Jenny Morris
10 November 2020 by Jenny Morris

A number of roles now fall under the umbrella of software development. At the broadest level, software development refers to the branch of computer science focused on building software and applications. However, someone working in this field could be doing anything from ensuring an application is user friendly to writing server scripts and APIs. Here is a quick guide to the roles available in the industry.

Front-end vs Back-end development

Firstly, it’s important to quickly define site rendering, as this underpins many of the key differences in software development roles. Site rendering means whether a website or application is generated at the server-side, where all the processes involved in rendering are carried out by a remote server, or the client-side, where these processes are carried out by your computer using the language of the internet, Javascript. While it’s helpful to draw a distinction between these approaches, in reality there is plenty of overlap. For example, software and applications rendered client side often still depend on back-end remote servers

Most software developers (but not all—I’ll get back to this later!) specialise in either front-end or back-end development. Server-side rendering is utilised by back-end developers, who are responsible for the nuts and bolts of the software or application. Client-side rendering is the area of front-end developers, who focus on design and usability.

So, what do the different roles entail?

Front-end developer/engineer

This kind of developer will most commonly create a static website (e.g. a hairdressing salon) which doesn’t need to store large amounts of data or interact with complex systems. They will be skilled in HTML, CSS and JavaScript and experienced in web development frameworks such as Bootstrap, React, VueJS and AngularJS and others. A front-end developer should be able to develop a client-side website without the help of back-end engineers — although if you work for a large organisation rather than freelance, you’ll need to embrace working with back-end engineers to complete complex projects.

Other front-end roles

Variations of a front-end developer include a web designer, who creates the website aesthetic using programs such as Photoshop. However, they won’t be involved in writing any code. There are also UX and UI professionals, who focus on using design and research methodologies to ensure the software or application is intuitive to use.

Back-end roles

Generally, a back-end developer will be working on creating the structure of a software or application. This means a lot of their time will be spent coding, so they tend to be experts in highly technical languages such as PHP, Python, Ruby and Java. While HTML, CSS and JavaScript are often thought the domain of front-end developers, many back-end developers will also be somewhat proficient in these languages.

A back-end developer’s daily workload could include optimising servers, ensuring security is built into the development process, organising reusable code libraries for future use and ensuring data is stored securely. Often a back-end developer will be creating services and systems that are then utilised by front-end developers.

Full stack developer

According to HackerRank’s 2020 Developer Skills Report, organisations of all sizes now “agree that full-stack developers are top priority,” with 38% of them stating it is the number one recruitment priority in 2020. These are tough shoes to fill, as you’ll need to be proficient in both front-end and back-end languages, while also having some design skills and familiarity with frameworks. However, it also means you’ll be highly engaged with the project, and able to keep your users in mind throughout the process.

Hopefully, this has given you a better understanding of the different roles available in software development. It’s a fantastic career and whichever area you choose to specialise in, you’ll be in high demand.