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What Is a Full-Stack Developer? A Guide to Full-Stack Development

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If you’re bored in your current development role, transitioning into a full-stack development job might be the best thing you could do for your career.

According to LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report, full-stack developer jobs are in 4th place on the list of growing jobs. Research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows a similar trajectory, as they estimate that web development and design jobs will increase by 8% by 2029.

But what is a full-stack developer, what do they do, and how do you become one? Read on, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about being a full-stack developer.

Let’s dive in!

What Does “Full-Stack” Mean?

Before becoming a full-stack developer, you need to understand the term “full-stack.” Developers working in a “full-stack” capacity work on both frontend and backend development projects.

Frontend development (or client-side development) projects include anything that users see. It includes websites and web applications that customers interact with (like the interface of an ecommerce web application).

Backend development (or server-side development) projects include any behind-the-scenes part of a website or web app. Specifically, backend development focuses on three things:

  1. The server: The computer that runs the backend of the website
  2. The database: The space where the website stores its data
  3. Application: The tool that communicates with the server and database

As full-stack developers work on both frontend and backend projects, they need to use both frontend and backend programming languages and tools in their work.

That includes languages like HTML, JavaScript, and CSS for frontend development and programming languages like Java, Python, and Ruby for backend development.

But aside from coding, what do full-stack developers do on a day-to-day basis?

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What Does a Full-Stack Developer Do?

The everyday responsibilities you can expect as a full-stack developer will differ based on the company you work for, your industry, and your expertise. All these factors will influence the sort of work your employer gives you.

However, if you look at job postings for full-stack developers, you’ll notice that many positions share ten typical responsibilities. These include:

  • Designing the architecture of new websites and web-based programs.
  • Developing application programming interfaces (APIs). APIs are software intermediaries that help applications communicate with each other.
  • Working with users to understand their technology needs when designing new websites or programs.
  • Developing updates to enhance the usability and capabilities of the backend of a website.
  • Maintaining the frontend of a website to make sure it works.
  • Optimizing websites to make sure they’re mobile-friendly.
  • Working with graphic designers to develop attractive and functional websites.
  • Creating servers and databases for websites.
  • Overseeing a project through each phase of the systems development life cycle (SDLC).
  • Working with other professionals (including DevOps engineers, cybersecurity experts, graphic designers, and other web developers).

Naturally, as full-stack developers have an extensive range of responsibilities at work, they’re compensated reasonably well.

Let’s cover the average full-stack developer salary next.

How Much Do Full-Stack Developers Make?

Let’s look at some data for full-time positions in the U.S. specifically.

According to Glassdoor, the average full-stack developer earns $98,000 annually, and most developers earn between $63,000–$156,000. Glassdoor’s average salary figure is based on reports from 3,372 salaries.

According to Payscale, the average base salary of a full-stack developer is $75,057, and many developers earn between $48,000–$113,000 annually.

According to Indeed, the average full-stack developer earns $104,396 annually. Their data is based on reports from 5,000 salaries.

Finally, according to Talent.com, the median full-stack development salary is $107,434, and the range is between $87,750–$144,754 annually. Talent.com’s average salary figure is based on 10,000 salaries.

There’s an extensive range of average salaries between these websites.

This deviation is due to several factors, including education, experience, job responsibilities, the company (and its profitability), the location of the job, and whether the position includes benefits.

So, how does the salary of a full-stack developer compare to other jobs?

According to our calculations, the average full-time WordPress developer in the U.S. earns $63,348, the average web developer earns between $60,000–$75,000, and the average PHP developer earns $63,000 (in a junior role) and $94,000 (in a senior position).

That means that full-stack developers earn more — however, full-stack developers need to master a broader range of tools and technologies than other developers.

Let’s cover some of those tools now.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Full-Stack Developer?

