What Skills Does a Great Back-End Software Developer Need to Have?

Posted on: December 22nd, 2014 - Written by: John Blomberg

The back-end developer plays an essential role in any software development company. What exactly does a back-end developer do? Well, to boil it down to a one-sentence definition, a back-end developer writes source code for a software project based on detailed specifications. The type of code written certainly depends on the scope and desired end result of the project, but it’s fair to say that back-end developers create the code that makes a software program run well—and even work at all.

Whether you’re thinking about a career in software development and are wondering if back-end work is for you or you’re looking to hire an individual or company to do some coding, take a look at the following characteristics we feel a solid back-end developer or back-end development team needs to have.

10 Characteristics of Great Software Back-End Developers:

  1. Ability to keep the big picture in mind.

    Great back-end developers are able to look beyond the piece they’re staring at on any particular day. And they measure their progress by more important factors than just how many lines of code they’ve produced that week.

    Measuring programming progress by lines of code is like measuring aircraft building progress by weight. Bill Gates

  2. Strong organizational skills.

    Coding is a step-by-step process, and you want someone doing it that can keep their work organized, including what’s already been done and what the next step is going to be. Chaos and back-end development work do not go together.

  3. Commitment to teamwork.

    James Bach said,“Everything really interesting that happens in software projects eventually comes down to people.”

    Seasoned coders know this: in order to produce great software, you must be able to listen well—to your clients, to your colleagues, and to your bosses. It’s especially critical for back-end developers to be able to work in tandem with front-end (UX) developers to create an end product that is both robust and delightful. This can’t take place in isolation.

  4. Good analytical and debugging skills.

    Guess who fixes the problems that crop up with brand new software? You got it—back-end developers. Problem-solving skills are crucial in order to identify problems and get them fixed in a timely manner.

  5. Good oral and written communication.

    One of the most important parts of a back-end developer’s job is documenting what work has been done, what changes have been made to the code, and what needs to happen next. If documentation is absent or incomplete, progress is impaired considerably.

    Software without documentation is like a ship without a compass. Assaad Chalhoub

  6. Laser-like focus on details.

    Coding is a precise science; one out-of-place element can really mess things up. Back-end developers must be able to hone in on pertinent details for each project, down to individual lines of code.

  7. Methodical approach to testing.

    Testing is also a huge part of a programmer’s job. The best programmers follow Boris Beizer’s advice: “If you can’t test it, don’t build it. If you don’t test it, rip it out.” A methodical approach to testing is needed to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

  8. Willingness to be flexible.

    This goes hand in hand with teamwork. A willingness to be flexible—not always insisting that one’s own way is the only way—is one hallmark of an exceptional back-end developer. Actually, this attitude is something we all should aspire to, come to think of it.

  9. Lifelong love of learning.

    Just because you don’t know a technology doesn’t mean you won’t be called upon to work with it. Mike Bongiovanni

    Technology is changing rapidly and will continue to do so in the future. New technologies and strategies will come along every year, and someone who loves to learn about new things (and who is open to implementing them) will do well as a software developer.

  10. Ability to think outside the box.

    Good back-end developers will look for adequate solutions—and they’ll probably find them. But great back-end developers will hunt for innovative solutions that are sometimes found outside the norm—and they might just come up with the next stroke of brilliance.

Back-end developers have a challenging job—they’re often required to “make it work, make it right, make it fast” (Kent Beck). But it’s a very rewarding job as well—back-end programmers get to see a project from its earliest phases all the way to completion. And that’s pretty cool. 

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