What a back-end developer does — essentially, make sure web servers, databases and applications work together in harmony — may be invisible to end users.

But the behind-the-scenes functionality they develop is essential to processing user actions taken on the frontend.

While it’s a job seekers’ market, competition can be fierce for top developer positions, so you need to make sure your toolbox is fully loaded. One way to do this is to add some new languages to your back-end repertoire. Three great options for a back-end developer are C, C++ and Java. But which is best for you?

To determine whether you want to learn C, C++ or Java, it’s important to know what sort of back-end developer you want to be:

  • Job postings for mobile application developer roles (a hot hiring area) often ask for knowledge of Java and related frameworks and tools.
  • Software engineers might be expected to know at least one of these programming languages — C, C++ or Java — or all of the above, depending on the size of the organization and complexity of the software development program.
  • Software developer positions often call for at least one of the above languages, especially in jobs requiring less post-college experience — such as lead applications developers and software architects — as well as jobs necessitating a mix of programming and analytic skills, such as developer/programmer analyst.

Now, take a closer look at C, C++ and Java to better understand why hiring managers seek back-end developer professionals knowledgeable in these languages:

C = lasting popularity

C is one of the oldest programming languages, yet it holds firm in the top 10 list (currently number two) on the TIOBE Index in popularity. C is so widely used in part because it’s cross-platform and compatible with compilers available for most system architectures and operating systems. Many other languages have a similar syntax. However, C — which is a structured language — has a smaller vocabulary than most and allows a back-end developer less flexibility in achieving desired functionality. But the fact that it’s structured makes it a good toolbox option, as it’s easier to read and maintain.

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C++ = super flexible

A term commonly used to refer to C++ is “multi-paradigm,” meaning you can write code in a way that’s procedural but also use functional, object-oriented, or a mix of programming paradigms. This flexibility means C++ can be more challenging to learn; a software engineer may develop in it using one or more of these styles, or even combine it with code written in other languages. Many programs, such as several Adobe Systems products, Dragon Naturally Speaking and SETI@home are built with it. Additionally, many wired and wireless telecommunications systems work on foundational software made in C++.

Java = corporate and commercial

Java, the youngest of these languages, was being created about the same time the World Wide Web Consortium was forming. Another multi-paradigm programming language, Java was soon incorporated into many major web browsers. It was originally a proprietary system developed by Sun Microsystems, Inc. (bought by Oracle Corp. in 2010). Many enterprises still hire Java back-end developers to update or maintain older client/server customer relationship management (CRM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Java is also used in 3D graphics applications and for mobile app development, which is a booming industry.

Lucrative options

Learning any one of these three programming languages would be a good start to becoming a better back-end developer. Java and C++ are versatile codebases with active developer communities and online training. Though less flexible, C is an excellent choice if you want to work with web technologies that run on UNIX or Linux. If your goal is to work in web development, be sure to also get to know the languages that connect the “back end” to the “front end” — PHP, Ruby, Python, Perl, or .NET. (Bonus: Knowing languages like these can also give your salary a boost, according to Robert Half Technology’s Salary Guide.)

Check out the Robert Half Salary Guide to see typical job descriptions and starting salaries for developers, as well as average salary increases determined by the programming languages you know.