, which should allow you to compare and choose your specialty if that’s what’s important to you.
Front end salary
According to glassdoor.com, the average front end developer salary in New York City is $111,728, 20% above the national average. This could be explained by the fact that New York City is a metropolis with one of the highest cost of living figures in the world and a thriving business ecosystem.
In London, the UK, the average yearly salary for front end developers is around $52,000, 22% above the national average, according to glassdoor.com. This is a significant decrease from what you could expect in New York, while the cost of living is similar.
In India, the average yearly wage for frontend software developers is around $5,000. This might look like highway robbery compared to what you can expect to make in New York but remember, the cost of living in India can’t even be fairly be compared to what it is in New York!
Back end salary
In New York, an average back end developer can expect to earn around $133,182, which is 17% above the national average. As you might have noticed, it’s a significant improvement over the front end developer salary in the same city.
In London, the salary for back end developers jumps up to $74,000, 32% over the national average. In India, you can expect a similar raise over what you could be expected to make as a front end developer as well.
As far as the money goes, the front end vs back end developer debate is hands-down in favor of the back end track. Back end developers earn more across the board.
Because the back end job implies much more responsibility. A back end developer’s mistake could cost the company much more than a mistake on the same scale, made by a front end developer.
If a back end developer leaves a serious flaw in his code, the whole website could go down, it could get hacked, it could get exploited by scammers. If a front end developer makes a mistake, none of that will happen because he is not responsible for the website’s server-side.
So, which one do I choose?
Hopefully, you have a better idea where you stand in the front end vs back end developer debate after reading this tutorial.
If you’re more interested in aesthetics than difficult algorithms and setting up complicated systems, you should go with the front end developer track.
This doesn’t mean that it’s easy to be a front end developer. To be a great one, you will need to master numerous libraries and frameworks. It will take you a long time to know enough to contribute to advanced projects.
Front end vs back end developer. The stage is set, choices clear. Which one will you pick?