From those that adore graphic design and want to take their passion a step further, unleashing their visual creations to a webpage's interface, to those who love snooping around in the underbelly of databases, API's or exploring the inner workings of servers; in other words, everything that users don't see. There’s a huge variety of reasons why someone might want to become a Web Developer.
As such, depending on what they prefer to work on, they might specialise either in the front-end or back-end. Although technology is continuously evolving and the relationship between the two terms is ever-changing and difficult to establish, there is still a significant, inherent difference that separates them.
The skills needed for either side often overlap, with versatile, general-purpose programming languages becoming more popular across all areas, but front-end and back-end developers use contrasting sets of skills and apply them in diverse ways, pursuing radically different objectives and priorities. Perspective is everything!
Front-end development: tech with its makeup on
As its name suggests, front-end development encompasses the configuration and design of everything that web surfers see when they use a website or app. It's the visual aspect of the job that tends to attract those developers with a keen interest for graphic design. These developers' task is to create interfaces that users will find as attractive as they do intuitive, making the user experience a much more gratifying one.
Front-end development is often considered exclusively technical, but some areas have a strong graphic design component. Like UX/UI specialists, some front-end developers are proficient in other tools not traditionally used by developers, such as image editing programmes (one example might be Photoshop), or platforms such as Figma or Sketch that allow developers to create prototypes, preview navigation through the platform and test different concepts before finalising the development.
Although UX and UI Design are well-defined areas that should not be confused with front-end development, there’s a significant overlap between both. Software development encompasses endless fields and functions; rather than a hard choice between a handful of defined job titles, developers have an unparalleled freedom to construct their own skill profile and forge their own unique professional path.
As a front-end developer, your job is to use all these technologies and languages to construct the visuals and design of the app or website in question, in order to therefore generate a certain feeling among its users so they find the experience enjoyable and seamless, and want to come back. It's no easy feat.
Back-end development: building the architecture
Developers that choose to specialise in back-end development are often those that prefer to configure databases and work out how to optimise website functions, such as server performance (so that these can adequately handle the workload), or use the external resources like third party APIs. Ultimately, these developers deal with everything that's hidden from view to the users that visit a website or app and provide their data to register or make a purchase from that platform.
Full stack development: the best of both worlds!
Can’t choose between front-end and back-end development? You wouldn't be the first one. If you enjoy interface design as much as areas like data management, you could steer your career path towards a job in full stack development. Although there's still some scepticism surrounding these profiles, given that it's considered better to specialise and become an expert in one area or another, the truth is that companies are increasingly investing in full stack developers that have a solid understanding of multiple areas and able to bring value to both the interface to be displayed in the browser and the infrastructure hidden below the surface.
Which one gets your development juices flowing? Front-end or back-end? Or perhaps you want to have your cake and eat it too; could full stack development be your calling?