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What Is a Full Stack Developer? Everything You Need to Know
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AnnaMarie Houlis,
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Journalist & travel blogger

A full stack programming career can be a lucrative one for those looking to put in the time and effort to learn the ins and outs of all facets of programming.

If you're interested in becoming a full stack programmer, you're not alone. In fact, full-stack development, according to the Stack Overflow 2016 Developer Survey, is the most popular developer occupation today. That's why there are countless online and in-person programs that teach people how to become full-stack programmers — and sometimes even help these newly trained developers land programming jobs.

But what exactly is a full stack programmer and how do you become one?

What Is a Full Stack Programmer?

According to Coderbyte, a full-stack developer is someone who can work on both the front- and back-end facets of an application. To specify, front-end typically refers to what users of an application see and interact with. Meanwhile, back-end typically refers to the logic and database interactions, user authentication, server configuration and more. But a full-stack developer can handle all of it.

"Being a full-stack developer doesn’t mean that you have necessarily mastered everything required to work with the front-end or back-end, but it means that you are able to work on both sides and understand what is going on when building an application," according to Coderbyte.

What Is Front-End Developing?

Front-end developing, more specifically, refers to working on the ways in which information on a website or is laid out in a browser across different devices. 

"A dedicated front-end developer will be very experienced working with HTML and CSS as well as the scripting language, JavaScript — with these languages, the developer can very efficiently manipulate the information on a platform to make it appealing and effective," according to CareerFoundry. "Everything that you actually see on a website — the layout, the positioning of text and images, colors, fonts, buttons and so on — are all factors that the front-end developer must consider."

Therefore, a front-end developers main goal is to provide user-friendly platforms that are easy to interact with, aesthetically appealing and reliable. Some developers have knowledge of web design and software like Photoshop and Illustrator, as well, since they're concerned with the way a webpage appears and operates.

"Additional skillsets of a front-end developer could include user experience design and user interface design, skills which help a team evaluate the best methods of displaying and collecting information," according to CareerFoundry. "A front-end developer who possesses these design skills is potentially more valuable as they can identify the look and feel of a site while assessing the technical capabilities of such a design at the same time. "

What Is Back-End Developing?

Back-end development, more specifically, refers to processes associated with the back-end of a platform. With common scripting languages such as PHP, Ruby and Python, back-end developers can create algorithms and business logic to manipulate data that's then received in the front-end development.

"This means that a back-end developer must be able to write code to receive the information input from the user and also save it somewhere — like in a database," according to CareerFoundry, noting two main types of databases: relational (like PostgreSQL and MySQL) and non-relational management systems (like Mongo).

Back-end development also involves server management, which refers to the applications that house the database and serve the platform. 

What Does a Full Stack Developer Need to Know?

A full stack developer takes on a number of tasks.

According to SkillGigs, a typical job posting for a full stack developer might include the following requirements:

  • Design overall architecture of the web application.
  • Maintain quality and ensure responsiveness of applications.
  • Collaborate with the rest of the engineering team to design and launch new features.
  • Maintain code integrity and organization.
  • Experience working with graphic designers and converting designs to visual elements.
  • Understanding and implementation of security and data protection.
  • Highly experienced with back-end programming languages (PHP, Python, Ruby, Java, .NET, JavaScript, etc.)
  • Proficient experience using advanced JavaScript libraries and frameworks such as AngularJS, KnockoutJS, BackboneJS, ReactJS, DurandalJS, etc.
  • Development experience for both mobile and desktop.
  • Understanding of server-side languages such as Jade, EJS, Jinja, etc.
  • Experience with cloud message APIs and usage of push notifications.
  • Knowledge of code versioning tools such as Git, Mercurial or SVN.

Given the responsibilities, you might be wondering: Is a full stack developer a software engineer? Not quite. While a full stack developer knows what's going on when building an application and working on both the front- and back-ends of an application, a software engineer "develops various applications that enable users to accomplish tasks on their personal computers and electronic devices," according to Computer Science Degree Hub. The engineers write the code using programming language and test it, but are specialists in only one tier of the application development.

Because a full stack developer takes on so much of the programming weight, and has extensive experience in all facets of the applications on which they're working, you might be wondering: How much does a full stack engineer make? According to PayScale, the average full stack web developer salary is $74,958 per year.

How Do You Become One?

Truthfully, you can't just get an education and become a full stack developer. Becoming a full stack developer — especially a successful one — requires years of experience.

A full stack developer should have an analytical mind, patience, an attention to detail, a creative vision and a lot of discipline, on top of knowledge of programming languages. What languages do you need to know? Well, you'll need to be proficient in multiple programming languages, though perhaps not all, such as JAVA, PHP, C #, Python, Ruby, Perl and more.

It's not going to happen overnight — not for you or anyone else. According to Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of law, it will take 10 years to master the front-end, back-end and client-oriented knowledge content to become a full stack developer.

If you're wondering, is a full stack developer in demand?, the answer is yes. As technology changes, businesses move online and the world globalizes to become evermore interactive, companies are in need of full stack developers to help them stem the tides.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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