What is Full Stack Development?

Currently the talk of the tech industry, full stack developers are quickly becoming the most sought-after web development experts in the field. Able to program in both front-end and back-end coding languages, their expertise in various aspects of the web development process makes them versatile and independent.

With new technologies and software developing every day, a career as a full stack developer has the potential to be both lucrative and rewarding. If you’ve been considering this career choice, you might want to know more about what it means to work as a full stack developer. 

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Traditional Web Development Compared with Full Stack Web Development

In the past, web developers specifically trained in either front-end or back-end web development by learning coding languages for specified functions. For front-end developers, this would mean training in languages that communicate the look and design of a website, also known as client-side programming. For back-end developers, this meant training in the less visible parts of the website, also known as server-side programming. Since each programmer had a precise purpose, creating a complete web page usually involved two or more programmers working as a team to create the finished product. 

By contrast, full stack developers possess more well-rounded expertise in web development. By concentrating on more than one type of programming language, both on the client and server sides, a full stack web developer can produce a website that looks good and functions well, without the help of an additional programmer. In short, to become a full stack developer you will need to learn and master all of the necessary tools to make a website function and pop. 

So, exactly which programming languages will a full stack developer need to use? There are several, and they can vary from programmer to programmer, but generally to be considered full stack, a web developer needs to know how to program applications on both the front and back ends. 

Front-End Programming Languages

The main languages front-end developers need to know are HTML, CSS and JavaScript, that latter of which can also program some back-end functions but is mostly considered a front-end language. It should be noted that all three of these languages are essential for the development of client-side programming, and front-end and full stack programmers will know these languages without fail.

So, what are the functions of these languages, and why are they so important?

  • HTML—HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. There is good reason why HTML is one of the primary languages of front-end web development: It creates the website’s architecture, meaning HTML programs the framework of the page itself. Without HTML, a user’s screen would have no way of knowing which items are headlines, subheadings, lists, links, quotes or paragraphs. Basically, HTML communicates what type of item will be displayed and where it shows on the page. 

  • CSS—CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets. While HTML creates the structure of a website, CSS is responsible for design elements. For instance, HTML communicates which words are part of the heading, while CSS codes the font and color of the letters in the display. CSS is also responsible for background colors and page layout and is able to improve accessibility through the use of text-to-speech and Braille programming. Using HTML and CSS together in the front-end development process is standard in the industry, as the two applications work together to create the website’s format and content. However, to make the website interactive, you will need to employ a third language: JavaScript. 

  • JavaScript—JavaScript rounds out the main components of front-end programming, enhancing user experience by bringing interactivity to an otherwise static website. Do you want your website to display a series of photos, allow users to fill out a form or run an animation? JavaScript can do all of this and more. Since JavaScript elements can be complicated to program, there are several created databases of JavaScript codes that programmers can access to simplify the process. Of these, the two most popular are JQuery and React JS, which was specifically developed by Facebook for building user interfaces. Although Java Script also has back-end capabilities, it is imperative for front-end programming and not always the best choice for back-end applications. Therefore, if you are hoping to become a full stack developer, you will want to learn other methods for programming back-end functions. 

Back-End Programming Languages

With the main aesthetics of the website covered by front-end programming languages, what else is there to do to make a website function? As you delve deeper into the field of full stack web development, you’ll find many website applications that, while invisible, will enhance the website’s functioning. These tasks are created using back-end development.

For instance, perhaps a client would like to build a database of email addresses to generate mass mailings or keep customers’ information on hand for future purchasing. All of these unseen applications are created through the use of back-end programming languages. 

Back-end development languages are a lot more variable, and choosing the right one to master to help you meet your career goals might require some research. Here are a few of the popular programming languages that back-end programmers use:

  • PHP—PHP stands for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor. PHP is primarily used to communicate with a server and to request certain types of information be displayed on a website. A website can use PHP to keep information up-to-date without affecting loading speeds and data capacity because it allows information stored elsewhere to display on the page. PHP is also a significant language for anyone who wishes to work on WordPress, creating customized plug-ins or themes. 

  • Ruby—Ruby is an open-sourced program, meaning it is free to use, modify and distribute. An object-oriented programming language, each bit of code has its own attributes and can be used as a building block for specific actions. Programmers who use Ruby often turn to Ruby on Rails, a framework for writing Ruby code in a simplified, low-maintenance manner. Ruby is an excellent choice for developing applications with multiple functionalities and is used on websites such as Airbnb, Github and Shopify.

