Engineering

Backend Engineer vs. Backend Developer: What Do They Do?

5 min read

Back-end engineers carry much of the heavy weight involved in a software development project, but they don’t always get the credit for the work that they do.

While the front-end of development consists of the graphical element of software, back-end developers ensure that everything going on in the background is running smoothly. 

The reality of back-end engineer’s role may not sound as enticing as luring site visitors and app consumers to software with unassuming user interfacers. 

But it is a crucial part of software development. And what back-end engineers do day in and day out is more interesting than you might think. 

To learn more what back-end engineers do, keep reading?

What Is a Back-End Engineer?

A back-end engineer is a software developer who works on the back-end of development, or the server-side. 

In the software industry, development is generally categorized under three categories: front-end development, back-end development, and full stack development. 

In front-end development, alternatively called client-side development, developers build user interfaces (UIs), and ultimately tailor the visual makeup of the software. 

However, the server-side is more concerned with the data and internal systems of the software. 

This involves managing databases and building application programming interfaces (API), among other things. 

What Does a Back-End Engineer Do?

Back-end engineers almost exclusively deal in server components. 

Database management, data modeling, server-side scripting, and API governance are a few of a back-end engineers main responsibilities. 

Handling the data store remains a vital undertaking in every stage of software development. 

Data is information, and whether user inputs or sleuth discoveries, data makes the world go ‘round.
Server-side scripts ensure that the software is responding appropriately to user requests. 

No matter how aesthetic a UI is, there is business to be done, and back-end engineers make sure that users leave your website or application satisfied. 

APIs form liaisons with different software platforms. 

For instance, if a customer wants to make a purchase through your website, but prefers to use their PayPal account, back-end engineers can make that happen, via APIs of course. 

The daily job functions of a back-end engineer may consist of the following:

  • Optimizing servers for scalability, speed, and stability
  • Implementing security structures and its best practices
  • Generating reusable code libraries for future implementation
  • Generating data storage solutions

In addition to traditional back-end development responsibilities, the role of back-end engineers includes communicating with project managers, product managers, and other team members such as front-end engineers. 

 

Back-end engineers work closely with server components. 

What Is the Difference Between a Back-End Engineer and a Back-End Developer?

In most cases, back-end engineer and back-end developer are interchangeable titles. 

A coder is to a programmer is to a developer is to an engineer. 

The main idea here is that if someone is typing away at a computer in a mysterious language that looks somewhat like English but not quite, all these titles can apply. 

However, in some cases, a back-end engineer is considered a higher position than that of a back-end developer. 

You’ll notice that job listings for back-end engineers tend to be higher than similar listings for back-end developers. 

These listing make it clear that a back-end engineer carries more responsibilities than their counterpart. 

For instance, both a back-end developer and back-end engineer should be able to write, modify, and debug code, but a back-end engineer will— 

  1. Maintain a relationship with important stakeholders of the company and software product. 
  2. Manage the entire software system and understand the complete application architecture. 
  3. Oversee the project and lead a term of other developers. 

Related reading: Software Developers vs. Software Engineers - What’s the Difference?

What Skills Do Back-End Engineers Need?

Back-end engineers need both soft and technical skills to successfully do their job. 

Software development in general is a collaborative process and requires more than what you can find on a resume

In turn, you want your back-end engineer to be not only a good engineer, but they should fit in with the company culture as well. 

Here are some invaluable soft skills to look out for when hiring a developer or engineer of any kind:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Apt time and task management skills
  • Quick learning ability and the willingness to learn more
  • Deep and broad technical experience
  • Problem-solving skills 
  • A team-oriented mindset
  • Adaptability in stressful or uncertain situations 

When it comes to technical skills, you’ll mostly get a chance to test your candidate’s ability during the technical interview and coding challenge

These are the skills you will want to pinpoint in your potential hire:

  • Demonstrated experience developing REST APIs
  • Familiarity with SQL/relational databases and writing performant queries
  • Proficiency in building robust APIs
  • Mastery of object-oriented programming strategies
  • Ability to build highly available, fault-tolerant, scalable, and distributed systems
  • Expert working knowledge of back-end programming languages and tools such as Java, Ruby on Rails, Node.js, etc. 

