How to become a Back-End Developer without a degree

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How to become a Back-End Developer without a degree

There are many benefits in becoming a Back-End Developer, including salary expectations above the national average and a booming job market that’s expected to continue rising over the next decade.

So, if you’re considering a career in the field, there’s no better time to get started. You don’t even need a degree, as employers are primarily concerned with candidates having the knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed in the role.

The exact requirements to become a Back-End Developer will vary between companies, but generally, you’ll need a solid understanding of programming concepts and technical skills. Below, we’ll explore a Back-End Developer’s role and required skills, then show you how to become one without a degree. Use the table of contents below to jump to a specific section. Or, if you’d rather jump right into training, check out our Back-End Engineer Career Path.


What is back-end development?

Back-end development refers to everything that happens on the server-side of an application, including communications between the database and browser. Back-End Developers code the inner workings of a site rather than what users actually see.

The back end consists of the servers, databases, and programs that users don’t directly interact with but enable a website’s functionality. Take a blog post as an example. A Web Designer or Front-End Developer determines stylistic elements like font and color, but the page’s actual content needs to be retrieved from a database — or the back end of the application.

What does a Back-End Developer do?

In the video above, Doug, one of our Senior Back-End Engineers, sheds some light on the role’s responsibilities. As he explains:

“There’s really no limit to what a Back-End Engineer might be working on. It could be just the data that’s shown on the page — who the user is, what sorts of products are available. But you can do a lot of complicated things like recommendations and using machine learning, too, or creating code that’s constantly running in the background, crunching numbers and solving problems.”

Back-End Developers build and maintain the servers, databases, APIs, and other systems that run in the background of an application using tools like SQL, Java, and PHP. These developers are essential as they provide the services that the front end of an application needs to function.

In another post, we take a closer look at a Back-End Developer’s role and responsibilities.

What skills do you need to become a Back-End Developer?

Back-End Developers need a variety of skills to perform their daily tasks, including the technical skills required to build back-end components and soft skills like communication and collaboration that allow them to work efficiently as part of a team. Let’s take a closer look at the skills you’ll need as a Back-End Developer.

Coding skills

Back-End Developers use coding languages, libraries, frameworks, and other programming tools to manage their servers, databases, and APIs. The specific tools you’ll use in your career will largely be determined by your company’s tech stack, but generally, these tools include:

While commonly used in the front end, some Back-End Developers also use JavaScript as frameworks like Node.js extend its functionality into back-end development.

Problem-solving and analytical skills

Back-End Developers should be very analytical, capable of analyzing software requirements while constructing a system’s functionality. As Doug explains in the quote above, they have various responsibilities, so they need to be able to quickly develop effective solutions.

Communication skills

Back-End Developers need to be great communicators as they play a key role in the web development process that involves talking to various stakeholders (both technical and non-technical) to identify their needs.

Collaborative skills

Throughout your career, you’ll often find yourself working on a team with other developers. To do so, you’ll need to know how to share ideas, accept and delegate responsibilities, and perform collaborative technical practices like pair programming and code review.

Agile development skills

You’ll also need to understand agile development practices that prioritize collaboration between teams responsible for performing different tasks. These cross-functional teams work together to complete projects more quickly and efficiently by bringing a wide range of skills into the mix.

Multitasking skills

Back-End Developers should be able to work on multiple projects at once, which requires planning and prioritizing. It also means reaching out to other team members to assist with certain tasks when necessary.

Organizational skills

Back-End Developers should be very organized. While a computer can decipher code that isn’t clear and clean, your peers will have trouble navigating if many elements are out of order.

Being organized makes both simple and complicated tasks easier to perform. Well-organized, readable code allows developers to make changes and edits on time and interpret its contents without confusion.

How long does it take to become a Back-End Developer?

The length of time it takes to become a Back-End Developer varies from person to person. If you’re already familiar with a couple of programming languages, you’ll progress quicker than someone new to programming altogether.

