Thinking about a career in full-stack development? That’s great news! It’s a fulfilling career with lots of high-paying opportunities and a never-ending list of fascinating problems to solve.
But what does a Full-Stack Developer actually do? We spoke with Taylor, a technology consultant and Full-Stack Software Developer at RightNow Media, to find out more about her day to day and what she works on in her full-stack role. Taylor was a consultant on our Back-End Engineer career path.
In our interview, Taylor defines full-stack development, talks about what she loves about her job, and shares some tips for aspiring Full-Stack Developers who are just starting out. If you’re interested in becoming a Full-Stack Developer, our Full-Stack Engineer career path is designed to prepare you with everything you need to get an entry-level job in full-stack development.
What is a Full-Stack Developer?
Before you can understand what a Full-Stack Developer is, you’ll need to know what we mean when we say “stack.” As Taylor explains, the term refers to “all the different applications that are communicating with one another and all the different programs that are working with each other to take a request from a user’s browser or mobile phone and all the APIs and servers and databases that are talking to one another to respond to that request.”
With that in mind, a Full-Stack Engineer is “a Software Developer that’s 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,” Taylor says.
At this point, you might be wondering: How does a Full-Stack Developer differ from a Front-End or Back-End Developer? For starters, a Full-Stack Developer does both front-end and back-end development. “They also understand how those pieces work together, and they’re able to create the communication that exists between those two sides,” Taylor says. “A Full-Stack Developer is not just looking at front-end and back-end, but also at how those two pieces communicate and how they integrate together.”
Full-Stack Developer vs. Full-Stack Engineer
You might have noticed that some people refer to "Full-Stack Developers" while others refer to "Full-Stack Engineers." The terms have become pretty synonymous, and they're often used interchangeably — but there is a difference.
Many companies don't distinguish between developers and engineers, but in those that do, engineers have a higher rank. They're typically required to have more knowledge and experience and may have a broader range of responsibilities.
According to Codecademy VP of Engineering Kip Price, engineers generally need a better understanding of data structures, algorithms, analytics, and scalability. And while developers mainly focus on building short-term solutions, engineers are expected to think long-term while building applications. That means being mindful of tech debt — short-term solutions that might have long-term consequences — among other things.
Engineers may also be expected to build automated tests into the development process, and their work is held to a higher standard when it comes to the quality of their code and documentation, their utilization of abstract software design concepts, and their contributions to user research.
Is full-stack development right for you?
We asked Taylor what she loves about full-stack development and she told us, “I love both front-end and back-end development.” Being a Full-Stack Software Developer allows her to explore both her creative side and her problem-solving, analytical side.
Working on the front end allows Taylor to be creative, working with what the user is going to see and interact with. “I enjoy thinking about how the user is best going to be engaged with the website I’m creating, and I like creating the colors and the styles and the different layouts that the user is going to interact with.”
Working on the back end gives Taylor the chance to problem solve — something else she loves. “You will problem-solve as a Front-End Developer, but there are some larger puzzle pieces that you get to work with and you get to put into play when you start integrating with the back end.”
If you enjoy being creative and solving problems — and you enjoy having an understanding for the full picture of how different things interact and work together — full-stack development may be the career for you.
Full-Stack Developer skills
A Full-Stack Developer needs both front-end and back-end development skills, so their tech stacks typically include languages like:
Along with these languages, they need a basic understanding of web design, web architecture, and database management. But it's more than just technical skills — Full-Stack Developers also need soft skills like creative problem-solving, communication, and collaboration.
Front end vs. back end vs. full stack
To paint a better picture of a Full-Stack Developer's responsibilities, let's take a closer look at what web development entails.
A website's back end (or server-side) includes all the "invisible" components that enable its functionality. Back-End Developers build servers and databases that process and provide the front-end with information. Some of the most popular languages for back-end development include Python and Java.
"Full stack" refers to the front and back ends and everything that connects the two. If you want to learn more about the technologies that allow both ends to interact, check out our Connecting Front-End to Back-End course.
How much do Full-Stack Developers make?
Full-Stack Developers play a crucial role in the development of websites and web applications. Since they're familiar with both ends and their connecting components, they can jump in wherever their skills are needed and ensure that front- and back-end components work together seamlessly.
As a result, their skills are in high demand, and they often earn six-figure salaries. And like most careers, they generally earn more as they gain experience.
Junior Full-Stack Developers average $87,750 a year in the U.S. Mid-level Full-Stack Developers earn about $107,487, and the average salary for Senior Full-Stack Developers is $142,186.
How to become a Full-Stack Developer
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in full-stack development it can be hard to know where to start. There are so many different options there, you may not know what the first step should be. We asked Taylor for advice and she shared that the most important part is just jumping in and starting to learn the basics.
“As you understand the basic building blocks of programs and the building blocks of how those applications work together, that knowledge is very transferable,” she says. “So don’t feel like you have to learn all of it — if you start with something, you can take that and build on top of it.”
If you learn one front-end programming language, you can easily transfer that knowledge to other front-end languages. Similarly, if you learn one back-end language, like Java or C# or Node.js, you can transfer that knowledge to other languages too.
Once you’ve gotten started, “Code as much as you can,” Taylor says. “Get your hands on the keyboard and build your portfolio. The more you do and the more problems you solve, the stronger your skillset is going to become and the more confident you’re going to be in your own skills.”
If you’re ready to begin your journey towards becoming a Full-Stack Developer, our Full-Stack Engineer career path is the path for you. This path will take you through everything you need to know to land your first job as a dev, from how to build and deploy static web pages to how to combine front-end with back-end. You’ll also learn interview techniques and build your portfolio so you can start applying for full-stack development jobs. Get started here.