Eric Wise, Software Guild's founder and Chief Academic Officer, in his Geek Hierarchy post, clearly defines the difference between front end vs back end in the world of software development. As he puts it, "Front-end portions of the application rely on the back end to provide data, execute business processes and so on. Companies often have staggering amounts of information in the back end that are stored in a variety of complex formats, most of which are unsuitable for 'mere mortals' to consume".
But understanding the difference is just the start. If you want to work as a junior developer, sooner or later you're going to need to know which side of software development suits you best. Or maybe you want to handle both at once and become a full-stack developer. In any case, unless you're already building your own technology stack, you need to know what the terms mean.
What Is Front-End Development?
Front-end developers focus primarily on the parts of an application that the user sees and interacts with. They code interfaces, integrate responsive design philosophies, debug applications, focus on usability and creative planning and generally make sure that the user experience is good and functional. "Front-end developers tend to be more visually oriented," said Wise. "They enjoy seeing the fruits of their labor."
Areas of focus
Useful skills for front-end development
Front-end developers will get good value out of a good understanding of aesthetics, art and design. After all, when was the last time you were happy to be using an ugly website? But front-end design is more than just making the website beautiful; it also has to be intuitive to the user. Designing for usability is an important part of a front-end developer's job, and front-end developers often work closely with quality assurance departments to ensure that interfaces are as good as they can be. In addition, a front-end developer may find client relations experience helpful. When clients explain what they want a website or application to do, they often talk in terms of the front end.
Front-end developer salary
What is back-end development?
"Back-end developers tend to be much more structured and enjoy working on business processes and data architecture," said Wise. "They take pride in clean organization and elegant data structures." Where front-end developers design the interface that the user interacts with, back-end developers lay the foundational code that allows the website to accept, process and deliver information in the first place.
Areas of focus
Back-end developers spend a lot of their time on business logic, database interaction and ensuring that the application functions properly. Java and C# are both valuable programming languages for back-end developers, as are Visual Basic, Ruby and Python. Back-end developers often need to have an understanding of PHP as well. Because their code interacts with databases frequently, back-end developers should also have a working knowledge of SQL and should be familiar with databases like Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server.
Useful skills for back-end development
Back-end development is typically integrated with outside systems like payment processors or social media sites, so understanding how to work with these systems is often necessary. Understanding how to debug code is critical, as is the ability to translate business requirements into functional code. A knowledge of web server configurations is also useful for back-end developers.
Back-end developer salary
Back-end developers make a median salary around $72,000 annually, with a lower range around $34,000 and an upper range around $98,000
What is full-stack development?
Full-stack development combines the traits of front-end and back-end development. "Full-stack developers are more versatile than those who specialize in only one part of the stack," said Wise. "It's really the difference between a handyman and a specialist like a plumber or electrician. A handyman is more of a generalist and can do a lot of tasks reasonably well, but probably cannot do as many things as well as a plumber or electrician can in their areas of expertise."
Areas of focus
As you'd expect, a full-stack developer focuses on both the skills that a front-end developer and back-end developer use, just not to the same depth and degree of proficiency. A full-stack developer has a wide breadth of skills; versatility is the key.
Useful skills for a full-stack developer
Aside from the combined skills of front-end and back-end developers, full-stack developers often must work alone. "You tend to see full-stack developers in smaller IT teams that do not have the resources or staffing levels to support specialization," said Wise. "Working as a full-stack developer makes building a finished product without the help of a team much easier."
Full-stack developers must be able to communicate effectively with clients and must also be creative problem-solvers. Self-sufficiency is important.
Full-stack developer salary
The median salary for a full-stack developer is around $74,000 per year. At the low end of the range, full-stack developers might make around $45,000, while at the high end, they might earn $113,000 per year.
Build your skills
A coding bootcamp like The Software Guild can help you learn the skills you need to become a junior-level developer, regardless of which stack you want to focus on. In our 12-week full-time program or our 10-month online program, you can learn Java or C#/.NET from master instructors. Upon completion, you'll be prepared for junior developer positions. Apply today.
Interested in learning the in-demand skills required to become a developer? The Software Guild's coding bootcamps help apprentices like you gain experience building full-stack applications from start to finish using .NET/C# or Java. With locations in the Greater Cleveland Area, Minneapolis and Louisville, we provide an intensive learning environment to teach you the hands-on skills required to begin a successful development career.
If you are ready to learn more, check out our guide to The Software Guild for an in-depth look at the curriculum, format, application process and everything else you need to know.