It can take several months to learn the knowledge and skills you’ll need as a Back-End Developer — or longer, depending on your schedule and pace. Committing a set amount of time to your learning can accelerate the process, so set a goal for how many hours you’d like to dedicate to your coding each week. These goals can always be adjusted as needed.

How much does a Back-End Developer make?

Back-End Developers are in high demand as businesses rely on them to keep their websites and applications running. This reliance on their skills means these developers can expect a competitive salary — currently averaging at $108,507 in the U.S., according to Salary.com.

Still, there are several factors that’ll influence your salary as a Back-End Developer. The industry you decide to work in will be one of the largest determining factors, as salary expectations fluctuate with industrial needs. At the moment, the fields that pay their Back-End Developers the highest salaries include:

  • Education
  • Transportation
  • Retail
  • Communication
  • Healthcare
  • Entertainment

Your location also plays an important role. Those living in larger cities like Seattle and San Francisco can expect a higher salary (and cost of living).

Salary expectations by experience level

Back-End Developers typically fall into three categories: junior, mid-level, or senior. Generally, your salary expectations will rise along with your years of experience.

Junior developers with up to three years of experience usually earn around $78,000 a year, again, depending on location and industry.

Mid-level Back-End Developers have between four and six years of experience and can expect an average of $92,237. Senior developers with over six years of experience make about $123,077.

How to write a Back-End Developer resume

After gaining the skills you’ll need for a career in back-end development, the next step is creating a resume. Your resume provides a snapshot of your skills and experience to prospective employers during your job search.

Remember, back-end development is a very competitive field, so you’ll want your resume to stand out. Below, we’ll walk you through everything you need to include in your Back-End Developer resume.

Contact info

Begin with your contact information. Putting it at the top makes it easy for prospective employers to find. You’ll want to include your name, address, email, and phone number, along with any professional social media accounts.

Career summary

A career summary briefly introduces your technical skills, work experience, and interests. It’s the first thing hiring managers will see after your contact information, and it’s a great way to highlight your desire to work in the industry.

Limit your summary to three sentences or less. The details will come later. Here’s a basic example of a career summary:

“Enthusiastic back-end web developer with one year of experience building APIs for companies. Emphasis on scale and maintainability.”

Rather than writing everything out in complete sentences, concentrate on actionable items or terms that briefly describe your experience like those used in the example above.

Technical skills

Add your technical skills just below your career summary. This will make them more visible and improve their chances of matching the keywords searched for by recruiters’ software.

Think of this as being similar to conducting a job search. Just as you type in certain keywords to look for specific positions, recruiters search for developers with certain programming skills.

Create a list using bullet points to make it easy to scan. Consider listing your skills by competency to make it easy for recruiters to spot your specialties and areas of expertise.

Work experience

After your technical skills, add a section summarizing your experience with back-end development, such as jobs, freelance projects, or volunteer work. Include the names of your employers and briefly describe two or three of your primary responsibilities.

Try to include something quantifiable — recruiters love to see measurable items like “reduced lead time from idea to software delivery by 10%.” If you don’t have work or volunteer experience, list your projects instead.

Education

Even without a degree, you should still highlight your education in your resume. List any relevant coding courses you’ve taken, along with any certifications you’ve received, to highlight your credentials. If you prefer, consider titling this section “Coursework and Certifications.”

Don’t forget the cover letter

A cover letter is what introduces you to a recruiter or prospective employer. It’s a great opportunity to sell yourself. Recruiters may even read it before your resume, so make it count.

Your cover letter should be specific to the job, so you’ll want to tailor it for each position you apply to. Begin by introducing yourself. Provide a short statement about why you enjoy working as a Back-End Developer and why you want to work for that specific company. Then, summarize your experience and skills, taking care to mention any notable projects you’ve completed.

Make your cover letter short and to the point. A few paragraphs should suffice. If you include it with a resume, format it in block style like you would a business letter. If you’re sending it as an email, be sure to include an opening salutation like “Dear,” followed by the recipient’s name, and a complimentary close such as “Sincerely.”

Accompany every resume you send out with a cover letter, even if it’s not required. The only time you should skip this step is if the employer specifically requests that a cover letter not be sent, though this is rare.

