Say the word “developer” and we at Kinsta think “software.” Not, say, “real estate.” Yet even the focus on computers and code leaves a lot of latitude for describing types of developers.
So, we’ll use some widely accepted (and more-descriptive) labels for developer types and look at the tasks and tools behind them.
What Is a Developer?
We’ve established that software is key to our developers’ story. That can take many forms.
A member of the programming team behind Microsoft’s SQL Server database software is a developer. Someone who uses Structured Query Language to work with information stored in such a database can also be a developer.
One developer creates a computer operating system embedded in a circuit board. Another writes Bash scripts to automate interactions between multiple other software programs.
All these types of developers have built something with code.
How Many Types of Developers Are There?
There is no “official” list of developer job descriptions. We’re going to look at what developers do using some common terminology, and we’re even breaking up the wide-ranging “web developer” category into three distinct roles. (We admit it: We have a soft spot in our hearts for people who build websites.)
In all, we will review 11 types of developers here.
1. Frontend Web Developer
A frontend developer focuses on the user interface of a website. They use their HTML and CSS skills to control the look and feel of a site, often accommodating various screen sizes across mobile and desktop browsers.
All this requires many skills, and a frontend developer’s salary can reflect that.
Are Frontend Developers Web Designers?
Many frontend developers are also designers, but that’s not a requirement of the “frontend” title. Likewise, many web designers are well versed in HTML and CSS — and may use them in mock-ups — but don’t consider themselves developers.
For many organizations, design is part of branding that encompasses media beyond the web.
No matter who creates a design, it’s the frontend developer’s job to bring it to life on a web page and turn a vision for a user experience into a functioning application.
2. Backend Web Developer
A backend developer builds server-side applications that usually require expertise in web server software, databases, and the operating systems on which they run. An all-open-source example would be the Linux operating system, an Nginx or Apache web server, and a MariaDB or PostgreSQL database.
PHP — which powers WordPress and other popular CMSs, as well as development frameworks like Laravel — is the web’s most-common server-side scripting language. Still, backend developers might use technologies such as C# and Microsoft’s .NET framework, Python, Java, Ruby on Rails, or Node.js.
Backend developers can expect to work collaboratively with team members looking after the client-facing side of a website. Server-side development can also include the creation of application programming interfaces (APIs) that support frontend services with less need for close coupling of the two sides.
If all that sounds like your kind of job, you might be interested in typical backend developer salaries.
3. Full-Stack Web Developer
You might have guessed that a full-stack developer does the work of frontend and backend developers. (Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean a typical full-stack developer’s salary is double that of the others.)
Still, mastering all levels of web development seems to have its rewards. A 2022 survey of developers by StackOverflow found that “full-stack developer” was the top response (nearly 47%) when respondents were asked to describe their roles.
Are WordPress Developers Full-Stack Developers?
The features of managed WordPress hosting here at Kinsta allow anyone competent in PHP to do serious development without digging deeply into the server side of things.
WordPress installed anywhere is developer-friendly and offers a large library of its own PHP functions/methods that are a layer of abstraction over some common server-side tasks. For example, WordPress developers can store and retrieve records in relational databases without writing SQL. They can save media uploads to a server’s file system without knowing the core functionality in PHP that makes it all happen.
“WordPress Developer” could have been a category of its own here, but then we’d have to do the same for developers using CMS products like Drupal, Joomla, and DNN and frameworks like Laravel, .NET, and Django.
Many WordPress developers — particularly some who build WordPress themes and plugins — have inspiring full-stack chops. So, the answer to the question “Are WordPress developers full-stack developers?” is: It depends.
4. Mobile App Developer
The term “application” covers a lot of ground in software development. From the desktop to the web, applications are the tools that get things done for end users.
When shortened to just “app” — as in, “There’s an app for that!” — we tend to think first of the applications running on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. And creating mobile apps requires a specialist type of developer.
When we looked at average app developer salaries, we found that those building for mobile platforms made slightly more than those focusing on the desktop or the web.
5. Desktop Software Developer
Desktop developers create software applications that run on personal computers and workstations.
Developers generally build desktop applications for specific operating systems, so activity in this field reflects the relative market shares of platforms such as Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s macOS, Google’s Chrome OS, and the open-source operating system Linux.
Using data collected from website visits worldwide, Statcounter estimated in August 2022 that Windows held a 74% market share among desktop operating systems.
Developers are likely to program using integrated development environment (IDE) tools for rapid editing, debugging, and compiling of source code.
