Not Your Father’s Full Stack Development

What is a full-stack development? Do true full-stack developers really exist in the modern era? Is it better to have a broader knowledge of software development or specialized skills in one or two tasks? All of these questions and more have been argued about within the software development world ad nauseum. But the arguments never seem to go away because there really is no clear answer. And by the way, that’s not a bad thing.

A good illustration of how difficult it is to nail down what full-stack development truly looks like it is a question posed on the Quora forum. The question states: “What should a full stack developer know in 2016?” There are 33 answers to date, some of them long enough to qualify as their own 700-1000-word blog posts. Without detailing all of the answers, it comes down to this: what we are working with today is not your father’s full-stack development.

A Much Larger Stack

Back in the early days, the stack was relatively small. A qualified full-stack developer needed to know one or two application frameworks, a database, a bit of Web server, and the two primary operating systems that dominated the market. A basic working understanding of all four allowed the full-stack developer to delegate specific tasks for which his/her skills were limited while still maintaining overall control of the project. But that was then.

Today, the stack has grown so large that it is nearly impossible for any developer to have enough knowledge to be comfortable with every layer. It’s just not possible. So now, developers who identify themselves as full-stack are more likely to concentrate on one portion of the stack applicable to whatever kinds of software his or her employer specializes in. An example would be a full-stack Java developer working for a company that specializes in web apps for smartphones.

A full-stack developer in this environment would need to have a basic understanding of things like:

  • AngularJS
  • Appcelerator/Titanium
  • NodeJS
  • ReactJS

Any enterprise looking to implement a full-stack JavaScript approach would need developers with knowledge of these kinds of environments. Those same developers don’t necessarily need extensive knowledge in areas that do not relate to JavaScript development. In other words, they master one section of a much larger stack rather than being concerned with all of it.

All of this naturally begs the question of whether true full-stack developers even exist anymore. Probably not, if the definition includes the old stack as the foundation of knowledge. If the definition is based on a much larger stack that allows developers to concentrate on one subsection, then they do exist.

In the End, It Doesn’t Matter

If you are up for a little high-tech, computer geek amusement, you might want to check out the Quora question listed at the start of this article. You will discover a lot of smart people making a lot of salient points in defense of their opinions on a topic that, in the end, does not really matter.

Whether a company’s full-stack developers focus on only one subset of the larger stack, or they have managed to somehow master the entire thing, what does it matter as long as the job gets done the way the customer wants it done? It doesn’t. So call yourself a full-stack developer if that’s what you want to do. You will have no trouble finding work if you can deliver what the customer wants, the way the customer wants it. Everyone else can spend their days continuing their debate over the validity of your title.

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