How to Become a Full Stack Developer

Learn everything you need to know about becoming a full stack developer with training courses near you.

If you’ve been considering a career in web development, you’ve probably run into the term “full stack developer” and “full stack web developer” fairly often. As you’ve most likely surmised from your searches, full stack developers are quickly becoming an industry favorite, with demand for their services rapidly overtaking that for both traditional front-end and back-end web developers. So why are full stack developers so highly regarded, and how do you become one? This article will give you all the information you need to get started in this exciting and lucrative career. 

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Full Stack Web Developers versus Front-End and Back-End Developers

Until recently, web development relied on two types of specialists: the front-end developer and the back-end developer. These two job classifications distinguished themselves by the programmer learning either front-end or back-end coding languages. In order to create a website, one would need to employ the skill of both types of web specialists, who would work cooperatively to develop a polished finished product. 

The full stack web developer has no such need to work in tandem with another programmer, as they take the time to become proficient in multiple programming languages. However, there is an important caveat: full stack developers need to know programming languages for both front-end applications and back-end applications. To understand why, you will need to learn a little more about what front-end and back-end programming languages do and why they are different from one another. 

Front-End Programming

Front-end programming is, simply put, the part of the website that is visible. These languages are commonly called “client-side” applications because their primary function is to communicate with the user interface and tell it what to display. Everything a web user can see—the style of font, the color display, the buttons and navigation menu—were all built using several front-end programming languages, all of which have been coded to display in a specific way. The programmer will need to have enough skill to ensure the website displays appropriately, regardless of a user’s device. 

So, which languages, in particular, do front-end developers need to understand?

  • HTML — HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. This language is the backbone of the website, as it provides the structural semantics in which the content is arranged. For example, HTML tells the website where headings belong, where paragraphs begin, and what should be displayed as a list. HTML is also responsible for hyperlinks. In programming, HTML uses angle brackets to delineate tags, which tell an interface what type of information should be displayed.
  • CSS — CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets. While HTML is all about structure, CSS gives a website its unique look. In explicit terms, CSS controls fonts, color and layout. CSS also allows a programmer to improve accessibility, with functions for screen reading and Braille.
  • JavaScript — JavaScript is used to build dynamic website content including graphics, slideshows and auto-complete text. Basically, without JavaScript, a user would need to do constant manual updates whenever they were filling out a form or wanted to view the next photo in a slide show. JavaScript is a complicated programming language with many nuances and, as such, has several frameworks available to act as coding libraries for specific functions. It is important to note that JavaScript is capable of functions that were traditionally relegated to back-end languages (and often does so very well). However, it is not always the most attractive answer for a well-functioning (aka not buggy) website, which is why we have specific back-end languages.

Back-End Programming

Although it would be possible to create a website using only front-end programming languages, back-end languages are often needed to enhance a website’s functioning. Back-end languages, also known to programmers as “server-side” applications, are used to build the invisible part of a website. In fact, their primary function is to communicate with the server to keep the website up-to-date.

Users do not directly interact with back-end programming, but rather access it indirectly through front-end functions. Back-end developers deal with database creation, backups, operating systems, cloud storage and generating statistics, among other such tasks. 

Here are a few examples of back-end programming languages:

  • PHP — PHP stands for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor. PHP is involved in server-side requests such as requesting that the most updated content from a server be displayed on the page. It also can help customize the display of a website, based on user-specific data.
  • RUBY — RUBY is an open-sourced programming language, meaning it’s both free to use and continually improving. Like JavaScript, RUBY users can access a database of pre-written commands called Ruby on Rails.
  • Python — Python is mostly used for back-end programming but can be used for both front-end and back-end scripting. As an object-oriented programming language, Python users can create objects and program them with specific attributes, which can later be reused in other programs, like building blocks.

How Much Training Will I Need to Become a Full Stack Developer?

If you’ve read this far, you might be asking yourself how extensive the training is, with so many languages to learn before working as a full stack developer. The answer is: It depends. Full stack developers don’t all receive the same amount of education, nor do they all train in the same coding languages. To confuse matters even further, employers are often looking for full stack developers with knowledge of specific languages. So, what should a prospective full stack student do? You will probably want to assess your career goals and research what type of program is the best fit for what you have in mind. 

Before you begin your assessment, however, it’s essential to understand the distinction between a full stack developer and a full stack engineer. A full stack developer is someone who generally occupies an entry-level position. In contrast, a full stack engineer is a senior-level executive with many years of experience and a lot more responsibility. What’s important to note is that these promotions are based on experience and ability. From an educational standpoint, there is no real difference, making it unnecessary to plan for an advanced-level degree.

