Backend Engineer vs Backend Developer: What’s the Difference?

As development teams adopt more advanced work cultures, even more the lines between backend software development and engineering are oftentimes blurred interchangeably.

In order to understand the technical and cultural distinctions between backend engineers (software engineers) and backend developers in an agile work environment, it’s essential that we understand their unique scopes of work and their unique job descriptions in context of a development team.

Keep reading to learn more!

What Is a Backend Engineer?

In the context of a software development team, a backend engineer is generally responsible for building the structure of a software application.

They’ll primarily spend time writing business logic, server scripts and APIs that will eventually be utilized by front-end engineers and UX designers.

Ultimately, their daily job functions 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

While they might have some knowledge with front-end technologies such as React or Angular, vast programmatic knowledge in back end coding with PHP, Python, Ruby, Java, .NET, JavaScript, etc is a must for candidacy.

What Does a Backend Engineer Do?

According to Glassdoor, a comprehensive technical description of a backend engineer’s junior to senior level responsibilities include:

  • Generating recyclable code libraries and frameworks
  • Attend regular meetings with UI/UX and other front-end teams to expose backend weaknesses and problems
  • Implement ongoing security systems
  • Routinely inspect server-side code for speed optimization
  • Conceptualize and implement data storage solutions
  • Maintain server stability with zero downtime
  • Preserve a backup library before any large changes to the server
  • Configure the backend usability of all front side applications

Additionally, their senior-level qualifications generally include a culmination of experience and programmatic knowledge in development languages.

This includes:

  • 5+ years of experience in a related software engineering field
  • High capacity for precision and attention to detail
  • Ability to satisfy tight deadlines
  • Capable of prioritizing and simultaneously managing multiple projects in order to fulfill goals without oversight.Sufficient knowledge of PHP, Python, Rub, Java , .NET, JavaScript, etc.
  • Familiarity with front side platforms including Java, HTML5, and CSS
  • Server-side development experience with SASS and LESS
  • Firm grasp of accessibility and server compliance
  • Good groundwork experience working with multiple platforms such as Desktop, Mobile, Tablets, etc and debugging their respective software(s).

What Is a Backend Developer?

In contrast to the broader responsibilities of a backend engineer, including agile team communication and communication with product/project managers, backend developers are more field-specific.

In other words, backend engineers are largely responsible for communicating with project managers, product managers, and other agile team members in addition to traditional backend development responsibilities.

Whereas, backend developers primarily execute plans by programming individual components of a system.

To put it simply:

If a backend engineer is the architect, then the backend developer is the carpenter. They ultimately unify and construct smaller parts of what the engineer has planned to bring the solution to life.

Developers are generally not responsible for designing the whole system. Instead, they’ll discretely focus on a single project or component feature.

Whereas engineers have to prove the viability of their design methods and methodologies via team meetings and oversight, developers are not bound.

Additionally, the scope of a backend engineer is typically overarching, spanning across designing, liaise, and oversight of the project. However, backend developers write functional code that is eventually used to vitalize the final product.

It’s imperative that software developers analyze software requirements and determine how to construct specific functions of a given system.

It’s highly recommended that they possess a mastery of at least one front-end or back-end programming language and have a firm grasp of agile development practices and test-driven development methodologies.

During the project building process, backend developers will consistently work with graphic designers, customer representatives, product managers, decision makers, and senior managers.

What Does a Backend Developer Do?

In an agile development team, backend developers typically perform specific functions within the larger IT system, specializing in a certain development framework to fulfill that function.

These specialties are ultimately reflected in career posts, with companies posting language-specific ads such as “Back-End Java Developer” or “Back-End PHP Developer”.

Comprehensively, a backend developer’s prerequisite skills and qualifications include the following:

  • Ability to draft clean and maintainable code with readability/documentation in mind
  • Expertise in JS, ReactJS, AngularJS, and jQuery
  • Experience constructing front-end applications with ES2015+, jQuery, HTML5, NodeJS, and CSS3
  • Firm groundworking with front-end tooling and workflows with Git/Grunt/Gulp
  • Background in responsive web design
  • Understanding cross-browser and cross-platform functionality and compatibility of applications

Additionally, their role-specific responsibilities include:

  • Contribute to continual, iterative improvements of the UI backend architecture
  • Explore and delve into cutting-edge front-end technologies to create new innovative features and components
  • Build tools that improve internal productivity
  • Participate in iterative prototyping with respect to project requirements
  • Cross-collaborate with designers, front-end engineers, PMs, and QA engineers to optimize and maintain a quality UX

What Are the Most Common Languages for Backend Web Development?

In the 21st-century, a full-stack understanding of backend web development is essential in order to build competitive, robust web applications.

Whether you’re using PHP as a backend for secure server-side user login and registration, or implementing Python web frameworks, these are the top programming languages to know.

Note that this list only includes programming languages, not markup languages such as HTML5, CSS3, and its associated frameworks:

PHP

The vast majority of small and large-scale websites integrate PHP as their backend. In more classic website use cases, PHP is typically used to fetch user information and securely store it.

Additionally, it is the foundation behind login and registration processes.

Python

Surprisingly, many emerging tech companies use Python web frameworks, such as Django and Flask, to power large-scale web apps (e.g. Instagram’s website).

It’s an open source language with the highest popularity ratings amongst developer communities.

Ruby

Although Ruby on Rails presents a long learning curve to fledgling developers, it has established itself as one of the most robust programming languages with thousands of corporate use cases.

Ruby has an active community filled to the brim with supporting developers.

Java

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

Numerous frameworks, such as the Spring framework, have gained traction amongst developers.

What Defines a Good Backend Engineer/Developer?

Simply put, to be a ‘good’ backend engineer/developer, you need to fulfill the broad, yet specific, technical and team requirements that a company demands.

However, to one-up the traditional role of a backend engineer/developer, it requires a combination of personal attributes and technical competency.

Ranging from your personality and workplace culture, to language-specific technical skills, the following attributes can be that extra ‘cherry on top’ when distinguishing yourself upon the higher leagues of software engineers and developers:

For a backend engineer:

  • A positive attitude coupled with an ambition to accomplish a company’s goals
  • Excellent communication and collaboration skills
  • Apt time and task management skills
  • Quick learning ability and the willingness to learn more
  • Deep and broad technical experience
  • High-End user focus that is proactive about solving organization-level problems
  • Be a good team player!

And for a backend developer:

  • Curiosity
  • Deepened technical skills
  • Effective and actionable intuition
  • Love for learning
  • Adaptability
  • A positive attitude
  • Embracing mentorship
  • Communication and collaboration skills

Conclusion

As the hype of tech and agile development team buzzwords circulate around career postings and job descriptions, it’s extremely easy to blur the lines between a developer and an engineer.

At its fundamental level, engineers serve their team with broad capabilities, architecting a system or application.

However, a developer is committed as a highly specific and meticulous team member who can develop singular components/features and unify them to make or break the product.

For companies or development teams looking for dependable talent, scaling a project can be difficult without the right people.

But, Trio can help you with this task! Learn more about the process to hire qualified backend developers.

Daniel Fleury

About

Daniel is a machine learning researcher and engineer at Johns Hopkins University