When visiting a website, a user may be impressed by the look of it (designer) or wowed by transitions and animations (front-end developer), but no one has ever been blown away by being able to add an item to their shopping basket or update their Amazon account details. The back-end development of websites is, by definition, mostly unseen and, if we've done our jobs properly, unnoticed.
For example, I once went for a drink with a young lady from a popular right (or left) swiping dating app, on which my profile listed my job simply as 'web developer'. The look of disappointment on her face upon learning I was a back-end developer and not, in her words, “a cool, hip front-end dev” was a little soul-crushing.
Sure, conditional statements, for loops, database queries and API calls might not float some peoples’ boats, but without them, there would be lots of beautiful yet functionless websites. No online shopping, no social media to share all your 'hilarious' gifs and memes and most disturbingly, you'd have to phone and speak to an actual human being when ordering from your favourite take-away.
Take the work that we’ve done for Landsec, the largest commercial property developer in the UK. We worked in partnership with Landsec to create the consumer websites for their retail sites. On the face of it, it all looks straightforward enough. A listing of shops, letting you know the opening hours, showing you the best route to get to the shopping centre. Simple. But we’ve run this out to over 25 websites, all the stores coming from a central repository to maintain consistency and minimise admin time. And the opening hours! What if the shopping centre has one set of opening hours but there are a number of restaurants that stay open later, and then let’s not get into the carpark.
Multiply that by 25 centres and you have a real puzzle on your hands. A job for the back-end team to work out. The trick is that no one should see the underlying complexity, either from a customer or client perspective.
But does working in the background out of sight mean it has to be 'unsexy'? I mean, it works for Batman. I'm not saying we're a group of Dark Knights protecting the functionality of websites, but if the cowl fits... And who could resist a man working on a monitor that looks like it’s straight out of The Matrix?
None of this is to say back-end is more important than design or front-end. After all, no one would care how well a website worked if it was ugly and had a terrible user experience. But they are all creative endeavours. Back-end development is about creating creative solutions to complicated problems. Next time you're checking your online bank balance before making that last second eBay bid I really hope that you don’t spend any time thinking about the back-end creative behind it, you don’t want to miss that auction deadline after all. It should all just ‘work’. That’s when we know we’ve done our job. Assured. Confident. Sexy.
By now I fully expect that you're convinced of the sexiness of back-end development, an explanation of some of the essential parts the hidden world of back-end brings to your everyday interactions online.
And what became of the young lady from the app? Well by the end of the drink, she too was fully satisfied that my back-end skills were as honed as any young front-ender!