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

By BrainStation October 9, 2019

In the development world, the seemingly innocuous job title “Full-Stack Developer” can spark some debate.

The title seems simple enough: a Full-Stack Developer is someone who handles front- and back-end development. When you dig a bit deeper, though, you realize it’s not that straight forward. 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.

What is Front-End Development?

Front-end development involves the “client-facing” side of web development. That is to say that it generally refers to the portion of the site, app, or digital product that users will see and interact with. A Front-End Developer, therefore, is responsible for the way a digital product looks and “feels,” which is why they are often also referred to as Web Designers.

Front-End Developers will usually need to possess a solid understanding of programming languages, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, as well as frameworks like React, Bootstrap, Backbone, AngularJS, and EmberJS.


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Jobs in Front-End Development

Unlike back-end development, there are a number of job titles that cover different skill sets and experience levels within front-end development, including:

  • (The obvious) Front-End Developer
  • Front-End Engineer
  • CSS/HTML Developer
  • Front-End Web Designer (this usually denotes a role that involves more visual and interaction design requirements)
  • Front-End User Interface Developer (covering interaction design skills)
  • Mobile Front-End Developer
  • Front-End SEO Expert (usually denoting a Developer with experience incorporating SEO strategy)
  • Front-End Accessibility Expert
  • Front-End Dev Ops
  • Front-End QA (involving unit testing, functional testing, user testing, and A/B testing)

What is Back-End Development? 

If Front-End Developers are responsible for how a digital product looks, Back-End Developers are focused on how it works. This means they’re responsible for overseeing what’s under the hood, including database interactions, user authentication, server, network and hosting configuration, and business logic.

The primary responsibility of Back-End Developers is to ensure the functionality of the site, including its responsiveness and speed. To do that, Back-End Developers have to know how to build servers with modern frameworks (while developing custom APIs and serving static websites and files), and how to manage databases and data on a web server. Typically, they use server-side languages, including PHP, Ruby, and Python, as well as tools including MySQL, Oracle, and Git. 

What is a Full-Stack Developer?

A Full-Stack Developer is someone familiar with both front- and back-end development. They are generalists, adept at wearing both hats and familiar with every layer of development. Obviously, employers want to hire Full-Stack Developers – according to an Indeed study, they are the fourth-most in-demand job in tech with.

If the title is contentious, it’s in the generalist nature of the position. Developers who specialize in the front-end or back-end often 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?”

While that perception persists, there still is 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.

What’s unclear is whether Developers are now expected to possess a broader skillset, or if Developers are taking it upon themselves to understand functions at both the front and back end. Either way, it’s becoming increasingly important for aspiring Developers to have 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 demand for Developers 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.

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