What Is a Full Stack Developer?

Coding skills can open up a world of opportunity for those who are willing to learn. Individuals with specialized programming skills can immerse themselves in a variety of diverse, exciting career paths: web developer, web designer, front end developer, back end developer, systems administrator, or application developer. The potential is limitless.

However, if you’re determined to become a versatile player in the tech world, consider becoming a full stack developer. As a full stack developer, you’ll contribute to all aspects of a project — from designing the look and feel of the website, to coding its underpinning functionality. With full stack developer skills, you’ll position yourself as a versatile resource in the world of web development.

Of course, you might be asking, “What is a full stack developer?“ At a high level, full stack web developers work on both sides of a website or application to create a seamless user experience. They cultivate the look and feel of a site through the user interface on the front end (client side), and write code to create site stability and functionality on the back end (server side).

Full stack development is a challenging pursuit. However, the skills full stack developers possess are valued in the marketplace and are essential to the e-commerce and online presence of every company across the globe.

Read on to explore how to become a full stack web developer, job prospects and responsibilities, and the skills and education you’ll need to join the full stack field.

What Does a Full Stack Developer Do?

Full stack development covers the two working environments of website and software development: the front end (client side) and the back end (server side). The front end refers to the user interface (e.g., what users interact with on a website). The back end refers to the behind-the-scenes components, such as servers and databases, that provide a site’s functionality.

Here’s an analogy: When you go to your favorite pizza place, you sit in the restaurant and order food from servers (the front end developers). In the kitchen, chefs (the back end developers) make your pizza. So what does a full stack developer do in this example? A bit of everything: set a menu, take orders, and serve customers on the front end; and order supplies, make pizza, and maintain the kitchen on the back end.

Full stack developer job descriptions can include a bit of everything as well. They might ask for skills in website creation and optimization, fluency with front end languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript), and design experience. The job descriptions also may require knowledge of back end languages and frameworks (PHP, Python, SQL), databases, and servers.

Given the employer expectation that full stack developers have a working knowledge of website development from concept to launch, it’s important to understand all the skills required. Read on to learn more about the front and back end skills full stack developers need to succeed.

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What Is the Front End

When you open a web browser and navigate to a site, you’re interacting with the front end (or client side) of that website. Front end developers create the visual elements you see on the site or its mobile iteration. These elements include menus, buttons, graphics placements, animations, and other components necessary to create a user-friendly aesthetic.

Front end developers are usually fluent in three essential languages: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. HTML (or HyperText Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are the fundamental tools of front end development and work together to create the design and presentation of web content.

Developers use HTML to define the structure of web pages by creating page titles, headers, subheads, and the ability to embed images. They then use CSS as a companion language to add style to their websites. CSS applies elements such as colors and fonts, and makes the process of controlling these elements through an entire website easier and more consistent.

JavaScript is a scripting language that developers use to display more dynamic elements, such as media, animations, or maps. JavaScript has been the most commonly used programming language for nearly a decade, according to Stack Overflow, followed closely by HTML/CSS. JavaScript’s popularity led to the creation of companion frameworks and libraries — including React.js, jQuery, and Angular — that developers also employ to enrich their sites.

Front end developers also use front end technologies such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to build and enhance sites. And, since websites need to be mobile-ready, front end developers must also be well-versed in responsive design.

What Is the Back End

Websites store and organize their information on the back end, also known as the server side. Users don’t interact directly with the server side of a site or application. Instead, when users click on a link, the browser sends a request to another website for more information. That interaction occurs on the back end.

For example, more than one billion Instagram users have uploaded more than 50 billion photos to the social media site, and the mechanics of hosting that amount of data is complicated. Back end developers ensure that such platforms have the storage capacity and performance capability to host and display high volumes of content without compromising the user experience. They do so by building and maintaining the servers, databases, and necessary internal components that form the website or application’s engine.

