What Is a Full-Stack Developer? Definition, Skills and How To Become One

By Megan Vallee

Updated September 30, 2021 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated September 30, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

Megan is a certified technical career coach empowering individuals to find joy and fulfillment in their professional careers. She's coached people from a wide range of industries including tech, marketing, oil and gas and entertainment.

If you're interested in a career in web development, you might want to consider becoming a full-stack developer. Understanding the skills required for this role and how it incorporates knowledge of the front end and back end of an application is vital. In this article, we explain what a full-stack developer does, the skills needed for this role and how to become one.

What is a full-stack developer?

A full-stack developer is a programmer who works within software development and is knowledgeable in both the front end and back end of an application. They work to create a seamless user experience through their diverse skill set. They're also well-versed in databases, server configuration and user interface.

It's important to note that as a full-stack developer, you're not required to know everything, but having an overall understanding of what's going on in the front end and back end is key.

Here are some job titles for full-stack developers:

  • Full-stack software developer

  • Full-stack web developer

  • Full-stack developer

  • Full-stack engineer

Related: Learn About Being a Web Developer

What is a front-end developer?

“Front end” refers to what users see when they open a browser or application. In other words, the front end deals with the user interface. When you interact with a website, you’re using the front end.

Front-end developers focus on user engagement, experience and interface. They use programming languages such as HTML, CSS and Javascript to build the front end of an application. Because the front end deals with the visual aspects of a site, these developers should also understand color theory, layouts and general typography rules. Front-end roles include various professions including web designers, while the back end is handled by developers and engineers.

Here are some job titles for roles related to the front end of an application:

  • User interface designer

  • User experience designer

  • Web designer

  • Front-end developer

  • Front-end engineer

Related: Learn About Being a Front-End Developer

What is a back-end developer?

“Back end” refers to the part of a site or application that users don't see. Back-end developers write code that creates communication between the database and the browser to ensure the site is working properly. Other back-end components include automated testing frameworks, cybersecurity, server configuration and network scalability.

Back-end developers focus on the functionality of the site or application through coding. They use various programming languages such as Java, PHP, Ruby on Rails, Python, and SQL to get the job done. Ultimately, the back end creates a seamless experience for the end-user of an application or site.

Here are some job titles for roles related to the back end of an application:

  • Java back-end developer

  • Java back-end developer

  • Python back-end developer

  • Back-end software developer

  • Back-end developer

What are the skills required for a full-stack developer?

If you're interested in a career as a full-stack developer, you'll need to have a certain set of skills to perform your job effectively. While hard skills are important in these roles, soft skills are also helpful. Here are in-demand soft skills for a full-stack developer:

Soft skills

These soft skills can be useful for all web development roles.

  • Problem solving: Obstacles and challenges are inevitable in the world of web development. Being able to quickly problem-solve in potentially stressful situations may help you work more efficiently.

  • Creativity: Creativity can be helpful for front-end, back-end and full-stack developers. Whether it’s designing the look of a website, managing records and data or structuring code, there is an opportunity and need for creativity in all of these roles.

  • Patience: Coding takes time. Being patient and maintaining a calm and positive attitude can go a long way.

  • Attention to detail: As a developer, you'll need to pay close attention to the code you're creating. This is crucial in creating a functional site or application. Close attention to detail may save you time and shorten production schedules.

  • Communication: Having open communication with your peers and superiors can lead to a more efficient and comfortable work environment. If you’re able to communicate technical issues or concerns immediately, you may find a solution faster.

Related: Soft Skills in the Workplace

Hard skills

For any web development role, hard skills are a must. Hard skills refer to measurable, technical skills such as software, languages and databases. For hard skills, there are slightly different requirements based on whether you’re a full-stack developer, front-end developer or back-end developer. Here’s a list of hard skills categorized by role:

Front end

  • HTML/CSS: HTML helps a developer create website or application content. CSS is used to create an aesthetically pleasing design and layout.

  • Javascript: Developers use JavaScript to create automation, animation and interactivity. This type of programming language is rising in popularity, so understanding how it works is critical for your future success in this role.

Back end

  • Python: Python has ample libraries and frameworks. This makes it a great tool for back-end developers.

  • PHP: While this programming language can be used for front- and back-end development, it’s most commonly used on the back end to create page content, gather form data or send and receive cookies.

  • SQL: SQL allows programmers to manage records, access and manipulate databases.

  • Git: Git ensures all codebase changes are being tracked. This is highly useful if you're working on a team and need to make any modifications or updates to the code.

Full stack

The previous lists of front-end and back-end technical skills are also relevant to full-stack developers. Here’s a list of skills that are also useful for full-stack developers:

  • Databases and web storage: Every site and application will require databases to manage data storage. Understanding how data storage works and knowing how to connect a database with your programming language is important in a full-stack developer role.

  • HTTP and REST: Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) fosters communication between web clients and servers, whereas Representational State Transfer (REST) provides standards and constraints for the creation of web services. REST API allows for seamless communication between the front end and back end of an application. As a full-stack developer, it's important for you to understand how HTTP and REST interact.

  • Web architecture: In a full-stack developer role, you'll be required to know how to code and data should be structured, how to separate your files, where to perform computational tasks and more. This ensures a good understanding of web architecture.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

How to become a full-stack developer

If you want to become a full-stack developer—or a front-end or back-end developer—you can follow these steps:

1. Build a professional network

If you have friends or colleagues who are web developers, connect with them and ask them about their day-to-day wins and the challenges they face. Ask them about the tools they use and industry trends on the horizon.

2. Schedule informational interviews

If you don’t have any acquaintances in web development, then look for professional organizations near you, and see if you can schedule informational interviews with people who have the job title that you seek.

3. Find an online community

Almost all social platforms have a space for this type of interaction and it’s an effective way to learn about new industries, companies, and roles.

4. Take a class in web development

If you need to bolster your skills, taking a class either in person or online is a measurable way to boost your resume and increase your networking contacts.

5. Join a professional organization and attend conferences

Joining a professional organization will introduce you to people who could be in a position to hire you one day. Attending conferences is also a great way to expand your social network and learn about job opportunities.

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