How to build a Back-End Developer portfolio

A Back-End Developer portfolio is a website showcasing your skills and experience through projects. These portfolios help illustrate what you can do to potential employers and clients.

Be creative when building your portfolio website. It should look professional while showing off your personality.

Incorporate visuals that will grab the attention of visitors. These can be in the form of your logo or other graphics. Don’t be too busy with visuals, or they might detract from your content.

Include a skills page

Though you’ll list these in your resume, it helps to highlight them in your portfolio if a recruiter views it first. List the programming languages, libraries, frameworks, and other tools in your tech stack.

Include a list of projects

These can be projects you completed during your coursework or on the job. Either way, they’ll illustrate your proficiency with the tools listed above.

Create an About page

Here’s where you can tell visitors a little about yourself. Include how long you’ve been working in the industry, why you chose this field, and past employers or clients. If you’re new to the industry, substitute this last piece of information with any certifications you’ve received.

Add your contact info

Potential employers and clients who view your portfolio need to know how to contact you. Add your email address and links to any of your social media profiles. Make sure these are pages you frequently update to show that they’re still active.

Update your portfolio

You’ll want to consistently tweak your portfolio to ensure it’s always up to date — especially as you complete new projects.

Review all work before posting it live. This will help you avoid making unnecessary mistakes that could potentially cost you a job.

How to prepare for a Back-End Developer interview

The point in creating a resume and portfolio is to help you land an interview. During your interview, you’ll likely be asked questions about your experience in past roles and familiarity with various programming languages. These questions will help your interviewer determine how well you can perform the role’s duties and work on a team.

Your initial interview can take place either over the phone or in person. You’ll likely speak with the hiring manager or the leader of the team you’d be joining.

Before your Back-End Developer interview, there are several steps you should take to prepare.

Look up interview questions

Before your interview, you’ll want to rehearse with some practice questions. Search for these questions online, write them down, then practice your answers. This will spark your thought process and help you sound more confident when faced with those questions during your interview.

Make sure you’re able to speak well to any projects you’ve completed. Be prepared to explain what steps you took and why. You’ll also want to be able to speak to your experience, as your interviewer will want to know about your work ethic and response to certain situations.

Prepare for a technical interview

Your initial interviews might take place over the phone, or even virtually, on platforms like Skype or Zoom. If you do well, you’ll proceed to the next round of interviews, which often occur in person and sometimes include technical interviews.

During a technical interview, you’ll be asked to perform tasks that demonstrate your skills and help the recruiter gauge how well you’d fit in the company. The specific tasks you’ll carry out will vary by company, but they commonly include:

  • Take-home assignments
  • Pair programming, where you’ll partner with another developer to write code
  • Whiteboarding

For tips on how to prepare, check out our technical interview guide.

Some interviewers may even delve into your familiarity with specific programming languages. To ensure you’re well-prepared, check out any of the Skill Paths below:

Interview tips

Here are some more tips to help you do well during your Back-End Developer interviews:

  • Communicate with your interviewer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Complete the take-home assignment in a distraction-free area. Many of these are timed. If you can’t complete it in the time you’re given, make notes about the steps you would take if you had the time. Many employers are more concerned with communication and problem-solving skills than those who can write code the fastest.
  • The whiteboarding exercise allows you to solve problems and showcase your technical skills. Again, it’s more about the process, not the solution. In other words, it’s more about how you got to the answer than the answer itself.
  • Practice interviewing alone and with others. Answer questions out loud just as you would when preparing for a presentation. Get friends and family members to ask you questions and ask them for feedback.

Getting started

After you’ve learned the required skills, built a portfolio, and created a resume, you’ll be well on your way to a career as a Back-End Developer. If you need help getting started, take a look through our programming courses to start learning any of the languages listed above.

Or, if you’re looking for more guidance on your journey, check out our Back-End Engineer Career Path. We’ll teach you the fundamentals of back-end development, programming languages and tools, and how to use them to build impressive projects that you can feature in your portfolio. You’ll also earn a certificate upon completion that you can feature in your resume.