Developers also employ JavaScript on both the front and back ends, since its versatility makes it useful in client- and server-side programming. Otherwise, back end developers primarily use different languages and technologies from their front end counterparts.

PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor), Java, Ruby, and C# are some of the most popular and useful back end languages. PHP is a back end scripting language that has been around for nearly three decades and remains popular because it’s easy to learn and enables developers to create dynamic applications and websites.

Java continues to be a back end workhorse based in part on its “write once, run anywhere” configuration. And, according to Stack Overflow, Java, PHP, and C# rank among the most popular programming languages.

Python ranks even higher — just below JavaScript and HTML/CSS — and is used for a variety of back end development projects. Python is a general-purpose language, making it popular among all developers, and is enriched by a large collection of libraries that make website building easier. Python is a great asset in a full stack developer’s resume.

Back end developers also work with databases, which requires that they be fluent in MongoDB, MySQL, and other database languages. They also must be comfortable with version control, server and database security, and troubleshooting code within all of this architecture.

Other Full Stack Developer Skills

It’s true that solid programming skills are necessary to become a successful web developer. However, good programmers are more than their technical knowledge. Soft skills, such as those listed below, will help full stack developers succeed as they progress through their careers.

Web development is full of roadblocks and frustrating moments. Good developers fix them calmly and quickly.

Applying a creative approach certainly makes websites look and function better on the front end. But full stack developers can also bring creativity to their back end programming, where smart coding techniques can streamline and improve projects.

As a full stack developer, you’ll work on projects with a team of developers, programmers, engineers, and other stakeholders. Being a good teammate who respects others, supports mutual goals, and resolves conflict well is mandatory in today’s tech workplace.

Writing code is a deliberate process that requires a meticulous eye. Misplace a semicolon, and an entire project can go wrong. Conscientious coders catch their mistakes before they become real problems.

Troubleshooting errors, or reworking a section of code, demands diligence, composure, and patience. How a programmer responds to challenges and setbacks is key to individual and team success.

Full stack developers benefit from having some project management skills, since they’re helping to oversee a system from ideation to implementation. Learning how to delegate, work consistently within schedules, and develop leadership skills are important for a programmer’s personal and professional growth.

An image listing the various soft skills of full stack developers.

How Much Do Full Stack Developers Make?

Full stack developers are in-demand in the tech marketplace. Recently, a Forbes article indicated professionals with full stack expertise received the highest increase in interview requests compared to other software engineering roles in 2022. This tracks with CareerOneStop data, which anticipates a 13 percent annual increase in full stack developer jobs through 2030.

Full stack developer salaries can vary due to a number of factors, including level of experience, industry, company size, and location. According to Burning Glass, the average annual salary for a full stack developer in the U.S. is $92,465.

Currently, Texas has one of the nation’s highest demand rates for full stack developers. In fact, according to Burning Glass, Texas is only second to California in terms of the number of full stack developers. The average full stack developer salary in Texas is $93,000; however, in such areas as Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin, local demand may drive the average full stack developer salaries higher than the state average.

An image that lists the five states with the most web developer jobs.

How to Become a Full Stack Developer

The key to becoming a full stack developer is identifying and pursuing the in-demand skills employers are seeking. The first step is to understand the options available to help prepare you for a full stack development role.

Dive Into Coding

Anyone can learn to code at any age. In Stack Overflow’s 2021 developer survey, 53 percent of respondents reported that they began coding between the ages of 11 and 17, and fifteen percent wrote their first line of code by the time they were 10 years old. Additionally, almost 60 percent of developers began learning to code through online resources (videos, blogs, tutorials, etc.).

If you’re interested in coding, start small by choosing one language — HTML or JavaScript are great entry points — and learn how to write a few simple programs or create a website. This is a good way to determine if full stack development is right for you.

Obtain an Education

Most web developers have attended college. According to CareerOneStop, 69 percent of developers have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 94 percent have at least some college experience. However, this is changing. For example, looking at Google’s How we hire page, the company indicates that, “No, a CS [computer science] degree isn’t required for most of our software engineering or product manager roles.”

