It’s true that being a specialist in one’s field and gaining mastery of a particular aspect of technology has distinct advantages, but as technology rapidly expands and evolves, many companies are seeking talented developers who are able to understand and work on both the front and back end to create a usable end product with little input or support. These developers, also known as “full-stack developers,” are once again on the rise.
We use the term “once again,” because the role has had its share of ups and downs, as well as disagreements from all kinds of people about what full-stack developer really means and the level of expertise it entails.
The Complex History of the Full-Stack Developer
Prior to the invention of the Web and mobile devices, a computer programmer would have been able to create a computer program from start to finish without much trouble, as there weren’t many layers of software between the programmer and the hardware.
By the mid-2000s, however, creating anything, even a simple website, became prohibitively expensive. Around the same time, the technology required to make the new generation of Web 2.0 sites became increasingly simplified. The term full-stack developer gained momentum in the late 2000s, when it became possible for one person to develop a full consumer or SaaS site. These full-stack developers could feasibly build applications and websites end-to-end.
In the 2010s, though, technologies again became more complex and stacks more layered, leading to more silos, as well as popularization of “front-end developers” and “back-end developers” who specialized in one or the other. Full-stack developers regained traction as developers who didn’t identify as front-end or back-end developers, but rather, as ones who could handle both front- and back-end responsibilities.This explanation from InCountry CEO Peter Yared breaks down the timeline in more detail.
The Full-Stack Developer of Today
Although disagreement over the term continues to this day, there’s no question that full-stack developers are in high demand, and that demand is rising. More and more people in the technology field now define the role more broadly and see the full-stack developer as someone with working knowledge of the entire stack, with true expertise in a few layers.
The full-stack developer of today is an effective and experienced generalist with a wide base of knowledge and more narrow scope of specialization, who understands both their capabilities and limitations. As HackerRank details, the skills often required for the full-stack developer by this definition include the ability to:
Comfortably write both front- and back-end code to some extent.
Generate a minimal viable product on their own with little, if any, support from others.
Provide expert-level specialty in a select handful of technologies.
Show, at minimum, a basic understanding of technologies they don’t specialize in.
The Importance of Having a Full-Stack Developer on Your Team
Today, full-stack developers are often working with much larger and more complicated websites and technologies, and more layered stacks than in the past. While one person can’t always do it all, it’s beneficial for businesses to hire candidates who understand the full stack. Many companies are seeking developers who are able to work on various domains and fulfill multiple roles, as opposed to finding and hiring multiple people who are narrowly focused. Not only can this be more cost-effective, but it also enables one person to manage and understand the pieces of a project, avoiding miscommunication and knowledge silos.
Many times, a generalist who understands the entire operation is more effective and efficient. Smaller companies and start-ups, for instance, don’t always have the resources to hire separate people for every part of the process. For them, a full-stack developer can handle a smaller-scale project on their own.
As AI becomes more prevalent in the workplace, having someone on your team who understands your systems and processes at a high level; who can spot errors at the front or back end; and is able to bridge the gap between the two will be increasingly important as job roles and tasks evolve along with new AI applications.
Full-stack developers are often in an ideal position to communicate with UX designers and other
members of the team to effectively hash out limitations and implementation of key items like design
rationale and user-experience elements.
It’s clear that Mike Loukides, VP content strategy at O’Reilly Media, was onto something when he said back in 2014, “Full-stack development is about exposing yourself to a broad range of ideas. This is a theme we’ll see repeatedly in the coming years… Specialization exists for a reason. But developers who understand the whole stack are going to build better applications.”
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the role of “web developer” is expected to grow 13 percent from 2018–2028, much faster than the average occupation. And in LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report, “full-stack engineer” is number 4 on their list of top emerging jobs for 2020. Full-stack engineer roles have seen a 35 percent growth rate every year since 2015, and according to the report, “The rapid pace of change in technology has made full-stack developers an asset to any company.” The top industries hiring for this type of talent include computer software, IT and services, Internet, financial services, and higher education.
As HackerRank points out, candidates’ definition of “full-stack developer” may vary, and it’s important to do your research and make sure their skills are a match with your needs for the role. It may turn out that what you need is a front- or back-end developer, or something totally different. Making sure that your vision and a candidate’s skill set and experience are aligned will help you ensure that the fit is right for both of you. Finding a partner to help you do this can save time and help you find great people who will grow with you and your team.
We believe the future belongs to innovators and problem-solvers. It’s our job to create connections that inspire success. That’s why we’ve spent 20+ years building strong relationships and bringing together top tech talent and forward-thinking companies. Signature Consultants joined forces with DISYS to offer a more diversified portfolio of services. Through IT staffing, consulting, managed solutions and direct placement services, we deploy thousands of consultants each year to support client’s tech needs across the U.S. Signature Consultants is also parent company to Hunter Hollis and Madison Gunn. Learn more at sigconsult.com.