Front End vs. Back End Programming Languages

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by Manish Dudharejia
Last modified: August 6th 2019

If you’re just starting your career path in the world of web development, one of the first things you need to do is determine which interests you more: front end or back end development (or both). Not only does this determine which coding languages you need to learn, but it will also help you decide what kind of development job you’re hoping to land.

Here, we’ll discuss the differences between the two kinds of development, as well as how that impacts the languages you need to learn and the expectations you can have for your career.

Front End Programming Languages

In the simplest of descriptions, front end programmers are the ones who determine how a site looks and interacts with the customer.

Think about when you visit a website. What are the first things you notice? The design? The layout? The colors and presentation?

Those aspects are determined by a front end developer. To build the client-facing part of a website, these developers typically use HTML, CSS, or JavaScript. However, front end developers also need to rely on tools like Photoshop, Figma, and Sketch to help render the perfect website appearance.

  • HTML: Hypertext Markup Language is the programming language that most browsers easily understand. Most of the time, when you read or browse content on the web, it’s been displayed through the use of HTML. If there’s one language that’s useful in almost every aspect of programming, it’s this one.
  • CSS: Cascading Style Sheets works with HTML to provide certain visual features on web interfaces. For instance, buttons, templates, new fonts, and other unique elements are usually provided by CSS programming.
  • JavaScript: Very different from “Java,” this programming language is highly dynamic and used for interactivity within web pages. It’s very popular because it allows for interactive features like video scrolling, forms, quizzes, etc.

Because front end developers are so focused on the client experience, they must learn a great deal about responsive design, color theory, aesthetically pleasing layouts, etc. According to Blue Corona, 38 percent of visitors will stop engaging with a website if the content or layout is unattractive. Therefore, front end programmers are expected to learn the languages and skills that will prevent this from happening.

As a front end developer, you’re responsible for more than just the look of the site. Your other big priority is to provide a seamless user experience. From checking out on an e-commerce website to making sure the menu tabs load correctly, your job is to provide a problem-free client experience.

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Back End Programming Languages

If front end programmers are all about how the site looks and feels, then back end programmers are concerned with how the site works on a deeper level. These developers render the server side of a website with languages like Python, Ruby, PHP, and Java.

  • Python: This is one of the most widely used back end programming languages. Big names like Facebook, Spotify, and Amazon all rely on Python - it can be accessed by almost all web servers and databases, and it’s very versatile.
  • Ruby: Easy-to-use and efficient, this language is designed to be read in plain English. Even if you aren’t super familiar with coding languages, you can figure out Ruby’s syntax. It’s typically used to code business logic and calculate data. Twitter and Hulu both use Ruby.
  • PHP: A popular server-side script language and interpreter, PHP can generate content for the user after being embedded into HTML on a running server. It’s easily deployed, scalable, and very utilitarian. Companies like Slack and Wikipedia rely on PHP.
  • Java: Not to be confused with “JavaScript,” Java Enterprise Edition is used for large web applications that require reliability and stability. For instance, if you’re working with websites that require high levels of security, like a bank or insurance company, Java would work best. It’s currently used by Google, Infosys, eBay, and Accenture. 

Additionally, back end developers need to be comfortable with databases like SQL Server, MySQL, and Oracle. These can be learned through beginner boot camps and coding courses, as can the other programming languages mentioned in this article. Although the client might never see the work back end programmers complete, it’s entirely necessary to help the site function properly.

In order to be a top-notch back end developer, you need to have the ability to think critically and problem solve. It’s up to you to store information safely, prevent the site from crashing, test-drive new features, and generally prevent the site from breaking. Front end programmers may ensure that the site looks professional, but back end programmers ensure that it functions seamlessly.

One of the back end developer’s top priorities is focusing on the site’s loading speed and responsiveness. Almost half of all consumers (47 percent) expect a webpage to load in two seconds or less. It’s up to the back end programmer to maintain a quick loading speed while still ensuring that everything is functioning properly on a server level.

Perhaps the biggest difference between back end and front end responsibilities is that back end tasks are always changing and updating. A front end developer might just need to create a static webpage that won’t change for years. Back end developers, on the other hand, work more with dynamic aspects of the site that can change constantly.

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The Jobs You Can Obtain with Either Style of Development

Both front end and back end developers are in high demand nowadays. However, the job descriptions do vary between the two. Here’s some more information on what is expected in each role and the kinds of salaries you can expect to see offered.

Front End Programming Job Opportunities

Front end job requirements can fluctuate significantly between different companies. It depends on what the business’ website requires, so you’ll need to ensure that you understand the specific role details before applying to or accepting any jobs.

Typically, you’ll find front end developer job opportunities labeled as “web designer” listings. You may also see them referred to as “UI/UX designer” opportunities. These are designers who focus more on user interface and user experience exclusively.

Salaries can vary from state to state and company to company. According to reports from Indeed, the average salary for a front end developer is usually around $101,265 annually, but it could range anywhere from $31,000 to over $200,000. It just depends on the length of the job, the developer’s experience, the company’s pay, and the expectations of the role.

Back End Programming Job Opportunities

As a back end programmer, you’ll find that there are almost always job opportunities presenting themselves. If you’ve got the experience and credentials to back our resume up, you can do anything from freelancing on the side to taking on long-term projects with one company.

Reports from more than 3,400 different back end developers on Indeed revealed the average annual salary to be $126,279. As with front end developers, the salary distribution is vast, ranging from $44,000 to almost $250,000. Generally, it’s safe to say that back end developers can make a bit more money than front end developers, but it does depend on the company’s offer, your experience, and the specific project.

Full Stack Developer Job Opportunities

When someone is fluent in both back end and front end development, they are referred to as a “full stack” developer. Many companies prefer to hire a developer who can dabble in both sides of website and application development. After all, why wouldn’t you want someone who can handle both front end and back end problems, as well as understand multiple program languages?

Generally, the average yearly salary for a full stack developer falls around $110,440 and can go as high as $223,000. These salaries do fluctuate significantly depending on where you live in the country. However, one thing is clear: more and more companies need programmers with multiple talents. By 2024, web developer job growth is expected to increase by 27 percent, and it’s clear that full-stack developers will continue to be in high demand.

Conclusion

Determining whether you want to be a back end or front end developer is a multi-faceted decision. You need to figure out which programming languages you’re most eager to learn, which side of the website build interests you more, and what kind of career you’re interested in pursuing.