What Is a Full-stack Developer (and Why Do Some Consider It a Myth)?

By BrainStation December 5, 2018
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In the world of development and design, the seemingly innocuous job title “Full-Stack Developer” can spark some debate.

On its face, the term seems simple: a Full-Stack Developer is someone who can handle both front- and back-end development. When you dig a bit deeper, though, you realize it’s not that straight forward. Many who work in web development already consider themselves Full-Stack Developers, even if that’s not their specific job title (this isn’t altogether surprising, as language around web development can be tricky). Meanwhile, others would argue that Full-Stack Developers don’t really exist in a tech ecosystem where everyone needs a broad skill set.

Let’s take a closer look at the specific role of a Full-Stack Developer – and why some still see it as a controversial term.

Front, Back, or Full: Distinguishing Developers

Front-end generally refers to the “face” of the website, app, or digital product being developed, or the portion that users will see and interact with. Often, Front-End Developers are also interchangeably referred to as Designers.

Conversely, Back-End Developers are responsible for overseeing what’s under the hood, including: database interactions; user authentication; server, network and hosting configuration; and business logic.

A Full-Stack Developer then is theoretically adept at wearing both hats, someone who has a familiarity – if not total mastery – of every layer of development.

What Are the Key Skills Full-stack Developers Need?

On the front end, it’s important to possess a solid understanding of programming languages, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, as well as frameworks including React, Bootstrap, Backbone, AngularJS, and EmberJS.

Important skills typically associated with back-end development, meanwhile, include how to build servers using a modern framework while developing custom APIs and serving static website and files, as well as an understanding of how to manage databases and data on a web server. Back-End Developers use server-side languages, including PHP, Ruby, and Python, as well as tools including MySQL, Oracle, and Git.

Of course, to thoroughly learn code, many would advocate studying all of these languages, frameworks and tools even if you’re focused entirely on front or back-end development.

A Full-Stack Fantasy?

Certainly, employers want to hire Full-Stack Developers – they are the fourth-most in-demand job in tech, according to a recent Indeed study, and they bring home an average annual salary of $113,700.

So why is the term controversial? For one thing, Developers who specialize in the front-end or back-end bristle at the notion that someone could be equally adept at both – the expression “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” comes to mind.

“My defensive tendencies are normally put on high alert when I hear that magic phrase (‘full-stack’),” wrote Front-End Developer Andy Shora. “Stacks are a lot bigger than what they used to be, and being able to claim one has acquired refined skills at every layer of web development is certainly not a small claim.

“Does this mean you have a broad range of skills or you specialize in everything?”

In fact, that leads to another reason the term “full-stack” might be becoming outdated.

It seems there are an increasing number of tech professionals who consider themselves Full-Stack Developers. According to Stack Overflow’s 2018 survey of Developers, 48.2 percent consider themselves Full-Stack Developers – up from 28 percent in 2016.

That is more evidence that Developers are now expected to possess a holistic skill set. Whether it’s in their job title or not, more and more Developers are taking it upon themselves to understand functions at both the front and back end.

Particularly for Developers who are in the fledgling stages of their career, it might be worth gaining a foundation in both.

“For most people hoping to break into web improvement, you should center around working up an establishment in both front-end and back-end advancement first,” recommended software engineer and tech writer Muhammad Anser. “At that point you can float towards a claim to fame later on.”

And with employment of Developers in general is expected to grow 15 percent by 2026 for 24,400 new jobs, much faster than the U.S. average rate of job growth, there may not be a better time to dive in and learn more about all the layers of Web Development.

 

Ready to get started? BrainStation offers full-time and part-time courses in Web Development at our campuses in New York, Toronto and Vancouver.