What Is A Full Stack Web Developer, And Why Should I Become One?

I have a favorite quote about what a Full Stack Web Developer is and does. I first came across it in a post written by Eric An on the CareerFoundry blog:

“A full-stack developer has all the keys to the house — there is no door that you cannot open.”

This is admittedly not a very technical explanation. But I think it goes a long way towards enunciating the appeal of being a Full Stack Web Developer.

For a more comprehensive definition, consider this one from a post entitled A Guide to Becoming a Full-Stack Developer in 2017, by Daniel Borowski. Under the heading “The Definitive Guide” he writes:

“A Full-Stack Web Developer is someone who is able to work on both the front-end and back-end portions of an application. Front-end generally refers to the portion of an application the user will see or interact with, and the back-end is the part of the application that handles the logic, database interactions, user authentication, server configuration, etc.”

If these two definitions combine to make Full Stack Web Developers sound a bit like wizards with limitless knowledge, that assessment might not be too far off the mark. On the other hand, if you had a dollar for every article out there challenging “the myth” of the Full Stack Web Developer, you’d probably be giving Bezos a run for his money.

Akshay Sachdeva — in a post entitled, appropriately enough, The Myth of the Full Stack Developer — includes a provocative quote from Richard Szalay, the Technical Director at digital marketing agency Mullenlowe Profero:

“‘Full Stack’ has almost become a term for a junior-to-mid developer aspiring, sometimes a little prematurely, to be a ‘Solution Architect’ in the more modern and pragmatic sense of the role. In this sense, it becomes something of a tautology.”

At Udacity, we like to think we’ve offered a pretty straightforward definition of the role all along. Michael Wales, our Director of Content Development, wrote a blog post back in 2014 that offered a definition which pretty much still holds true today:

“Full Stack Developers should be knowledgeable in every level of how the web works: setting up and configuring Linux servers, writing server-side APIs, diving into the client-side JavaScript powering an application, and turning a “design eye” to the CSS.”

Given that he was presenting his definition in a blog post, his explanation included a particularly deft use case:

“A full stack developer would be responsible for the entire flow of your experience with this blog post, from its load time and layout to its interactiveness and structural underpinnings.”

If after reading through the above you’re still not sure whether Full Stack Web Developer is a worthwhile career path for you, perhaps our friends over at Paysa can add a layer of insight to the conversation:

Ultimately, what distinguishes a successful Full Stack Web Developer is not a superhuman ability to do everything, but rather, to understand everything. More often than not, someone employed as a Full Stack Web Developer is actually going to spend a majority of their time working only on one end or the other — Front-End or Back-End. But they’ll know how to manage things on the other end as well, and perhaps even more importantly, they’ll be able to effectively communicate with all stakeholders in the stack.

It has often been said that a Full Stack Web Developer is a Jack or Jill of all trades. Etymologically speaking, this really isn’t the right term, because it actually refers to someone who is “competent in many endeavors” but “excels in none of them.” Full Stack Web Developers in fact excel at many things, just not everything.

Are you interested in becoming a Full Stack Web Developer? If you’re already adept at either front- or back-end development, taking this next step could seriously increase your earning potential, and power significant advancement in your developer career. Here is a recent graduate of the Full Stack Web Developer Nanodegree program, describing his experience:

“Udacity’s Full Stack Web Developer Nanodegree is a well curated and relevant set of courses with challenging projects at the end of each course. This course has helped me to transition from a pure front-end developer to a full stack developer in about three months. While I have taken many MOOCs earlier, I believe Udacity’s pedagogy is the most effective. It is truly learning by doing.” — Akshay M.

You may have heard of a little company called SpaceX. Here’s what they’re looking for in a Full Stack Web Developer:

  • Own all aspects of product development
  • Act as responsible engineer for assigned products
  • Maintain highest standards of excellence, never settle for the status quo
  • Deep dive into your customer’s problems, find efficient solutions
  • Provide strong technical leadership, focus on continuous improvement

Sound like something you might be interested in? They’re hiring at a salary of $168k.

Enroll in Udacity’s Full Stack Web Developer Nanodegree program today, and you could be applying to jobs like that in 6 months or less!


This post was written by Christopher Watkins, Senior Writer and Chief Words Officer, Udacity