Back end developer salary (and tactics to earn more) in 2023
Outside of the tech world, backend web development is often misunderstood. In movies, it’s portrayed as a lone developer in their basement, staring at lines of code… then suddenly, an app magically appears! In reality, backend development is a lucrative tech career where you get to build the core functionality and foundation of websites and web apps used by people around the world. Sound enticing? Let's get into how in demand backend developers actually are, how the average base salary for backend developers stacks up to other web developer salaries, and what the average salary for backend developers is (plus, how you can earn a higher one).
What is a backend developer—and what do they work on?
Backend developers build the core foundation of websites and web apps on what’s called the “server side,” meaning the part that end users don’t see. They build things like databases, application programming interfaces (APIs), and set up web hosting to make sure the site is live and ready to go for users at all times.
Specific tasks will vary by company, but backend developers will likely work on all of these tasks throughout their careers:
- Building databases and caching mechanisms
- Building and maintaining web servers
- Writing APIs
- Coding core website functionality
- Building security protocols and encryptions
- Creating performance reports
- Handling backups
- Working in a variety of development languages
- Problem solving
- Collaboration with other tech workers
For more information on backend development, check out Wave’s comprehensive guide to becoming a backend developer.
Salaries for back end developers
Backend development is a well-paying job that ranges from about $70,000 USD as the lowest salary to well over $130,000+ annually, depending on different factors. Let’s take a look at the average backend developer salaries across entry-, intermediate-, and senior-level roles.
Junior and entry level back end developer salary
The average base salary for a junior backend developer across the United States is around $70,000 annually.
Typical tasks for a junior/entry-level developer might be:
- Building the foundations of a database
- Debugging a code base problem
- Collaborating with other tech workers, particularly front end devs.
- Conducting requirements
- Gathering user and stakeholder interviews
Keep in mind that location is a key factor in starting salary! For example, in San Francisco a junior backend developer could start higher than the average, at around $76,000 annually. In other cities with less developed tech ecosystems, like Tulsa, the starting salary can be much lower, around $45,000 annually.
Intermediate and senior back end developer salary
Intermediate developers can see a fairly large salary bump, averaging around $85,000 annually. With a few more years of experience, you could jump to a senior role earning over $125,000 annually.
Intermediate and senior developers do a variety of tasks, including:
- Building reusable code libraries for the team
- Providing opinions on scalable architecture for new projects
- Gathering technical and design requirements for a project
- Optimizing projects with UI tests in collaboration with front end developers
Lead back end developer salary
Once you hone your skills and have more experience under your belt, you could become a lead backend developer, earning around $140,000 annually on average.
Lead developers have a few extra tasks on their plate (it’s not just a fancy title change!):
- Strategizing how a new project should be built
- Using project management skills to coordinate a whole project from start to finish
- Mentoring junior developers
- Helping with developer recruitment (taking part in interviews with an HR manager or leveraging their network)
- Being the last line of defence for difficult problems no one else is able to solve
Salary for managing a team of developers
Managing a team of developers is a lucrative promotion and job title change, with an average salary of $120,000 annually.
A team manager will have different requirements compared to an individual contributor (such as an intermediate or lead developer), including:
- Analyzing compensation data to build out the team's core compensation philosophy, salary structures, and pay target (often done alongside the CTO, another executive leader, or a compensation specialist)
- Describing the key outcomes required from developer positions on their team
- Figuring out job titles for their team
- Managing day-to-day operations, giving feedback, and holding 1:1 meetings with team members
- Going to industry events or conferences to learn about the latest updates in the industry
Despite not actively coding (most of the time), a team leader usually still has significant coding skills. They were likely coders themselves in the past and often have a computer science degree or something similar.
Freelance back end developer rates
Freelance developers can earn anywhere from $60 to $100+ per hour for their work. Freelance rates are slightly less affected by geography. Afterall, freelancers can work remotely for companies across the country!
Factors that affect backend developer salaries
Beyond simply working in the highest paying cities, the factors that affect intermediate and senior developer salaries include:
Years of experience
Years of successful experience allows you to learn key skills and evolve them as technology changes, which is valuable to employers or people hiring freelancers.
How many coding languages you know
Knowledge = more $$$. The more you know, the more leverage you have in job negotiations or the more clients you can take on as a freelancer.
Which coding languages you know
It’s not just about quantity, it’s also about quality. Some skills like API development and database management might be more valuable to many companies.