  • Python—Python is also an open-sourced, object-oriented programming language. Using a variety of libraries, Python users can create and control virtually any type of project. Python can be found in the programming for Pinterest, Instagram, Quora and Reddit. 

  • MySQL—MySQL stands for My (after the cofounder’s daughter) Structured Query Language. Another open-source program, MySQL is often taught in full stack training programs. The programming language is commonly used for relational databases, which can create, sort, modify and extract data from the database. MySQL can also control user access. 

Which of These Skills Will a Full Stack Web Developer Need to Learn?

In today’s tech industry, the term “full stack development” is a hot-button topic. What exactly does it mean to become a full stack developer? What qualifications are needed to consider a web developer “full stack?”

Technically, to call yourself a full stack developer, you will need to know both front-end and back-end programming languages. However, actually working as one will require you to be able to build both the front and back ends of a website. Far from trivial, this distinction means a great deal when it comes to employability. 

As a full stack developer, you will need in-depth knowledge of all three main front-end programming languages, HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Additionally, you will want to have extensive knowledge of at least one or two back-end programming languages. In general, the more knowledge and experience you bring to the table, the more likely you will be seriously considered as a prospective employee. 

What is the Role of the Full Stack Developer in the Tech Industry?

There is a reason that employers are currently looking to fill open positions with full stack developers. In a word: versatility. With their extensive abilities, full stack developers can work on more projects and work more independently than their counterparts who are trained only in front-end or back-end programming languages. For the full stack developer, this opens more possibilities for both employment and variability in their day-to-day lives. 

With demand for tech applications growing in all sectors of the economy, full stack web developers have the advantage of working and troubleshooting across the application to create a more seamless experience for the user. But it’s not only higher demand that drives the need for these industry professionals. Today’s users have higher and higher expectations for their technical applications, making the need to know multiple programming languages even more important. Having one developer with a vision for the final web application can help avoid unnecessary glitches and problems. 

Another reason the full stack developer is advantageous for employers is overhead. Full stack developers can move seamlessly from project to project, with less need to spend time consulting with other industry professionals. For large tech companies, this can save large sums of money, allowing the work to be completed by fewer employees. For those who choose to freelance, it means less need to hire contractors to complete a project and more ability to work solely for yourself. 

What Can One Expect From a Career in Full Stack Development?

According to payscale.com, full stack web developers are generally better paid than their peers, with annual salaries reported in the range between $54,000 and $115,000. However, the increase in pay comes with an increased expectation for expertise as well as the need to train in more areas of web development and keep skills continuously updated. Full stack developers might also be able to make additional income based on profit-sharing and bonuses, both of which are common in the tech industry. 

Web development as a whole, but especially full stack development, is growing, meaning a career as a full stack developer should be enough to carry you into retirement. According to Projections Central, web development specialists can expect an average of 15,100 jobs opening yearly over the next 10 years. Additionally, the career is expected to experience a 13 percent growth in the same period.

As good as the outlook is for full stack development, you might still be wondering where you will likely work, and what the career is like on a daily basis. With the qualifications to work in full stack development, you could choose to work freelance or become employed. Companies who hire full stack developers can vary in size from smaller organizations that need an expert to develop and manage a website to big tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, IBM and Google. 

Whichever option you choose, only part of your time will likely be spent writing code. Full stack developers also need to meet with potential clients, work in teams to troubleshoot problems, and participate in the development of new ideas and technologies. This career will require strong skills in the areas of communication, deductive reasoning, critical thinking and problem-solving, in addition to coding. 

How to Get Started in Full Stack Development

If a career as a full stack developer sounds like a good fit after you’ve read this far, you might be wondering where to begin. Full stack developers learn their skills in a variety of ways because there is no single “gold standard” training method. In general, full stack developers do not need to seek a degree program since the training is available in more specifically focused programs. Those who do seek a university-level degree are often looking to learn web development as a skillset within a broader subject matter. 

For those who want to work specifically as full stack web developers and nothing else, the training can be done through certificate programs, accelerated “boot camp”-style training or even be completed piecemeal, language by language.

When it comes to getting hired, what will matter most is how well you know both front-end and back-end programming languages, not how you attained the knowledge. Creating a portfolio of work will also be an essential task for job-seeking, as potential employers will want to see your skills in action. Regardless of where you begin, full stack development has the potential to give you a long and prosperous career, with virtually no limits to the choices you can make.