Definition

full-stack developer

Contributor(s): Sarah Lewis

A full-stack developer is a type of programmer that has a functional knowledge of all techniques, languages and  systems engineering concepts required in software development. The term “full stack” refers to the technologies and skills needed to complete a project, with each individual component being a stack. Stacks can be mobile, Web or software specific.

Typically, a software engineer will focus on one part of development, either the front end or the back end. The front end includes all components associated with the visible parts of an application or website while the back end encompasses the underlying databases and infrastructure. The full stack is a hybrid of both.

Industry professionals may argue that the concept of a “full-stack developer” does not exist or is too idealistic. However, it gives developers a goal to aspire towards or adapt to their interests. The point of a full-stack developer is not to independently program a project from start to finish, but to know enough about the code and processes to fill in gaps where needed.

Skills of a full-stack developer

Full-stack developers possess skills related to all layers, or stages, involved in application or web development. This includes:

Since most projects will require one or more of these languages as a base, it is important that full-stack developers have experience with the different language structures, patterns and implementations.

  • Knowledge of development frameworks and third-party libraries. Programming languages must be implemented in some way, and full-stack developers should know how to accomplish this with development frameworks.
  • Fluency with front-end technologies and user experience. Web development relies heavily on front-end languages, like HTML and CSS, as well as testing the results with users. Full-stack developers will know basic design principles, user interfaces and  usability
  • Expertise in data modeling and its related infrastructure. This includes all types of databases and cache techniques.
  • Experience with servers, networks, hosting environments and APIs.
  • Possession of team-oriented soft skills like global thinking, proper communication, creativity and time management.

Additionally, full-stack developers may possess skills related to quality assurance (QA), security, business intelligence (BI) and customer service.

Advantages of a full-stack developer

The main advantage of a full-stack developer is that they may work faster and more independently than other team members, perhaps reducing technical costs. Due to their wide range of knowledge, they may also possess unique opinions and a more active mindset. For these reasons, full-stack developers are popular in startup environments where resources may be lower and a wide range of experience is crucial.

Larger organizations may want to hire full-stack developers as they can help train or troubleshoot with other employees. They can also adapt their job requirements dependent on a specific time period or business need, switching between technologies.

Drawbacks of a full-stack developer

Organizations that are thinking of adding a full-stack developer to their team should consider the following drawbacks. First, most full-stack developers are not an expert in any skill and instead have average knowledge of multiple skills. Therefore, if a project requires detailed experience with complex concepts, hiring multiple, more specialized developers is a better approach. Second, hiring one full-stack developer for a project places a high reliance or risk on that person, making it detrimental to the organization if that employee were to leave.

This was last updated in April 2019

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