Backendology A study of backend web development by Jared Ririe

What This Blog is All About


There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things (Phil Karlton).

Or, my favorite variant:

There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation, naming things, and off by one errors (Unknown)

Naming is hard. Backendology isn’t a real word. Like the programmer who decides to write a lengthy comment rather than coming up with a better name, I’ll try to explain what I intended when I named this blog Backendology. The name draws obvious reference to the term “backend” as in backend or server-side web development. The suffix “-logy” is a branch of learning, or study of a particular subject. Put together, this blog is a detailed study of the concepts and technologies related to backend web development.

Topics I plan to cover

While this list does not aim to be exhaustive, it should give a good sense for topics I will cover in this blog. I’ll also briefly elaborate on why each topic deserves attention.

Distributed systems

Many backend systems are an entanglement of services which together can be considered a distributed system. Rather than being monolithic in nature, these systems benefit from things like independent deployability, focused development, and loose coupling yet suffer from the complexities of partial failure, lack of concurrency guarantees, and network boundaries.

This list of tradeoffs is clearly incomplete. Each complexity deserves its own blog post! Once network boundaries exist between components of a system, for example, problems such as discoverability must be dealt with. No longer can I make an easy function call; rather, I must build in some way for one service to find another service and then make a network call. This call could fail (should I retry?) or time out (how long should I wait?). Once I’ve figured out how to handle these failure scenarios, does every service I write need to duplicate this logic or can I abstract it away through a form of middleware?


Topics like caching, consistency, reverse proxying, API gateways, and service meshes are fair game.


Go is a phenomenal language for backend development. I started writing Go in October 2015 and haven’t looked back. I’ll be writing several blog posts where I solve problems using Go or otherwise talk about it.

Go is easy to learn, proven in production, and designed for the cloud. It’s deployed in production by high-traffic companies like Google, Dropbox, Uber, and Facebook in cases where stability and high performance are critical. Many open-source cloud computing tools are written in Go like Docker and Consul.

I enjoy its strong focus on simplicity which translates to less ramp-up time for new developers. Another benefit is in maintainability of Go codebases, as it’s very readable and easy to understand existing code.

NoSQL and general database concepts

NoSQL is a movement that started in response to a need for increased scalability in large cloud companies like Google and Amazon. In my mind, NoSQL is less of a rebuttal of relational databases (i.e. No, SQL!) and more of an alternative to SQL when it makes sense for the problem being solved (i.e. Not Only SQL).

I have worked with a large variety of NoSQL databases in my time at Qualtrics. Some have turned out extraordinarily well while others turned out quite the opposite! These experiences left me with this conclusion: database choice is often more important than programming language choice. In order to make an informed decision, you need to be well-educated in general database concepts such as consistency and data modeling.

Software and non-software books

I have become an avid reader of technical books, as well as popular non-fiction books like Grit, Mindset, and Work Rules! ever since I graduated from college. I read five books each quarter, so 20 books/year. And by read, I really mean read or listen; I’m an advocate of Audible and think it’s a solid investment.

I’m planning on writing a post for each book I read with a summary of the content, further learning it inspired, and my overall recommendation. Here are some books on my reading list:

Research papers

I was one week away from attending graduate school. I had accepted an offer and scholarship from the University of Wisconsin: Madison, enrolled in classes, and found an apartment. Then, in a last-minute decision, I walked away from it all a week before classes started. I’ll share the full story in a later blog post.

While I still believe this was the correct choice given my circumstances, I regret not being able to delve into Computer Science research. Reading research papers has been more of a hit and miss for me than reading books. I hope this blog can serve as the necessary motivation to read more research papers and review them as blog entries. The research papers I have read, such as Amazon’s well-known Dynamo paper, have been influential in improving my design skills and identifying weak areas in my understanding.

Up-and-coming backend technology

The backend is notably more stable than the frontend. The database terminology or distributed consensus algorithm you learned a few years ago will still be relevant for a long time. Meanwhile, if you picked up AngularJS around the same time, you know it was soon eclipsed by Angular and then React and now maybe Vue.js.

Google Trends for Service Mesh and Istio

That said, the backend is still encapsulated in the ever-changing thing which is technology. “Service mesh” is one example of a backend idea that has only recently entered my vocabulary. It is a solution to dealing with the varied interactions between services in a network of microservices. Istio is an example project I’ll cover in a later blog post. I plan to regularly write about new technologies of this nature.

Architecture and system design

One of the benefits of working at a smaller company is the opportunity to be involved in key architectural discussions even early in your career. Such has been the case for me at Qualtrics where I have been able to influence large chunks of the backend. I know, however, that I’m still in my infancy in terms of my ability to design elegant solutions to cross-cutting problems in a system. I am confident that as I improve my system design skills, I will be able to make a bigger impact on the technical direction of my software team.

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