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In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about full-stack developers and their future. Some believe that full-stack developers have become obsolete, while others say that the demand for jack-of-all-trade developers has never been higher.
In this article, we look past doom-and-gloom predictions and baseless claims to explain the current status of full-stack developers.
What is a Full-Stack Developer?
A full-stack developer is someone who is familiar with all layers of an application. These layers are really collections of various technologies needed to complete a project, which is where the term “stack” comes from.
- Logic layer: Also called the back-end, the logic layer of an application involves any kind of development that doesn’t produce a user interface. Instead, it involves the core logic that makes everything work. Back-end developers are fluent in programming languages such as Python, Ruby, Java, PHP, and .Net.
- Data layer: Sometimes described as a sub-group of the logic layer, the data layer deals with how data is created, read, updated, and deleted using databases such as MySQL, SQL Server, PostgreSQL, and Oracle.
As you can imagine, different projects require different technologies to be completed, so no two full-stack developers have the same skills.
“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,”
– Daniel Borowski, an editor of Coderbyte.
New breed of Full-Stack Developers
Of course, full-stack developers are nothing new. In the past, software applications were typically written from start to finish by a single person, so full-stack developers were just called “developers.” But due to the increasing complexity of applications, different tasks eventually started being assigned to different people until the development of user interfaces has become decoupled from the development of the logic behind them.
For some time, it seemed that the demand for full-stack developers could reach the freezing point. What has saved them was the fundamental shift in how software is developed. Instead of creating every single component from scratch, software developers can now take advantage of countless ready-made components and frameworks design to simplify software development.
“By the late 2000s, it became possible for many programmers to deliver a complete consumer or SaaS site, including a dynamic web client, server-side business logic, a scalable database, deployment, and operational support. This new breed of full-stack developer could run circles around teams of programmers attempting the same task,”
– Peter Yared, the founder and CTO of Sapho.
According to the Stack Overflow 2016 Developer Survey, full-stack developers are one of the highest-paid and most sought-after professionals today.
“We look for a developer to have the ability to solve problems—any problem. This means they can learn new technologies quickly and adapt to the fast-changing technology landscape,”
– Atishe Chordia, founder of doodleblue Innovations.
“Most startups need full stack developers early on, as they cannot afford a large engineering team. As the organization matures, roles become more specialized, but the CTO or VP engineering role is generally filled by someone with a background in backend development.”
Advantages and disadvantages of Full-Stack Developers
Today, it’s clear that the demand for full-stack developers is as high as ever, but what may not be so clear is what advantages and disadvantages full-stack developers have compared with developers who specialize in just one layer of the technology stack.
The pace of technological progress is relentless, and the technologies companies use to develop software products today are very different from the technologies they used just 10 years ago. Because full-stack developers have such a wide range of skills, they are quick learners who can stay abreast of advancements in technology and effortlessly use whichever technology is in demand at the moment.
Full-stack developers are familiar with each layer of the technology stack, so ey can create an entire functional prototype of an application without any outside help. This makes them especially valuable for startups that need to release a minimum viable product (MVP) as soon as possible and polish it later. Full-stack developers can jump from one part of the product to another, allowing startups to keep their overhead minimal.
Because full-stack developers can work on each layer of an application, they spend more time together, which helps create chemistry within the company. An experienced team of full-stack developers who know one another can be significantly more productive and agile than a much larger team of specialists who work in small, siloed units.
Naturally, it’s impossible for full-stack developers to be experts in everything, which is arguably their biggest disadvantage compared with more specialized developers. According to Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule, it takes around 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world-class in any field, or about 20 hours of work a week for 10 years. If you do the math, you quickly realize that full-stack developers have to make certain compromises and rely on the expertise of others when they encounter really difficult problems.
The demand for full-stack developers is high because they are a valuable asset to any company. Their wide-ranging knowledge allows them to be flexible, adaptable, and agile, which are essential skills for working on software products both in the startup world and elsewhere.
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