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What is a Full-Stack Developer?

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Ah, the elusive full-stack developer: are they simply a jack of all programming trades, albeit master of none?  Many liken true full-stack developers to unicorns,  yet just a few years ago Facebook claimed to hire only full-stack developers.  Today, what does it mean, truly, to be a full-stack developer?

What is a Full-Stack Developer?

In Shrek-like terms, full-stack developers are like onions, they have layers.  At least, they understand the layers of front-end and back-end development. At most, they can deliver a feature across all tiers of an application, in turn simplifying the intricacies of communication between teams.

In today’s complex myriad of programs out there, it’s nearly impossible that a single person can be an expert in all areas, unless of course, this person has figured out how to live without sleeping. There is something special that sets the full-stack developer apart: the ability to understand and work with multiple tiers to deliver a feature.

They may not be masters of all programming trades, yet full-stack developers are master integrators. Essentially, they are the software architects that build bridges between many tiers.  Call them what you will: generalized specialists or specialized generalists.  A good full-stack developer can play an integral role in simplifying communication across the board.


Front-End vs. Back-End

A FSD knows their stuff front and back, literally. Working in front end, they will need to know something of design to create compelling user interfaces; at the same time, they require the know-how for complex back end programming to develop server, network, hosting environments, and security.

Full-Stack Developer Skill Set

In the front-end department, skill sets include:

  • HTML
  • Javascript
  • CSS


  • Ruby
  • Java
  • PHP
  • C#
  • Python

Beyond hard skills, an ideal FS-Dev understands:

  • Quality Assurance
  • Customer and Business Needs
  • User Experience
  • Data Modeling

And of course, the list goes on and is constantly evolving. To avoid becoming obsolete, a full-stack developer needs to be quick on their feet, learning easily and vigorously. This may not necessarily imply that a full-stack developer is an expert at everything, rather, they have a functional ability to understand how everything works from top to bottom and apply that knowledge productively.


Career Prospects for Full-Stack Developers

Demand for full-stack developers in the job market is a response to an underlying need for task and communication simplification.  Having one person who can understand and contribute to every level of development is an attractive idea, especially for small companies and startups where this person will have increased autonomy. If a full-stack developer can do quite a few things — and do them well– opportunities will present themselves.

Tech startups in particular are seeking developers who can immediately produce at each layer of a software ecosystem. Startups need talent and versatility, and a full-stack developer brings just that. Full-stack developers fit well into roles in startups because they need to work on a little bit of everything. The demand for these developers is clear based on the increasing number of job postings with a “full-stack” moniker in headlines.  It’s a no-brainer for startups — the mindset to jump into any layer is invaluable to building and launching apps, whilst saving companies the time and money associated with hiring and communicating between specialists.  Some full-stack developers may find themselves suited to founding startups, using their mental model of how different software layers behave to get an application off the ground.

With a broad-ranging skill set, a full-stack developer has an edge on the freelance market as well. Someone who can deliver a finished product holds allure for companies or individuals looking to get a project finished.  Freelancing allows freedom of choice when it comes to project and lifestyle, and for someone who likes doing a little bit of everything, this may be the answer.  Freelancing comes with the headache of running your own business and seeking out clients, but it’s gratifying for those who don’t want to get stuck in one project or role.

Is it possible that full-stack developers are ‘overqualified’ for some jobs?  Kind of.  As companies grow, it’s likely that they will implement systems to streamline task communication, and this model tends to delegate tasks and favor experts who excel in a niche.  Specialization exists for good reason — large tech corporations have the luxury of creating teams of experts in a program.  Startups are not immune, their growth will naturally lead to role specialization too.  This dilemma forces full-stack developers to make a tough decision: specialize, or move to another job?

Being a full-stack developer is a blessing and a curse. The increased range of skills offer more career opportunities than a specialized developer. But it also means that none of your skills are as developed as the specialized developer, meaning you might hit a compensation ceiling or are overlooked for positions at larger companies. It’s a decision you must make as an individual, but if you do become a full-stack developer, you can be assured you will always be employable.