Which path suits you best?

Web development is growing in popularity, both as a career choice and as an additional skill for IT professionals. The term “web development” is very broad—it can cover many different styles of development.

Generally, these are separated into two categories: front-end development and back-end development. Determining what type of development to learn is a question very frequently asked by developers when they are starting out. Let’s take a look at the differences and see which one is right for you.

Front-End versus Back-End

Let’s break down the specific differences between these two forms of development. Before we get specific, the two styles really boil down to this:

Front end development is the coding to build the side we interact with on the websites and web applications we use every day. Front-end developers decide how they are designed, how they are styled; how they actually work when people use them.

Back end development code to create the server side of websites and web applications. Back-end developers create the technology that stores information on servers and loads information into web applications.

Front end development

The basics

The “front-end” of a website or application is the layout and design that you see when you visit it. Take a look at this article’s layout, buttons, menus, colors, fonts, and navigation. Everything has been programmed to create the finished product you see.

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It is front-end development, using code to create the structure and layout of the website.

Front-end developers typically have a keen eye for design and user experience (UX). Not necessarily up to the proficiency of a web designer, but those with a passion for both coding and design will find a good middle ground.

Languages ​​and tools

Front-end coders should be experts in modern HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

HTML is the backbone of all web development, so both front-end and back-end developers should be comfortable with it. You can get started fairly quickly by understanding basic HTML code.

CSS is essential in creating the design of a website, so naturally, front-end developers are constantly using and improving their skills with CSS. JavaScript controls the dynamic elements of a web page or application, contributing to an interactive experience.

There are frameworks that make working with these languages ​​even easier, but they only really work when you have a fundamental understanding of the base language. Some examples would be SASS for CSS or React for JavaScript.

Generally, front-end developers use text editors to program. They can also use browser consoles to test layout and UX, or a free UI/UX design tool like Adobe XD.

Useful skills

In addition to programming, front-end developers can benefit from diversifying to learn other skills. Search engine optimization (SEO), content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, code testing tools, static website builders, and even some back-end knowledge can improve overall capabilities.


Back end development

The basics

Think of your banking apps, social media, or a news website. Each time you log in or visit these applications, you receive updated information.

For example, your banking app always loads your current balance when you log in and can be updated in real time. You might come back to this article in a month and see new comments that a reader has typed. Programmers don’t type a new code for every piece of information, so where does it come from?

This information comes from servers that load information from a database into a web application. Back-end developers create the logic that allows this to happen in real time, whenever a change occurs.

Back-end programmers are attuned to application logic, comfortable with databases, and delivering information from web servers.

Languages ​​and tools

While front-end developers generally work in the same three languages, back-end developers have a bit more flexibility in choosing a web programming language.

Many high level languages ​​can be used to work with servers. Ruby, PHP, Scala, Python, and C# (.NET) are examples of languages ​​you can use to code the back-end. If you are already comfortable with a language, you will find a good entry into coding techniques.

Back-end developers don’t just work with servers, they also work with databases. Databases contain information that servers send to websites and are coded with a database language. Languages ​​such as SQL, SQLite, MongoDB and PostgreSQL.

Working with large-scale languages ​​is easier on an integrated development environment (IDE) like Visual Studio or XCode.

Useful skills

Back-end developers should have a solid understanding of software architecture. This becomes important as the projects get bigger. Coding a small blog is easier than coding an app for an international banking service with millions of customers.

A strong working knowledge of databases is important, some developers choose to work exclusively with databases.

Many developers choose to learn cloud programming, which is becoming just as popular as traditional server-side programming.

Which is best for you?

By reading the breakdown, you may have already decided which path looks more appealing. Maybe the thought of great, colorful designs and fluid layouts makes you want to code. On the other hand, you might be inclined to design the server code and leave the UX to the designers.

There are many career opportunities in both fields.

The front-end journey will guide you through tasks such as:

  • Front-end developer
  • UX designer
  • JavaScript Developer
  • web designer
  • Independent developer

Meanwhile, the main path also gives you options:

  • Back end developer
  • Database administrator
  • CMS engineer
  • Cloud Engineer
  • QA tester
  • Independent developer

If you feel like both areas appeal to you, you’re not alone. Some developers choose to do both, either for experience or career advancement. The term for developers who know both is full-stack developer.

Your Next Steps in Web Development

Now that you’ve learned about web development, keep the momentum going! Learn all about JavaScript and how it works, JavaScript features prominently in front-end and back-end. After that, decide on your chosen path and study hard.


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About the Author

James S. Joseph