I have been asked many times by new developers what should I study and focus on when I am learning to code? Asking that question is the equivalent of a med student asking what area they should specialize in. There is simply no one size fits all answer. However, I would like to give some guidance and offer some of my own thoughts on the topic. Hopefully, if you are at the start of your career this post will give you a few things to think about.
The first internal debate that usually arises when starting in software is where should I focus, the frontend or the backend? Before we dive into the characteristics of each specialty lets first define them.
refers to the data processing layer of an application. This is the layer that talks to the database and determine's what information gets sent to the frontend to be displayed. Think Ruby, Rails, Python, Java, etc.
Ok, now we know what they are, but how do you choose which one you want to work with for your career? Honestly, it comes down to personal preference and why you choose to become a dev in the first place.
If you choose to become a dev because you wanted career satisfaction and you wanted to do something you enjoy, then my advice is to do both when you start. Dabble in the frontend and the backend, that way you can get a feel for what you enjoy more. Will it be more work? Definitely, but you will greatly increase your chances of finding a part of the stack you enjoy working with.
Within the frontend and backend ecosystems, there are still many specialties you can branch off and do which can be overwhelming. When you are starting, try to get a feel for the basics and don't worry too much about diving all the way in. Test out the water and see if either one really grabs you when you work with it. However, be aware when you are starting out that no matter where you begin it is going to be tough at first. I would say give yourself a year or two of working across the entire stack before you decide where you would like to focus. That will give you enough time to get over the initial "Wow, this sucks because it is hard" hump and into the time when you can really assess if it is a technology you enjoy working with.
While everyone has different tastes, you might find it interesting to see what languages and technologies other devs enjoy working with. The 2019 StackOverflow Survey looked at what languages were most loved.
Another advantage to working across the entire stack to start is that you get a feel for how everything works together. This can be immensely useful no matter where you decide to focus on in the future. If you have knowledge about how the other half works that will only allow you to create better code and interfaces within your specialty.
Lastly, when working across the entire stack you might decide you don't want to choose! You may want to work across the entire stack and be a fullstack engineer for your career. That is completely valid as well!
If your motivation for moving to a dev career was for the salary and stability it offers, then studying both might be a waste of your time. If you want to get into a career as fast as possible then do some research for the area you want to work in. Find out what the trends are in salary for frontend vs backend. Also, try to find out which type of dev is in the most demand.
I don't claim to know whether the frontend or backend is paid more, but there are some surveys out there that have tried to answer this question. Once again, we can look at the 2019 StackOverflow Survey which broke down salary of devs by type.
1) Fullstack $57k
2) Backend $56k
3) Frontend $52k
1) Backend $116k
2) Fullstack $110k
3) Frontend $103k
In addition, it broke down salaries based on technology. Here is a sampling from each of those surveys.
- Clojure $90k
- Go $80k
- Python $63k
- Swift $59k
- HTML/CSS $55k
- Scala $143k
- Clojure $139k
- Go $136k
- Swift $120k
- Python $116k
- HTML/CSS $105k
It is important to note that these salaries and trends may be different depending on where you work and whether you are looking for a remote job or not. Definitely, do your research. It could be as simple as looking at job boards and running a search for backend and frontend technologies and seeing how many results are returned.
Finally, I am not a very visual or artistic person. Some people can look at a webpage and figure out how to lay it out and where everything should go. I never was good at that so the backend felt more natural and comfortable for me.
If you want more insight into other's opinions, check out this CodeNewbie Chat which discusses Frontend vs Backend web development. You can also check out the dev.to thread I started Tuesday asking people what part of the stack they choose to work in and why.
No matter what you decide to focus on, know that nothing is forever. If you go down one path and decide that it was the wrong one, you can always switch. One of the great things about software engineering is that it all fits together. Knowing a lot about one area will only help you learn and be better at another.