The 4 Most Common Languages for Back-End Development

Back-end engineering requires unique set of tools to accomplish its goals. To put it one way, some programming languages are better equipped than others.

1. PHP


The vast majority of small and large-scale websites integrate PHP as their back-end. 

In more traditional website use cases, PHP is typically used to fetch user information and securely store it. It is often the foundation of login and registration processes.

 

2. Python


Many emerging tech companies use Python web frameworks such as Django and Flask to power high-performing web apps. 

Python is a general-purpose language with high popularity ratings amongst developer communities, mostly because of its ease of use.

3. Ruby


Among its fans, Ruby is considered to be just as intuitive as Python. Its most popular framework is Ruby on Rails. 

For most developers, it’s hard to get through a conversation about web development without Ruby on Rails being mentioned at least once. 

4. Java


As a multipurpose programming language, Java has become a staple language in developing and employing cross-platform desktop, web, and Android applications. 

A lightweight Java-based framework called Spring has gained the most recognition in the Java community.

 

How To Hire a Back-End Engineer

The process of hiring a back-end engineer is not a simple one. You need to have a rather firm understanding of the role to be able to choose the right candidate. 

From afar, the essential steps of a hiring process may look simply like posting a job description on Indeed and moving on from there. 

In reality, the before, during, and after of the process is a bit more complicated. 

To post a job listing in the first place, you need to know the details of your project and which duties your back-end developer or back-end engineer will be responsible for. 

You also need to know where to find software developers and engineers in the wide range of job networks that exist. 

Frankly, most software professionals are taken, so to speak, and they don’t browse Glassdoor or ZipRecruiter regularly. You may even need to do recruitment outreach on social platforms like Reddit or LinkedIn. 

Make sure to weigh the costs of doing all this as well. On average, it takes over a month to find new hires and several thousands of dollars can be lost during the process.

Once you find someone or several persons with potential, you will have to narrow down your candidates using a series of intensive interviews, both technical and traditional, challenges related to software development, and screening and vetting procedures. 

Given this exhaustive workload, some companies choose to outsource the hiring process and overall development to outside agencies. This can be a low-budget solution for those who really need it. 

Back-End Engineer Job Description Template

Your job description for hiring back-end engineers should be inviting but informational.

You will need to be descriptive, yet concise, and tell the reader exactly what you’re looking for. 

The job description should consist of four main sections:

1. Company Background: Explain what your business does and the mission or purpose behind your work.

2. About the Job: Briefly describe what the job is and what service you’re looking for.

3. Roles & Responsibilities: Use a bullet point list to outline the day-to-day duties the candidate should expect to fulfill if hired.

4. Qualifications & Skills: List the must-have qualifications and skills that you want to have in an optimal candidate.

Check out Trio’s article on writing a back-end developer job description for more insight on how a detailed job listing should look like. 

 

What Is the Average Back-End Engineer’s Salary?

Salary estimates differ depending on region, time period, experience level, and more. 

That said, the average back-end engineer is making $120,932 dollars per year. 

Big companies like Apple and Samsung generally pay their back-end engineers higher salaries. 

And regions like Latin America and Eastern Europe advertise lower costs for back-end engineering due to economic differences. 

Conclusion

Now that you have a good idea of what a back-end engineer is, you probably figure it’d be a good idea to have one on your team. 

Well, you’re on the right track. Back-end engineers are an essential player for any software development team. 

And if you’re trying to build a software product of any kind, you need back-end engineers front and center to get things moving. 

You already know that hiring back-end engineers on your own can be a daunting task. But there are other options.

Learn more about hiring a back-end engineer!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a back-end engineer?

A back-end engineer is generally responsible for building the structure of a software application.

What is a back-end developer?

Back-end developers primarily program individual components of a server-side system.

What is the difference between a back-end engineer and a back-end developer?

The difference between a back-end engineer and a back-end developer is largely in the scope of their roles. To put it simply, if a back-end engineer is an architect, then the back-end developer is the carpenter.

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