Your attitude, ability to collaborate and work independently, and business acumen all affect how much you can charge or earn. Companies need development talent, but they also want smart people who will help them achieve business goals.
Type of business
If a company sells technology they will likely pay more for tech workers than a company selling services that only use technology for back-office processes.
Other types of compensation
Cash compensation is not the only way to earn money as an employee. Here are a few other types of compensation (all wrapping up into “total compensation”) that you should be aware of:
- Equity or options
- Healthcare and other benefits
- Paid time off
- Health and lifestyle spending accounts
- Discounts at other brands negotiated by your employer
Paid time off alone could also be worth thousands of dollars annually. The same can be said for health insurance or spending accounts. Don’t forget about these when negotiating compensation!
Where to find back end web developer jobs
If you’re looking for your first (or a new) development role, check out these sources for job openings:
If you’re going down the freelance path, consider these sources for freelance job openings:
- Developers for Hire
- Your own LinkedIn or Twitter network
Comparing backend developer salaries to other types of developer salaries
Front end vs backend developer salary
The average front end developer salary range in the United States goes from $50,000 to $125,000+ annually, depending on experience. That means a front end developer will likely earn less than a backend developer (good news for you, bad news for front end developers). Here's an article on front end developer salaries for a more in-depth look.
Full stack developer salary vs backend developer salary
Full stack developers are some of the highest-paid tech workers, starting around $90,000 for junior developers and going well up into the six figures for people with experience. Here’s an article with more information about full stack developers.
Software engineer salary vs backend developer salary
Software engineers on average make a bit less than backend developers. Depending on experience, an engineer salary can be anywhere from $64,000 - $128,000+ in total compensation per year.
Mobile developer salary vs backend developer salary
On average, mobile developers earn around $72,000 to start and top out around $143,000 annually, which is similar to the average salary of front end developers.
UX/UI designer salary vs backend developer salary
UX/UI designers are in high demand, but the average salary range of $52,000 to $110,000+ is slightly lower than backend developers.
Web designer salary vs backend developer salary
Web designers earn anywhere from $38,000 to $76,000+ annually depending on specialty, putting them a bit behind in terms of compensation compared to backend developers.
How backend developers can increase their salary or hourly rate
While back end developers have a good promotion pathway and earn good money, you may want to increase your earnings. Here are a few strategies to try:
While backend developers usually have a good promotion pathway and earn good money, they may still want to increase their earnings (because honestly, who wouldn’t want to earn more cash?). Here are a few strategies to try:
Learn high-value backend programming languages
Some backend languages, like API development SQL, C#, C++, and Python, are in higher demand than others. If you are experienced in these languages you have more leverage to command higher pay throughout your career.
Equity and profit-sharing employers
If you can find a job with a company that offers equity or profit sharing to employees, your total compensation could be theoretically limitless. Equity sharing gives you a share of long term ownership in the company through stock. Profit sharing, on the other hand, gives you a part of the profits your company makes.
Side hustling on top of your day job
Taking on freelance clients in your spare time is a great way to earn more money on top of your base salary.
If you’re going down the freelancing route, there are two things to consider:
- Legality: Check state laws and your individual employment contract to ensure you’re allowed to freelance while working full-time.
- Admin: Make sure to set up business banking and invoicing so the admin side of your business is simple and clean (this will be especially handy for tax time).
Teach backend development
If you’re good at development, you could teach it to others in coding bootcamps or by developing your own paid online course. Just make sure you’re clear on the outcomes a student will get from your lessons since this is what will drive value (aka make people want to give you their money).
Monetize a YouTube channel
If you like teaching but don’t want to launch a course, share your experiences on YouTube. If you build up a following you can monetize with ads, sponsorships from companies, or affiliate offers to your audience.
Consider becoming a full stack developer
Since “full stack” is just one person who knows both backend and front end development, you could focus on learning front end programming languages and then getting a new job (or freelancing) as a full stack developer.
Backend development can be a lucrative career path
As the world continues to integrate technology more and more into everyday life, programmers who understand how to build the foundations of websites and web applications (aka backend development) will become even more in demand. At the same time, make sure you have realistic expectations for your earning potential based on your skill set, the national average in your country, and the kind of work you like to do. There are a lot of ways for developers to earn great salaries, but it all starts with knowing the key concepts, frameworks, and languages. From there you can strategize how to earn more, find a great job, or gain more freedom freelancing.
Curious what it takes to become a web designer? Check out Wave’s guide to building a successful web design career.