If you want to become a successful full-stack developer, there are ten frontend and backend development skills and abilities that you should build. These include:

1. The Ability to Code in Frontend Languages

As full-stack developers frequently work on the frontend of websites, you’ll need to master frontend development languages like:

HTML

Developers use Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) to create the structure of websites. You’ll use HTML when you create web pages with distinct headings, tables, lists, paragraph boxes, and images.

CSS

Developers use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to create the stylistic parts of the website’s user interface.

As a full-stack developer, you’ll use CSS to add stylistic elements (like colors and fonts) and adjust the website for mobile and tablet devices.

Javascript

Developers use Javascript to create the elements of a webpage that interacts with a user.

As a full-stack developer, you’ll use Javascript to build the functional parts and draw together elements from the frontend and backend.

For example, you might use Javascript when creating buttons for users to click.

2. Expertise in Frontend Frameworks and Libraries

During frontend development projects, full-stack developers use a range of frameworks and tools to work quickly. Naturally, it would help if you learned some of these frameworks and tools, including:

Bootstrap

Bootstrap is an extensive code framework that offers HTML, CSS, and Javascript code. Bootstrap is currently the world’s most popular frontend framework, so it’s an excellent tool for your arsenal.

Bootstrap website homepage
Bootstrap

jQuery and React

jQuery and React are both frameworks that developers use for JavaScript projects.

Angular

Angular is a platform and framework developers use to build websites and web-based applications. Angular is a very new tool, as Google’s Angular team only released it in 2016.

Angular is an excellent choice for developers who need to design a website or web app that works consistently across computers, phones, and tablets.

Angular website homepage
Angular

3. The Ability to Code in Backend Languages

As full-stack developers also work with the backend of websites, you’ll need to master backend development languages like:

PHP

Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP) is an all-purpose scripting language used for web development.

PHP was first released in 1995 and has been reasonably popular ever since, as 79.1% of all websites with known languages use it. People often compare PHP to Angular (though Angular is for frontend development).

Python

Python is a programming language that dates back to 1991. Python is particularly useful when working with databases or building a web app.

Java

Java is an object-oriented programming (OOP) language based around objects. It was first released in 1995, and 40.2% of software developers now use it.

Ruby

Ruby is another all-purpose programming language that full-stack developers use. Ruby is an open-source language that’s very easy to pick up. 5% of all websites with a known server-side programming language use Ruby.

4. Expertise in Backend Frameworks and Libraries

Like with frontend development, full-stack developers use a range of frameworks and tools to work on backend projects quickly.

Naturally, you’ll need to learn some of these tools and frameworks, including:

The Laravel Framework

The Laravel framework is a PHP framework that gives developers access to an extensive library of pre-written code. The Laravel framework is open-source and follows the MVC architectural pattern (MVC stands for “Model, View, Controller”).

Laravel framework on Github
Laravel framework on Github

Spring

Spring is an open-source framework that developers use to build projects with Java quickly.

Spring uses aspect-oriented programming (AOP). AOP is a programming paradigm that uses cross-cutting to create a flexible program that adjusts to changes quickly.

Django

Django is a scalable, secure, and fast framework developers use to build projects with Python. Django is perfect for website-building, as it can help you create any website and works with most client-side frameworks.

5. Database Skills

During backend development projects, full-stack developers need to build and manage databases. Naturally, you’ll need to learn to use some of the most popular database tools, including:

MySQL

MySQL is a free and open-source database system developers use to store web databases.

It’s a relational database management system that orders data into tables. MySQL is also part of the LAMP software stack (which we’ll cover in the next section).

MySQL website homepage
MySQL

Oracle

Oracle is a database management system popular for large projects and complicated databases. Oracle also uses a relational database approach, though Oracle designed its system to function specifically with complex databases.

If you want to get the most from MySQL and Oracle, you’ll also need to learn to use structured query language (SQL). SQL will help you communicate with the tools to update and retrieve data quickly.

MongoDB

MongoDB is a database tool developers use for web apps. Unlike Oracle and MySQL, MongoDB doesn’t use SQL, so you won’t need to learn how to use SQL to use MongoDB.

