The “Full-Stack” Web Developer Explained For Everyday Folks

LENGTH 11 min read
CONTENT TYPE Blog Post

TL;DR: A “full-stack developer” is basically what it sounds like — a developer that wears all the hats! 🧢🎩👒👲🏼🤠🤓

Often, it is common to hear the term full-stack when people discuss web or software development in today’s world. For example, software engineers frequently say, “I’m a full-stack developer,” with it also becoming their LinkedIn profile job title. More companies than ever before are advertising to hire “full-stack developers for their coding projects” in their job postings. In short, full-stack has become a hot buzzword in the software industry.

So what exactly is a “Full-Stack” developer?

Is it an original engineering designation or merely a marketing gimmick? And what skills does an engineer need to become a full-stack developer? As one of the most-discussed topics, people are of divided opinions: While some think full-stack as industry jargon, others believe the position blends the know-how of various programming languages and databases.

In this blog post, we’ll define what a full-stack developer is, explain the pros and cons, and help you decide if your company should hire a full-stack developer.

The Origins of The Term “Full-Stack” Developer

Software Engineer and Professor of Computer Science Alexander Katrompas, who is often considered a leading voice in the software and web development industry, regards full-stack as a “meaningless and redundant designation.” Still, it’s hardly fair to completely trash the concept and its role. More and more engineers work on both the client-side and server-side of the software application today than ever before. In other words, companies are always looking for engineers who know back-end and front-end development along with solid knowledge and understanding of database, server, API, and version controlling systems. 

According to Hackernoon, the term full-stack refers to technologies required to complete a project, while stack means a collection of sub-modules. Essentially, it means engineers who can achieve a developmental goal without relying on other people. A fun fact: Tech giants like Facebook and Google are hiring more full-stack developers than ever before, while tech start-ups also strongly favour candidates who are skilled/experienced across the developmental spectrum and can wear several different hats in this space.

Before we dig deeper into the world of full-stack, let’s understand the two basic terminologies that have been synonymous with this industry since the beginning of web development: back-end and front-end.

What is a Front-End Developer?

Simply put, a front-end developer is someone who works on the “front-end” of a website or application. The front-end is the website or application’s visitor-facing aspects based on the client-side language.

A front-end developer ensures that a website’s visitor or application’s user can easily interact with the web or app features. Whenever you visit a website, the things you see on its pages are the work of a front-end developer — and the same also applies to any web-based application.

By combining languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and designing techniques related to UI/UX, front-end developers optimise the user experience. In addition, they create tools to improve a website or app interactions with its users and follow best SEO practices. Fixing bugs and performing usability testing are also part and parcel of the job.

What is a Back-End Developer?

Likewise, a back-end developer works on the “back-end” of a website or application. They are responsible for behind-the-scenes functionalities, consisting of three parts that an end-user never sees: the server, the application, and the database.

They create, maintain, test, and debug the back-end, thereby enabling the front-end of the application or website to consistently deliver its many functionalities such as navigation, custom search, and e-commerce features. The back-end is, in fact, a combination of database and software based on server-side language.

By leveraging the knowledge of databases (SQL/MongoDB) and programming languages (PHP, Python, and Java), front-end developers create applications following clean coding principles. Then, converting and returning data to the front-end, they use effective and efficient solutions to back-end frameworks.

The Multi-Facets of A Full-Stack Developer

By now, you have a high-level understanding of back-end and front-end developers — and to understand full-stack, you need to think of engineers who know both server-side and client-side languages.

A qualified full-stack developer knows all aspects involved in building a web application. That means they should be proficient in the LAMP stack model (a time-tested stack of Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Python/Pearl). The model provides a platform for delivering high-performance applications.

The LAMP stack model has a layered architecture, with Linux at its lowest level and PHP at its highest. The elements interact with each other — and together, they handle static and dynamic pages.

To be an expert full-stack developer, one needs to know programming languages, development frameworks, third-party libraries, front-end technologies, data structures, and essential design ability. We’ll discuss them briefly in another section.

Full-Stack Developer vs. Full-Stack Engineer

The terms full-stack developers and full-stack engineers are often used synonymously and interchangeably, although they differ relatively in terms of skills and job responsibilities.

A full-stack engineer is someone who does both software and hardware development. For example, they design computer hardware, draw schematics using a CAD program, layout the printed circuit boards, and order parts for manufacturing. They later write software to test and run the hardware components. In short, they design and produce patent or market-ready hardware and software.

A full-stack developer is only concerned with software development. Some of their primary job responsibilities are writing front-end and back-end code, testing its usability, debugging, and maintaining.

So which one should your company hire: a full-stack developer or a full-stack engineer? Well, it depends . . . on the nature and requirements of your company!

Full-stack developers are best fits for start-ups because they can do both client-side and server-side of an application. Additionally, since they usually like to work in teams, they can also lead a team of developers. In contrast, full-stack engineers are in huge demand in major tech companies, as they can focus on specific areas that demand more concentrated attention. Typically, these developers also like to work on projects alone, as they feel it’s easier to get into the “flow” and are generally more productive without having the distractions that come with working in a team environment.