Popular languages for desktop application programming include C#, C++, Swift, and Java.
Desktop software runs locally, but modern applications might use Internet connectivity for tasks ranging from product updates to sharing data via cloud storage.
6. Data Scientist (Big Data Developer)
Humans help to generate a lot of data by going about their everyday lives: checking out at the grocery store, surfing the web, driving past traffic cameras, using cell phones — even voting. We’ve built systems to record data from natural phenomena like the weather, earthquakes, and electromagnetic signals from space.
A data scientist is a math wizard with a computer who can uncover patterns in all that information.
There’s a good chance these developers are using the Python programming language or something more specialized, such as R, Scala, or Julia.
“Big data” usually winds up in a relational database, so a data scientist will likely have SQL in their programming toolbox.
7. Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning Developer
Artificial intelligence (AI) software developers seek to imitate human behaviors like decision-making. Add machine learning (ML), and an application can get smarter over time.
AI/ML applications typically process a lot of data using complex algorithms, so developers in the field are often data scientists.
Market research firm IDC found worldwide revenue for AI-related applications, hardware, and services exceeded $383 billion in 2021, an increase of nearly 21% over 2020.
Customer relationship management software and enterprise resource management software accounted for about 65% of the revenue from AI-enhanced applications.
8. Game Developer
Computer game developers represent a broad range of skills.
Their software might run on desktops, mobile devices, consoles, or in web browsers. Storylines accommodate different gaming genres, like military or sporting simulation, first-person shooters, strategy, or role-playing. Then there are probably 3D graphics, music, and sound effects.
In a world of Internet-connected gaming, developers of massively multiplayer games face backend server and database requirements as demanding as the busiest e-commerce sites.
Game developers typically have expertise in 3D-rendering tools and other animation-related software.
And, focusing on cutting-edge technology, recent developer surveys by SlashData’s Developer Nation showed that just over 37% of the augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) applications were AR/VR games. A further 27.9% of the projects involved building virtual worlds — some for games.
9. Operating Systems Developer
While thousands of developers work on the most popular operating systems — contributing to Linux or employed by Microsoft, Apple, or Google — it’s still an exclusive group. After all, SlashData says its surveys suggest the total worldwide developer population is more than 24 million.
There’s a good chance that your refrigerator has an operating system, but popular computer operating systems are efforts that require large teams of developers, most of whom are working on smaller components of the overall project.
The core of most operating systems is the kernel, which manages access to the CPU, memory, file systems, and I/O devices. C is the primary coding language for the kernels behind Microsoft Windows, Apple’s macOS, and Linux. Also used is some low-level code written in assembly.
And the Android kernel evolved from the Linux kernel.
On top of the kernel, an operating system has drivers to manage various hardware devices and applications for system housekeeping. And then there’s the system’s graphical user interface. Developers might use C, C++, Objective C (macOS), and even Python (Linux) for these components.
10. DevOps Engineer
A DevOps Engineer manages tools and workflows that get software from the development stage to a public release quickly and reliably.
“DevOps” is an amalgamation of the words “development” and “operations,” and practitioners automate repetitive software development tasks — from managing code to testing, deployment, monitoring, maintaining, and troubleshooting it.
These engineers employ a suite of DevOps tools to help speed up software release cycles, manage the various versions of the project’s code base, and confirm that the final product works as expected.
When used for web development, the DevOps process can also ensure that the resources required by the application are available and properly configured on the web server.
DevOps requires advanced skills, and a DevOps engineer’s salary usually reflects that.
11. Security Developer (SecDevOps)
A security developer builds tools and manages processes that test software and computer-system security.
In software development, security is often a component of the DevOps process. Someone focusing on security in that environment might be called a SecDevOps engineer.
Security developers work to protect software and computer systems from cyber security attacks and threats. They use various tools, including scripting languages like Python, Bash, and Ruby, to automate repetitive tasks.
A security developer must have in-depth knowledge of the software and systems they are trying to protect.
What Type of Developer Do You Want to Be?
Then, maybe someday, you’ll join us with a career at Kinsta.
That’s a look at 11 types of developers with roles distinct enough to highlight the various tasks available in their fields.
Still, many developers fill more than one role, and most are familiar with multiple programming or scripting languages. Maybe that’s why we’ll never all agree on an “official” list of developer types.
Meanwhile, if you have a web-based project you’d like to launch, you might want to explore Kinsta’s Application Hosting and Database Hosting solutions.
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