6. Expertise in Popular Stacks

As a full-stack developer, you’ll need to learn to use popular tech stacks.

A tech stack is a collection of software used to produce web applications, projects, and websites. While the stacks you use will depend on your employer and team, you should familiarize yourself with popular stacks before becoming a full-stack developer.

Some of these popular stacks include:

  • The LAMP stack: Includes Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP
  • The MEAN stack: Includes MongoDB, Express.js, Angular.js, and Node.js
  • The MERN stack: Includes MongoDB, Express.js, React.js, and Node.js
  • The SERN stack: Includes SQL, Express.js, React.js, and Node.js
  • The Django stack: Includes Django, Python, and MySQL
  • The Ruby on Rails stack: Includes Ruby, SQLite, and Rails

7. An Understanding of DevOps

Depending on your organization, you may need to work with DevOps engineers in your full-stack developer role. DevOps engineers apply a combination of tools, practices, and ideas to projects to help them move from concept to release quickly.

Naturally, you should understand the DevOps framework if you need to take a DevOps approach.

The DevOps approach uses a modified version of the SDLC that guides developers through building and releasing updates and projects incrementally (DevOps engineers refer to this as “Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery” or CI/CD).

DevOps life cycle graphic
DevOps Life Cycle (Source: Atlassian)

Once you understand what DevOps is, you’ll want to learn how to get the most from the approach. That means mastering tools like:

  • Atlassian Bamboo and Jenkins, which automate repetitive tasks
  • Puppet and Chef, which help DevOps engineers configure different elements of systems so that they’re consistent
  • Nagios and Raygun, which allow developers to track a project’s performance after deployment
  • Docker and Kubernetes, which help developers package code and deploy it in containers

8. An Understanding of UX Design Principles

As full-stack developers build many websites, you’ll need to learn how to design a great website using User Experience (UX) Design principles. These principles include:

  • Focus on the user
  • Use consistency
  • Structure your website with hierarchy (i.e., put the essential elements first)
  • Design your website for mobile and desktop devices
  • Give the user control over their experience on the website
  • Make your website accessible for all users (i.e., make sure people who are blind, deaf, and colorblind can interact with your website)
  • Test the usability of your website before you release it

9. Experience With Developer Tools

If you have a development background, you may already know how to use essential developer tools like BitBucket, GitHub, and Git. However, as you’ll do a lot of web development as a full-stack developer, you should also learn to use web development tools like:

You may also need to learn how to use WordPress development tools like DevKinsta. DevKinsta is a free suite of tools that will help you build, develop, and test WordPress websites.

Over 10,000 professionals currently use DevKinsta, including web designers, freelancers, and developers.

DevKinsta website homepage
DevKinsta

10. Great Soft Skills

Finally, any developer needs fantastic soft skills. While full-stack development is a technical job, you need to work with colleagues and users to deliver each project.

Naturally, you will need:

  • Excellent active listening skills: To help you understand other people’s perspectives
  • Excellent teamwork skills: To help you work with others
  • The ability to take constructive feedback: You’ll need to adjust your work based on feedback from colleagues and users
  • The ability to mentor other developers: Your employer may expect you to lend your expertise to junior developers who are still building their skills
  • Time management skills: You may need to juggle multiple projects simultaneously

So, assuming you have all of 10 of the skills we’ve discussed, why should you apply them to full-stack development?

Why Become a Full-Stack Developer?

As most full-stack developers earn $75,000+ a year, full-stack development is a lucrative career. But it also offers other benefits.

As a full-stack developer, you’ll bridge the disconnect between frontend and backend development. That will give you a unique approach to web development, as you’ll work on every aspect of a project (rather than just a tiny part).

Many developers find this part of the role gratifying as you take a project from concept to release.

Full-stack development is also an excellent career for professionals who like flexing different muscles at work. Full-stack developers use numerous tools and skills and work on a diverse range of projects — meaning your work will be highly engaging.

