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How to become a Full-Stack Developer without a degree

Full-Stack Developers are in high demand. These engineers have endless job opportunities because their skill sets are valuable across most industries. Plus, you don't even need to get a traditional engineering or computer science degree to enter the field.

If you're wondering how to become a Full-Stack Developer, you're in the right place. In the paragraphs below, we'll show you how to become a Full-Stack Developer without a degree.

First, we'll walk you through the role's responsibilities. Then, we'll explore the skills you'll need, where you can learn them, how long it'll take, and more. Feel free to use the table of contents below to jump to a specific section. Or, if you'd rather jump right into training, check out our Full-Stack Engineer Career Path.

What does a Full-Stack Developer do?

A Full-Stack Developer (or Engineer) performs both front-end and back-end development. Before we dig deeper, here's a brief description of the difference between the two:

  • Front-end development involves creating the parts of a program that users interact with, like visual elements and user interfaces.
  • Back-end development involves working with servers, databases, and other background programs that keep an application running smoothly.

In another article, we take a closer look at the difference between front-end and back-end developers.

The "Full-Stack" within a Full-Stack Developers title refers to their tech stack. Complete with both front-end and back-end programming languages, libraries, frameworks, APIs, and other tools, these tech stacks allow them to build complete web applications from the bottom up.

Taylor, a Full-Stack Developer at RightNow Media, sheds more light on the role's responsibilities, explaining how:

"A Full-Stack Developer is writing code not only for the user's front-end web applications or mobile applications, but they're also writing API code that sits in the middle, they're writing server code that sits in the back, and they're also connecting and communicating with databases."

To learn more, watch the video below, or read our article about what a Full-Stack Developer does.

Full-Stack Developer skills

As Taylor explains, Full-Stack Developers need to have a variety of skills. First, you'll need to know both front-end languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and back-end languages like SQL and C#.

There are a lot of choices, but try not to get overwhelmed. Do some research on the languages used by the companies you want to work for. Then, just start. There's no such thing as learning the "wrong" language. Regardless of what you choose, you'll learn fundamental programming concepts and methodologies that can be transferred to other languages. In the video above, Taylor echoes a similar sentiment:

"Sometimes it's difficult to get started because there's so many options out there. You don't know what your first step should be. And in all honesty, if you learn one front-end language, you can probably transfer that to other front-end languages. If you learn one back-end language, like Java or C# or Node.js, you can probably transfer it to those other languages."

Along with their programming languages, a Full-Stack Developer needs to understand how front-end and back-end systems communicate. They also need to be able to write code that allows programs to access servers and databases. Remember, they're often referred to as jacks-of-all-trades. Here are a few skills that Full-Stack Developers have:

  • Basic web design
  • Web architecture
  • Servers
  • APIs
  • Version control systems
  • Databases
  • Git
  • Command line

Beyond the technical skills, developers in any role need to be great problem solvers. They need to be able to come up with programs that meet the client's requirements or the design brief. That means they need to be excellent listeners, good communicators, and big-picture thinkers.

Full-Stack Developers need to be especially good at recognizing the bigger picture, as they need to understand how each of an application's components fits into its overall development.

Full-Stack Developers also need to be experienced with coding best practices. You'll want to be familiar with commenting and documentation to make it easier for other people to understand your code.

You should also be familiar with pair programming and code reviews. In short, Full-Stack Developers must pay close attention to detail and follow the standards that their company or teammates have decided upon. Software development is a team sport, so they'll also need to be respectful, collaborative, and helpful.

More broadly speaking, developers in all industries need to be adaptable, willing to learn new things, and open to feedback. There are very few jobs where things change quite as regularly as they do in software development. So, Full-Stack Developers need to be quick on their feet, know when to ask questions, do research, and learn new skills.

Some professionals love this aspect of their jobs because there's always a challenge. Approaching work with this positive mindset will help you enjoy your work even more. These are skills that can be cultivated just by practicing, contributing to codebases, and having a growth mindset.

As you progress along your path to a career in full-stack development, remember to recognize that your mistakes are merely learning opportunities. With code, mistakes are where we learn the most, so keep a positive outlook and stay resilient.

How long does it take to become a Full-Stack Developer?

The answer to this question, of course, is that it depends. If you already have years of programming experience, it won't take you as long to build the skills you'll need to become a Full-Stack Developer. For example, if you're already a Back-End Developer, learning front-end programming languages won't be very difficult.

If you have less experience — maybe you've built a few projects or websites in your free time — it might take you between six and twelve months to learn the skills you'll need as a Full-Stack Developer. If you're completely new to programming, it could take a year or two.

Still, all of these time frames depend on your circumstances. You might be able to learn full-time, which will accelerate your timeline. You might have other responsibilities or a full-time job that force you to take longer than the average timelines we've given. Either way, it helps to set a goal for the number of hours you'll learn each week. If life happens, then you can just start again tomorrow, knowing it's a journey toward becoming a Full-Stack Engineer.

