Explained | Roles

Frontend, backend, fullstack. What’s what?

When browsing for careers in tech, you might have come across several pathways that, despite having similar names, can represent quite different things. What do people mean when they talk about frontend, backend, and fullstack developers? Let’s see what each role involves exactly, including the specific tasks they cover and the skills they require.

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

What is a frontend developer? And what do frontend developers do?

Like what you see when you take a look at your favourite website or app? Well, you can thank a frontend developer for that. Frontend developers are those who are in charge of building the user or client-side of things – that’s everything that a user can see and interact with. Think search bars, buttons, the overall layout of a website, logos, and the fact that the website works seamlessly across all devices (aka responsiveness). All those tasks are left in the hands of a frontend developer.

What skills do I need to become a frontend developer?

Knowing design is definitely a plus but not a requirement. Design is left in the hands of designers and the implementation of the design for frontend developers. The basics that you’ll need to know about and be able to handle:

  • HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). For structuring the content on the page and to add style and design.
  • A strong knowledge of accessibility, so that you can build websites that are accessible to every kind of user – including, for example, those that use a screen reader.
  • JavaScript... in the land of front end languages, Javascript is the ultimate king. The good news is that you can also use it in the backend, so it’s definitely worth learning.
  • Libraries, CSS Frameworks and preprocessors. This is definitely a jungle and you don't need to know them all but knowing some will make your work much easier. Some examples include Bulma, Semantic UI, Bootstrap, Tailwind CSS. Also, JavaScript libraries and Frameworks such as React, Vue and Angular will be some of the best things you can add to your skillset.

What is a backend developer? And what does a backend developer do?

Everything that you can’t see from the user end, but works like magic to make these things appear, will have been developed by a backend developer. Backend developers are in charge of building the underlying logic of a site or app. They also create the servers and work with APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and databases.

A backend developer works on the server-side. Think of when you fill in a form online and submit the information – it has to go somewhere, right? It’s processed in the backend or server-side. That part of the process is built by a backend developer.

What skills do I need to become a backend developer?

Knowledge of backend languages are the first thing you’ll need. There are several to choose from, including Java, Python, PHP and JavaScript – just to name a few. Don't try to learn them all at once. Focus on one first, according to the specific kind of project that you would like to work on.

What is a fullstack developer? And what does a fullstack developer do?

A fullstack developer – as you might’ve guessed by now – is a developer that can deal with both sides of the site or app development. This professional can take care of the visual look of the site while also building everything that needs to happen behind the scenes – the user end and the server-side. Since there are many different options in technologies to choose from (the tech stack) being fullstack can be a bit of a fluid concept. You might be fullstack in one project cause you know the technologies used for both the frontend and the backend but only work on one side in another project.

What skills do I need to become a fullstack developer?

Yes, you guessed it right… you’ll need both frontend and backend skills to become a fullstack developer. Experience will be a big pro, too, as you’ll probably be in charge of managing all of the stages an app or site goes through.

Also keep in mind that problem solving, testing and debugging skills will be great assets while working as any kind of developer.

Here are some popular stacks:

  • LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP)
  • MEAN (MongoDB, EXpress, Angular and Node)
  • MERN (MongoDB, Express, React and Node)

On a final note, whichever role you choose to take will see you working long days and will require a lot of dedication, so make sure to choose the one that suits you best and the one that you’ll enjoy the most.

Cheers to a happy career in development!