Full stack developer training comes in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to assess which one is the best fit for you. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with your needs, means and goals, you can begin narrowing down your training options. Here are some things to consider and questions to ask as you review the possibilities:

  • What type of career are you hoping to have? 
  • Are you planning to work as a freelancer or work at a large company? 
  • Are you happy with being a coder, or are you hoping to manage a team of coders? 
  • Do your goals include climbing the corporate ladder?
  • How much money do you want to make? 
  • Where do you want to work and live?
  • How much money can you spend on education?
  • How much time do you have to attend classes?
  • Are you good at learning in any situation, or would you prefer in-person or online training?

Full stack developers do not need a college degree to get started. What they do need are the skills to program both the front end and back end of a website. It is possible to gain the skills you need to become a full stack developer while attending an undergraduate or even a graduate program. However, in general, front-end and back-end programming languages will only be a part of your overall skill set in this scenario. If you want to learn full stack development while becoming a computer programmer, I.T. security specialist or software developer, a degree program is a good fit for you. If all you want is to become a full stack developer, then a degree program is likely overkill. 

A more accessible option for learning full stack web development is a certification program that will target only the necessary information to perform the job. These exist in a large variety of formats. Some programs involve full-time, in-person attendance at a university, while other courses are part-time online. Other popular choices include accelerated boot camp-style training or piecemeal options that tackle one programming language at a time. The possibilities are nearly limitless, and the cost of these programs varies greatly. Training can take anywhere from a few months to a year, depending on the course you choose.

In general, you should keep in mind that the more skills you learn, the more you increase your prospects for getting hired and promoted. 

How Much Do Full Stack Web Developers Make?

According to Payscale.com, full stack developers in the United States made between $54,000 and $115,000 in 2019, with average annual salaries of $78,347. The considerable variability of wages can be explained by skills, experience, type of employment and geography.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not explicitly track full stack developers, it does track data for web developers and digital interface designers. According to their data, web developers made the highest wages in the states of Washington, California, Georgia, Virginia and Massachusetts, while the lowest-paid web developers were in Arkansas. In 2019, the earning contrast between the highest and lowest paid states was stark, with developers in Arkansas earning $47,400, while their counterparts in Washington made $134,310. 

What Kind of Future Can a Full Stack Developer Expect?

Web development has become essential for nearly all businesses in order to succeed in today’s economy, making the future for full stack developers exceptionally promising. According to Projections Central, those in the industry can expect to see a 13 percent growth nationwide between 2018 and 2028, with an average of 15,100 job openings each year. With the field continuously growing, one could reasonably expect continuous employment for the foreseeable future. 

So, where do full stack developers work? Nearly anywhere, although some areas of the country have higher employment rates in the field than others. These employment hubs tend to be located in areas of the U.S. where many big tech companies are headquartered. For instance, Apple, Facebook and eBay all call California home, while New York is the home state of IBM and Verizon. Does this mean you need to move to a big tech hub to find employment as a full stack developer? Not at all. Since websites are the norm for businesses everywhere, a career as a full stack developer should be viable in nearly any location. The question is: Do you want to pursue a career in big tech, work for a smaller company or pursue a freelance business? 

Working Freelance as a Full Stack Developer

Full stack developers are uniquely poised to become freelancers. With knowledge of front-end and back-end programming languages, they are more capable of working independently than their peers, who may have trained only in either client-side or server-side programming. With this advantage, full stack freelancers can keep overhead costs lower, enhancing their ability to compete.

Additionally, freelancers enjoy many benefits, like the freedom to set their own hours or work from anywhere. In fact, freelance full stack developers can do web development working remotely, allowing them to live anywhere in the world as long as they have Internet access. 

Full Stack Development as a Career

A full stack web developer will need to have the temperament for computer work, which will mean spending at least some of their time sitting at a computer, writing code. Web development can also involve analyzing data and converting various graphics to web-friendly formats. The work can be tedious and solitary; however, not all of a web developer’s time is spent alone. Developers also need to attend planning meetings, meet with clients and work in teams. In fact, think-tank groups often work together to solve a specific problem or build a website that meets a client’s needs. 

If these are the types of challenges you enjoy, you certainly can’t go wrong as a full stack developer. Whether you envision a future working for a large corporation or enjoying the freedom to work for yourself, full stack developers have all of the tools they need for a rewarding and lucrative career.