With that said, most employers do require that candidates demonstrate strong full stack development skills via their portfolio and in their interview process. One option to gain the full stack skills employers are seeking is to enroll in a coding boot camp. Coding boot camps offer a practical, real-world, project-based approach to teaching full stack developer skills. These skills may include front end fundamentals and advanced frameworks, server-side and database architectures, and data structures and algorithms. In addition, the real-world project experience helps prepare learners to use their new skills effectively from day one in their new roles.

In addition, it appears that employers are taking notice. According to HackerRank’s 2020 Developer Skills report, 32 percent of hiring managers have hired a boot camp graduate (PDF, 2.3 MB). Further, 72 percent of those hiring managers considered boot camp learners as qualified, or more qualified, than other developers they have hired.

Earning a traditional degree is also an option for learners with the time and financial resources to do so. Choosing the right educational path is an individual decision that requires serious consideration. To help, here is a primer on evaluating the differences between a coding boot camp and a degree.

Develop a Portfolio

Having projects to share with prospective employers is a great way to demonstrate your skills. Whether you design your own website, develop an original game or app, or perhaps volunteer for nonprofits to gain experience, providing employers with work samples is an absolute must.

Another benefit of coding boot camps is that learners work together on practical, real-world projects that they can showcase in their portfolios. In fact, many boot camps offer portfolio reviews as part of their career services.

Build a Professional Network

Building your network is not only a good way to learn about job opportunities — it’s also a smart way to build a community of support. Many developers rely on their community for advice and to learn new skills throughout their careers. Join an organization for developers, or an online community for your favorite programming language. Don’t forget about social media groups like those on LinkedIn — be sure to actively participate in conversations, like comments, and post regularly. Perhaps consider a group of tech professionals that meet in your local area as well.

Networking is a lifelong pursuit that yields benefits. It’s never too early to get started.

Full Stack Developer FAQs

Full stack refers to both the front end software (client side) which the user sees, and the back end software (server side) that supports functionality behind the scenes.

Full stack developers and software engineers have some overlapping skills and job responsibilities, but the roles are different.

Full stack developers work on every aspect of a website. They design sites, develop the UI (user interface), code infrastructure, work with databases, and design APIs (application programming interfaces). They work in multiple environments and often take on leadership roles in web projects.

Software engineers apply engineering principles to develop software and operating systems. They have significant experience with multiple programming languages and are adept at testing, diagnosing, and maintaining systems. Software engineers usually have bachelor’s degrees in computer science, computer engineering, or software engineering.

In addition to assessing your technical knowledge, interviewers also want to understand your soft skills, disposition, and compatibility with their corporate culture. To make the best impression possible, review the following full stack developer interview questions to prepare for your next interview.

  • Can you talk about a recent project you worked on and what you learned?
  • What is your least favorite coding language, and why?
  • What was the most difficult coding challenge you faced, and how did you solve it?
  • If you had to choose the top skill a full stack developer needs, what would it be and why?
  • Can you talk about a time you disagreed with a team member’s opinion and how you approached the conversation?
  • What is your approach to continuing education as a developer?
  • What type(s) of projects are you most passionate about?
  • How would you improve the performance of an application?
  • What is your thought process when selecting the best tools and languages to use for a project?
  • What can you bring to our team that no one else can?

Start Building Your Full Stack Developer Skills Today

According to Statista, there were 1.88 billion global websites in 2021, and that number is expected to reach 2 billion shortly. With all of those sites requiring functionality upgrades, new applications, and constant support, full stack developers certainly are in demand.

If you’re ready to pursue a dynamic career as a full stack web developer, consider enrolling in a coding boot camp. You’ll learn in-demand full stack developer skills through a flexible part-time or full-time program. You’ll also complete the program with a project portfolio you can present to prospective employers. Turn your passion for coding into a rewarding career — start your future today!

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