As you’ll learn many skills as a full-stack developer, you’ll also become a great asset to your employer. Naturally, if you’re interested in progressing into a management role, full-stack development could be the perfect stepping stone (depending on your company).

So, how do you start down the full-stack path?

How to Become a Full-Stack Developer

As you’ll need strong software development skills to succeed in a full-stack developer role, most full-stack developers transition into the position after working in another software development job.

If you haven’t worked as a developer before, you may want to consider pursuing a web developer, java developer, software engineer, frontend developer, or backend developer job first.

Once you have some experience, you can transition into a full-stack role with these steps:

Step 1: Master the Basics

First, you’ll need to improve your programming skills. Although you don’t need to be an expert in every language, we recommend improving your skills in:

  • CSS
  • Javascript
  • HTML
  • Java
  • Python
  • Ruby

There are many resources you can use to build your development skills. For example, you could use resources like The Odin Project, which will teach you the basics of full-stack development and how to develop with Ruby on Rails and Javascript.

The Odin Project website homepage
The Odin Project

As WordPress now powers 40% of all websites on the internet, you should also learn how to use WordPress to manage a website, develop a theme, and use plugins.

Although you could learn through trial-and-error, the best way to learn WordPress is through an online course.

If you haven’t used PHP before, you should familiarize yourself with it as you learn WordPress.

As WordPress is primarily built on PHP, you may need PHP for backend development. Taking a course is a great way to learn PHP. You can also install PHP, and build your skills over time.

Step 2: Enhance Your Knowledge

Once you’ve mastered the basics, you should prepare for your new full-stack development role by enhancing your knowledge and building your skills. There are many ways to do this, including:

Screenshot of LinkedIn Learning's full-stack developer course
LinkedIn Learning’s full-stack developer course

You should also join the online full-stack development community through websites like StackOverFlow and subreddits like r/fullstack. Joining the community will help you learn by watching others, as you can see how they solve problems.

r/fullstack subreddit page where developers talk online
r/fullstack subreddit page where developers talk online

Step 3: Create a Portfolio and Apply For Jobs

Next, you should build a digital portfolio to show your full-stack development skills. Ideally, your portfolio should document two to four of your web development projects.

The best portfolios are pretty straightforward, as they include:

  • A link to each website or project
  • A detailed explanation of the tools and processes you used for each project
  • Any reflections you have on the process (i.e., what worked well, any challenges you faced, what you learned from it)

Once you’ve finished your portfolio, add it to your resume and start applying for full-stack jobs. You can find full-stack positions on websites like:

Tips to Help You Land a Job

Searching for a full-stack development job when you’re still entering the field can be daunting. Here are some tips to help you land the perfect role:

  • Don’t worry about mastering every tool or language, and prioritize the ones that will serve you best in the job you want
  • Consider adopting a niche based on your skills (for example, brand yourself as a full-stack WordPress developer).
  • Attend full-stack conferences to network and find a mentor
  • Speak to your manager about taking on more full-stack developer responsibilities in your current job if possible, as this will help you transition into a full-stack role easier
  • Develop your portfolio website from scratch to show off your skills

Did you know that web development and design jobs will grow by 8% by 2029? 📈 Intrigued? Read on… 👀Click to Tweet

Summary

If you’re a developer looking for a challenge, transitioning into a full-stack development job could be an excellent move for your career.

Full-stack development positions are demanding but rewarding as you get to take a project and build it from the ground up.

Becoming a developer is also a great long-term career move, as the BLS estimates that software development jobs will grow by 22% from 2019–2029.

To succeed as a developer, you’ll need to master programming languages like HTML, CSS, Javascript, Python, Java, and Ruby. You’ll also need to learn to use frameworks like Spring, Laravel, Bootstrap, and web development tools like DevKinsta.

Of course, that’s not an extensive list, so if you can think of any other tools new full-stack developers should know, please share them in the comments below.


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