How much does a Full-Stack Developer make?

The average salary for a Full-Stack Developer is $99,134 in the United States. You might have thought that to make close to 6 figures, you'd need to invest a lot of money into tuition fees. That may have been the case before, but now it's different.

You can learn to become a Full-Stack Developer without a degree, and because you're in high demand, you can earn a great income. In fact, the job market for Full-Stack Developers (and other Software Developers) is expected to grow by 22% over the next decade, which is much faster than average.

How to write a Full-Stack Developer resume

After you've built the skills you'll need for your career as a Full-Stack Developer, it's time to start building your resume. Don't panic if you have little related experience. You can still highlight your past jobs on your resume and show what you were responsible for, as well as what you accomplished in each position. Remember, teamwork, communication skills, and problem-solving are all valuable skills for your new role.

You'll also want to highlight the development skills you worked hard to learn. Include a short section on your technical skills and highlight your proficiency with programming languages and other development tools. Here's an example:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript
  • SQL
  • Java
  • APIs

You can also highlight softer skills, which are equally important. Skills like problem-solving, communication, leadership, and teamwork are all valuable skills for Full-Stack Developers. Be sure to add any certifications you've earned as well.

You'll also want to adjust your resume for each job you apply to. Review the posting and make sure the skills that are mentioned in it are included in your resume. Taking the time to customize your resume helps show your interviewer that you're interested in that specific job and can boost your chances of being called for an interview.

If you have a portfolio, be sure to include a link to it on your resume. Professional social media handles are always good to include as well. If you post about programming on LinkedIn or Twitter, you can demonstrate your passion for the industry on top of your communication skills. Your interviewer is also likely to Google you before they interview you, so save them some time by showing them where you talk about work online.

Lastly, it's never a bad idea to have a technical friend or colleague review your resume before submission. You don't want any spelling mistakes or glaring omissions to be on your resume. It's your first impression at your new workplace, and since a Full-Stack Developer needs to be great at documentation and attention to detail, your resume should reflect that.

Building a Full-Stack Developer portfolio

As you learn the skills you'll need to become a Full-Stack Developer, you'll probably build a few projects. Use them to create a portfolio, which serves to illustrate your skills to potential employers and clients.

If you designed a few websites for friends or created a game or two on your own, make sure you save all the links and files to a common location. Many developers will even design their own website to showcase their front-end engineering skills. In the video above, Taylor shares this advice:

"Build your portfolio. Start small. Build little tic-tac-toe games or start somewhere, and you can build up from there."

If you've contributed to larger open-source codebases on websites like GitHub, include them in your portfolio. Another way to gain experience, and document it in your portfolio, is to take on some unpaid work or start an internship. These learning experiences are a great way to build your skills and bolster your resume.

Full-Stack Developer technical interview

It's not uncommon that Full-Stack Developers will need to pass some sort of skills test before they're hired. Some companies will offer an online test. Others will incorporate their technical questions into the in-person (or virtual) interview.

Feeling nervous for this portion of the interview is normal, but you can take an hour or so each day to prepare. Go over some practice interview questions. You could make this fun by asking a partner to test you.

Each company will use a different set of skills, languages, and questions, but in general, you'll want to be able to answer questions about your entire tech stack. If you can't think of an answer in the interview, it's important not to panic. Just explain how you'd find that particular answer and what steps you would take to solve the problem they present. Here are a few questions that can help you get started:

  • How can you reduce the load time for a web app?
  • What approach do you take when debugging?
  • Share a problem you faced recently on a development project and how you overcame it.
  • What programming languages do you need to complete a project from scratch?
  • What are design patterns?
  • Can you explain continuous integration?
  • What is multi-threading?
  • How are GraphQL and REST different?

Some interviewers may question your skills with specific programming languages. Use any of the links below to make sure you're well prepared.

How to become a Full-Stack Developer without a degree

By now, you'll hopefully have a better understanding of what a Full-Stack Developer does, the skills you'll need to become one, and the hiring process. All that's left is to take your first steps. Ready to start exploring front-end development? Check out any of the courses below:

After learning the languages above, explore frameworks and libraries like React that'll help you build your applications more quickly. If you'd prefer to start with back-end development, explore back-end tools like:

But what if you want to learn everything at once? Don't worry — we've got you covered. Our Full-Stack Software Engineer Career Path will teach you all of the programming languages listed above. We'll also show you how to use them to build web apps, APIs, and more. Plus, you can use the projects you build along your Path to create a portfolio that'll help you showcase your skills to future employers.

There's no rush to complete your courses either. While we said that you can learn the skills you'll need in as little as 12 months, that doesn't mean you need to force the timeline. Make the learning process your own. Do it your own way.

Get more practice, more projects, and more guidance.

Stephan Miller

Stephan Miller

Stephan Miller has been a full-stack, mobile, and machine learning developer for two decades and has written code for companies both big and small, both startups and established businesses.

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How to become a Full-Stack Developer without a degree
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