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(Almost) no one is full stack developer

Everybody is looking for a full stack developer. This makes sense, because why wouldn’t you want to hire a genius who can do everything? You probably have one expertise, just like about every other developer. Organizations asking for a full stack developer usually don’t know what that means. As an aspiring developer, the job description is therefore not something you should mirror yourself against. Although it could be helpful if you are able to explain why.

Jack of all trades is a familiar phrase. Or at least half of it. Master of none, it continues. Someone who knows a little bit of everything, but really a lot about nothing; this is usually not the ideal profile for solving a multitude of complex problems. Unfortunately, this is not always obvious. Organizations look for profiles with competences to solve a specific need. When that need has to do with application development, they aim for one profile that can do it all. A digital jack of all trades: the full stack developer.

1. Which stack? And what’s in it?

What exactly does that full stack entail? It goes without saying that our full stack expert is at home in front-end and back-end development. Hopefully you know something about databases and speak Python, C or PHP, so you can build the foundation of an application. Those applications will often run in the browser, which is why JavaScript or Angular hold no secrets for you. Preferably, the whole thing looks great, so don’t forget HTML and CSS.

Moreover, one stack is not the same as another. There are a few popular options. The LAMP stack with JavaScript, Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP, for example; or the MEAN stack with JavaScript MongoDB, Express, AngularJS and Node.js. Which stack should the full stack developer know? The deeper we analyze the term, the more it becomes clear that it is a hollow concept.

2. Jack of all trades

It is by no means impossible to learn the basics of all aspects of a stack and with that you can indeed build complete applications. Knowing a little bit of everything can be useful. In some cases, companies may be looking for such a Jack of all trades. It has its advantages: you can build a prototype application all by yourself and save time by cutting out meetings with colleagues. Being on the same page with yourself will usually work.

More often than not, however, full stack developers are associated with a vessel of knowledge. Feel free to call them top talents, code gurus or developer rockstars. That’s where the problems begin. The stack the developer knows may not be the most appropriate for the application requested. Are there unique UX requirements? Or is back-end scalability essential to run an application in a cost-effective manner? And what about security? Our full stack developer will usually not have the answer to all of those questions.

Sometimes they do, because let’s face it, geniuses exist. The top talent who can make truly informed decisions from hardware to virtualization method, cloud, scalability, database selection, configuration, actual programming language, UX, security, and more, is rare. Moreover, someone with that phenomenal skillset is unlikely to be employed by a company looking for a full stack developer to kill as many birds with one stone as possible. Such a genius is sitting comfortably in his or her dream job.

3. Wanted: coder

From the organizations’ perspective, it is neither fair nor wise to look for full stack developers. The job description does not show sufficient understanding of what makes a good, efficient and secure application. ‘Coding’ is not one job, but a job domain. It does not have to be your ambition to become an expert in everything. Rather, choose your favorite domain and become really good at it.

It does help to have a notion of all aspects of the stack. After all, front and back-end developers, UX artists and database specialists are pulling the same rope. So understanding each other’s challenges can only help. But that does not make you a full stack developer.

4. Full stack manager

Then again, if the term must exist as a job description, we would ironically use it for someone who does not have to write a single line of code. A Jack of all trades who can have a meaningful conversation with every developer on a team is an ideal architect, team leader or spokesperson to the management. Mastery, in that case, falls to the individual specialists.
Otherwise, the term full stack developer mostly creates false expectations. You don’t expect a musician to compose, play piano, violin, drums and guitar, sing and conduct an orchestra, preferably for classical music, jazz, pop and rock, do you? So why should a developer be able to do that?

Time for the next step in your career? At CHRLY you can opt for a job in Belgium or for an international career. Check out our vacancies or send us an unsolicited application today.

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