In general, full-stack developers build robust web applications, but full-stack engineers build complex programs and deal more with the hardware side of computer engineering.

Skills Any Good Full-Stack Developer Must Have

When hiring a full-stack developer, you should check if the candidate has functional knowledge of all aspects of building web applications, i.e., from front-end to back-end to databases.

The following checklist might come in handy when hiring the best full-stack developer from the applicants’ pool.

  • Are they proficient in programming languages like Java, PHP, Python, or Pearl? Do they have some years of experience in writing code?
  • Do they have a working knowledge of development frameworks and third-party libraries such as JAVA Spring, MyBatis, or Python Django?
  • Do they know at least one or two databases, for example, MySQL or MongoDB? How about Oracle or Redis?
  • Are they well aware and competent in working with prototypes and UI/UX designs?
  • Apart from the technical skills, how good are their soft skills? Do they like to work in a team or complete isolation? Are they problem solvers or risk-takers? Do they see themselves as team leaders in the future?

Asking the right questions will result in the right answers — and through a rigorous interview process, you’ll be able to determine and recruit the best candidate for your company.

Before deciding on hiring a full-stack developer, let’s discuss some of the pros and cons of these different skill sets.

Should Your Company Hire a Full-Stack Developer?

If your company is thinking about hiring a full-stack developer, you should first consider the following five points;

#1 – Flexibility

A full-stack developer is more flexible than a specialised developer. As front-end or back-end developers are limited to their areas of expertise, a full-stack developer has both skills and experience under their belt. For start-ups and businesses with limited budgets, having a flexible full-stack developer is far more efficient than having two specialised developers trained on one fixed domain.

#2 – Time

Time management can be an issue when hiring a full-stack developer, as they work from the front-end to back-end. On the other hand, if you employ a front-end or back-end developer, they can work on their specialised area simultaneously and achieve results faster. Therefore, if you want to speed up the development process, you could hire more than one full-stack developer.

#3 – Cost

On a positive note, full-stack developers are budget-friendly. From making the front-end appealing to solving the back-end complexities, they work on the overall project. So instead of hiring two developers (one front-end, one back-end), you can hire one developer to handle the project, reducing the cost to nearly half. However, with specialised developers, you will have to allocate more funds and pay them separately for their technical tasks. That’s why full-stack developers are more affordable for start-ups and small to mid-sized companies.

#4 – Availability

Entirely depending on a full-stack developer might be counterintuitive. If a full-stack developer with high dependency quits the job, it could affect your company’s project flow. Having someone new start in the middle of the project or even finding a suitable replacement quickly may prove challenging, so you need to keep this in mind.

#5 – Learning Curve

Full-stack developers tend to adapt to new concepts quickly, and they can be trained in new technologies effectively as the need arises. Moreover, since they are highly versatile and dynamic, they are well-versed in various software or web development stages. As a result, they can work more efficiently to identify and debug the code. Besides, they take complete ownership of the coding project and go above and beyond to meet your company’s business requirements.

The Growing Demand For Full-Stack Developers

With every passing year, there has been a steady — and at times rapid — growth in technology and its capabilities. Technology is now in every industry today, thus creating more and more requirements for full-stack developers. An increasing number of companies are looking for generalists who can manage all development aspects rather than specialists who just focus on a particular area.

Also, the rising trend of remote work — or working from home — has escalated the demand for full-stack developers. Many companies want to reduce their team size/budgets and find jack-of-all-trade developers instead of hiring a specialist with only one domain knowledge.

With entwined front and back-end technologies, the changing tech landscape also shapes the programming world by giving full-stack developers global recognition. Obviously, there are some considerations to go over, although hiring a full-stack developer might be the best thing you can do for your business!

Taking The Leap

By now, we trust that you now have a better understanding when it comes to differentiating between full-stack and front/back-end — and the best case scenarios of where and when to use each type.

Choosing the right kind of developer depends on a number of factors. For example, if your company makes a range of software products, full-stack developers are probably a better option to service all different requirement areas. However, if your company is focused on a specialised area or niche of development, you’ll need dedicated back-end or front-end developers depending on what it is you are doing. Another factor to consider is, of course, the budget, but remember, if you pay peanuts, you’ll most probably end up with monkeys!

We hope we have shared our knowledge and experience in this area of developer job roles in a way that has helped you become more educated and confident towards hiring your own developer for your team — if you decide that is the best option for your business.

It is always good, though, to consider alternative options available to you. Using experienced experts could well be a better investment than starting from scratch, going out and hiring on your own. As a software development company, WEBO Digital has an entire team of front-end, back-end, and full-stack developers building great technology products and solutions for happy clients every day that are also able to help you.

If you would like to discuss this option further or have any other questions on this topic, please book in a chat or drop us a line here, where we’ll look forward to speaking further with you.

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