The availability of full-stack Developers is something I am asked about regularly. On the surface, it’s a dream ticket, but it is vital we understand what the term actually means and manage expectations accordingly.
Hiring full stack developers has an enormous appeal to hiring managers when building a team and operating within a budget and timeframe. Consolidating two development roles into one, for a slightly increased salary, reduces communication issues and company wages, often based on the belief that they are not sacrificing their front-end or back-end output. But with two functions that rely on different skillsets and ways of thinking, full-stack development has us questioning: does a full stack developer truly exist?
Let’s start by saying that this post by no means aims to persuade companies only to hire front-end or back-end developers as distinct roles. Whilst most developers have an in depth understanding and appreciation of both front and back end roles, can they be expected to be equally comfortable in both environments and is this a viable replacement for the traditionally distinct front-end and back-end roles? We are interested in making sense of, how developers can claim to possess a dexterity of each skillset and at which point it is acceptable to label themselves a ‘full-stack developer’. Additionally, do tech companies expect an equal balance of each skillset when hiring a full stack developer or are they willing to accept candidates more versed in front-end or back-end?
Right-brain vs. left-brain theory
Front-end developers rely heavily on working with designers to translate wireframes into something of form, function and beauty. Drawing on their design skills, and those of web designers, they use their fluency in code to translate ideas into something tangible. To execute this elegantly, front-end developers need to be excellent communicators and listeners– not only to interpret the brief but to ensure that what they create is highly user-friendly and understandable by communicating messages using design tactics over written copy.
Left and right brain theory argue that in most cases, people will display dominance in either skillset and are therefore be branded as either left-brained or right-brained. This argument challenges the idea of an equally balanced full stack developer, suggesting that people will naturally have proficiency in either front-end or back-end. This mounts uncertainty that full-stack developers can be agile in both front- and back-end development and poses the question.
The mental capacity for two roles
For front- and back- end developers, there is more to learn than you can master, which requires developers to prioritise their proficiencies. When consolidating this down to a role which covers both, will ‘full-stackers’ lean towards their proficiencies in front-end, back-end or can they genuinely maintain a balance between the two? Engineers are not only required to not only translate the customer’s brief, but to audit and strategise their own work in the back-end, plus satisfy objectives for functions such as marketing and ops etc. Expecting a completely polished execution when full-stack developers are required to tick so many boxes and support so many roles is unrealistic.
Are employers using the title too frequently?
Another viewpoint to consider this question from is the route to becoming a full stack developer. Unlike an architect or a lawyer, the title ‘full-stack developer’ is not a legally protected title. In many cases, we are seeing front-end developers learning one back-end language before being branding as full-stack, and we can see why with employers favouring full-stack developers. Are companies handing out these titles to empower developers, without the need to remunerate accordingly?
Without an unbiased professional body qualifying and awarding the title of ‘full-stack developer’, do genuine full-stack developers actually exist? On the face of it, a quick search on LinkedIn for full-stack developers in Manchester might say yes. Many of which we know and have worked with. Scratch the surface however and you soon realise that the expectations and limitations of full-stack developers contradict one other, which leaves us questioning: does a full-stack developer genuinely exist?
What are your thoughts?
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