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What is a full stack developer and what do they do?

Written by James Adams

Full stack developer working on a coding challenge

Full stack developers proficient in both front-end and back-end development are highly sought-after assets in the tech industry due to their versatility and ability to streamline website development processes.

Thanks to their versatility and ability to streamline website development processes, full stack developers have become highly sought-after assets for many companies. Likewise, many aspiring software engineers now seek a career in full stack development. Software development coding bootcamps focus on teaching the full stack, as it allows students to specialise in one area or go on to continue to practise the full stack once in their career.

But what is a full stack developer? Essentially, a full stack developer is someone proficient in developing both client and server software. They are responsible for constructing and maintaining both the front-end and back-end of a website or web application.

The front end encompasses everything visible and interactive to the site viewer. Front-end developers focus on optimising the user-facing aspects of a website or web application.

Typically, front-end platforms are constructed using HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, although they can also be built using pre-existing code libraries or content management systems like WordPress.

On the other hand, the back end comprises the servers, databases, and internal infrastructure that power the website or application, which users don't directly interact with. Back-end developers refine the software code responsible for communicating with servers, databases, or other proprietary software that transmits information to front-end interfaces.

Full stack developers need expertise in both front-end and back-end development, as they are involved in all stages of the development process and proficient in both areas.

Full stack engineer

Along with full stack developers, you might have also heard about full stack engineers. If you're trying to discern the disparity between the two, you may find that at times, there isn't much difference.

What is a full stack engineer?

In the tech industry, these titles are often used interchangeably, as both positions involve working on both front-end and back-end development tasks. However, full stack engineers may place more emphasis on the engineering aspects of software development, particularly concerning the architectural and infrastructural components of web development projects.

Unlike full stack developers who have a broader skill set, including UX design, project management, and system administration, full stack engineers focus more on the technical intricacies of software engineering.

Responsibilities of full stack developers

In their multifaceted role, full stack developers are tasked with designing and constructing websites and applications across various platforms.

Besides contributing to both front-end and back-end development processes, they also undertake a range of responsibilities including developing and maintaining web services and interfaces, creating innovative product features or APIs, conducting rigorous testing, troubleshooting software, fixing bugs, and collaborating with cross-functional teams on projects and sprints.

Full stack developers are also typically engaged in the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), which spans analysis, design, development and testing, implementation, documentation, and evaluation.

Essential skills for full stack developers

A full stack developer must possess a comprehensive understanding of various frameworks, programming languages, and databases to excel in their role. In front-end development, proficiency in industry-standard tools like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Angular, and ReactJS is essential.

For back-end development, full stack developers should have a strong command of programming languages. Expertise in Java, in particular, is highly sought after in the industry. Other programming languages an aspiring full stack developer is advised to learn are PHP, Python, Node.js, and Ruby.

In terms of databases, familiarity with MySQL, MongoDB, Oracle Database, and SQL Server is important. Additionally, practical expertise in DevOps practices, including Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) using tools like GitLab and Jenkins, is also necessary.

Soft skills are equally vital for full stack developers. These include effective communication, efficient time management, and creativity. If you are venturing into mobile application development, you should also acquire skills in React Native, Kotlin, and Swift.

How to become a full stack developer

If you want to become a full stack developer, you can explore educational pathways such as obtaining a degree or completing a relevant qualification.

Although it’s not an absolute requirement, a formal degree program can effectively refine the technical and workplace skills essential for success in this role.

Common fields of study for aspiring full stack developers include computer science, computer engineering, or related disciplines. You can also consider enrolling in courses tailored to relevant coding languages to enhance and update your skill set, particularly if you are new to the field.

Then, build a portfolio to showcase your capabilities to potential employers. A portfolio allows you to demonstrate your proficiency by highlighting your best work. Include projects you have completed through coursework or previous jobs, along with detailed descriptions of the technologies you used and your specific role in each project.

Full stack developers prospects in the industry

The demand for full stack developers is experiencing a steady rise, propelled by various factors. Their adaptability to manage both front-end and back-end development tasks efficiently plays a significant role in streamlining the development process.

Moreover, the cost-effectiveness of hiring full stack developers, who can handle multiple tasks instead of specialised developers, is appealing to companies.

Beyond adaptability and cost-effectiveness, full stack developers also contribute to accelerated development cycles, exhibit adaptability to evolving technologies, and foster collaborative efforts among different teams. This demand is particularly prominent in startups and small businesses aiming for comprehensive solutions and agile teams.

The versatility of full stack developers extends to their ability to serve in various roles such as software engineers, data scientists, and solution architects, depending on their specific skills and expertise.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for software developers, encompassing software engineers, is the UK equivalent of £101,000 as of May 2022, which demonstrates an opportunity for contracting in the US for developers. Glassdoor in the UK estimates the average salary of full stack developers to be around £44k/year to £65k/Year. As we always say to our students though, this is based on an experienced developer operating with the full stack. Expect an entry level job to start at around £20k/Year whilst you are learning your trade in the industry.

Potential career paths for full stack developers

Full stack developers have several career paths to explore, each offering unique opportunities to leverage their skills and expertise. One common trajectory is that of a web developer, where they oversee both front-end and back-end development, ensuring a seamless and intuitive user experience across various platforms.

Alternatively, full stack developers with strong programming skills and a knack for problem-solving may opt for a career as a software engineer. In this role, they are tasked with designing, developing, and maintaining software systems, contributing to both the client and server sides of development projects.

For those interested in mobile technology, specialising as a mobile app developer is another viable option. Full stack developers in this domain focus on building applications for mobile platforms such as iOS and Android, utilising frameworks and technologies such as React Native or Flutter to create cross-platform mobile apps that deliver optimal performance and user experience.

About the Author

James has 8 years with Fortune 200 US firm ITW, experience of managing projects in China, USA, and throughout Europe. James has worked with companies such as Tesco, Vauxhall, ITW, Serco, McDonalds. James has experience in supporting start-up and scale up companies such as Readingmate, Gorilla Juice and Harvest London. James completed his MBA at the University of East Anglia in 2018.

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