Hire Developers

What Does a Full-Stack Developer Do? Job Overview & Skill Expectations

By Ryan Loftus

Full-stack developers have the unique ability to build both the visual and server environments that define the internet as we know it. Full-stack developers have an understanding of front-end design and interactivity, as well as the back-end databases and architectures.

That’s why companies of every size and industry are in an arms race to hire the best full-stack talent. As of this writing, there are more than 58,000 openings for full-stack developers in the U.S. alone.

In this post, we’ll break down the statistics, job requirements, and responsibilities of a career in full-stack development.

 

Overview of the Duties of a Full-Stack Developer

When you load a website or application, the experience consists of two environments. 

The front end is everything the user sees and interacts with in their browser. This includes buttons, text, links, design, and user experience. This is known as the client side.

The back end is what the user doesn’t see — the servers, applications, and databases that underpin the digital experience. This is known as the server side.

A full-stack developer has an understanding of both front-end and back-end development and is able to work at every level of the website development process. 

On a more technical level, the core job responsibilities of full-stack developers include:

  • Web server technologies and server-side programming languages
  • Client-side technologies and programming languages
  • Supporting the full application lifecycle
  • Troubleshooting, debugging, and optimizing performance
  • Building automation tools
  • API integration
  • Creating tools that improve site interaction 
  • Troubleshooting, debugging, and optimizing performance
  • Creating and implementing UI/UX design
  • Designing information architecture
  • Prototyping application interfaces with graphic design tools
  • Working in an agile environment
  • Keeping up-to-date with advancements in technology

 

What Kinds of Companies Hire Full-Stack Developers?

Any company that’s building its own website or online applications will need to hire developers to build the front-end and back-end environments. Often, companies will hire developers with skills focused on one of those two environments. However, companies will also hire full-stack developers who can work throughout the tech stack.

The demand for — and feasibility of — full-stack development has fluctuated throughout the history of software development. When web development environments are relatively simple, the demand for full-stack developers increases. Under these conditions, it’s more efficient for companies to hire developers who can own the development of features from design to implementation. 

But when application development is more complex, the need for full-stack developers decreases. That’s because it’s harder for one person to understand the full technology stack when it’s more complicated or going through periods of rapid iteration.

With the technology industry in the early stages of developing Web3, it’s likely that this trend may change, with the demand for full-stack developers continuing to grow. As developers layer innovative new technologies on the technology stack  — including machine learning, decentralization and the metaverse — having a single developer who understands how all these disparate parts fit together will be invaluable.

The biggest employers of full-stack developers are the some of the world’s largest companies, including Infosys, FedEx, Fidelity Investments, IBM, and Google.

But it’s not just Silicon Valley and new startups driving the demand for full-stack talent. All companies are becoming tech companies — now more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic and work-from-home era only accelerated this trend. Companies in every industry will need technical talent to help them modernize and innovate their business practices. 

Marketing, logistics, financial technology, financial services, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, retail, healthcare, pharmaceuticals — the demand (and opportunity) for full-stack talent is nearly endless. 

While there isn’t much data on the growth rate of full-stack developers specifically, we do have data for software developers as a whole. From 2020 to 2030, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of employed software developers in the U.S. to grow by 22 percent — almost triple the 8 percent average growth rate for all occupations.

 

Types of Full-Stack Developer Positions

The job title a full-stack developer may hold varies depending on their experience and the company or industry in which they work. The title of a graduate from a coding bootcamp might look different than a candidate with a bachelor’s degree. And the job function of a full-stack developer in a 5,000-person company will differ from one at a five-person startup.

At the beginning of their career, a full-stack developer will typically start with an entry-level title like junior full-stack developer, full-stack developer 1, or web design developer, and will typically work in that role for one to three years.

From there, they often have the opportunity to move into slightly more senior-level roles with hands-on web and software development responsibilities, with job titles like senior full-stack developer, lead software developer, and senior software architect. Spending several years honing their tech skills and mastering a code base, their responsibilities often expand to include taking more ownership of projects, working independently in a team environment, and mentoring project team members. Senior full-stack developers might also start specializing in particular technologies, such as databases, cloud computing, user experience design, or systems architecture. 

At this point in their careers, some front-end and back-end developers will choose to transition to differ environments or to full-stack development roles. This is true for full-stack developers, but they often have more flexibility in the roles they occupy. With a skill set covering the entire tech stack, they can feasibly transition into a broad range of roles.

With some additional experience under their belt, a full-stack developer may also face a crossroads in their career. The first path for experienced developers is to pivot into people and team management functions, where hiring, mentoring, resource planning and allocation, strategy, and operations become a larger component of the role. At the higher levels of an organization, these titles might include:

  • IT Director
  • Chief IT Architect
  • Information Systems Manager
  • Web Architect
  • Webmaster 
  • Engineering Director
  • Software Engineering Director
  • VP of Engineering
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
  • Chief Information Officer (CIO)

The other possible career path is to continue as an individual contributor, where they can develop deeper technical expertise in various programming languages and frameworks. A large number of developers opt to stay in roles as individual contributors, and they enjoy equally fulfilling careers. 

Salary Comparisons & Job Outlook

On average, full-stack developers tend to receive a salary much higher than the national average in their country. For example, in the U.S. the average salary in 2020 was $53,400. In contrast, the average base salary for full-stack developers in the U.S. is $106,167. That’s 98.8 percent more than the national average.

Entry-level full-stack developers can expect to occupy a lower salary band at the beginning of their career. In contrast, senior positions provide a higher average compensation, though data for this specific salary band is hard to find. Industry and company size also affect the salary band dramatically.

It’s worth noting that the compensation for full-stack developers trends higher than their front-end peers, who make an average of $100,139. And they trend lower than their back-end peers, who command an average base salary in the U.S. between $115,129 and $125,924.

Historically, geography has had a significant impact on the compensation of full-stack developers. The U.S. leads the world in developer salaries by a wide margin of 23.3 percent. The remaining members of the top five highest paying countries are Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

But compensation also varies within each country, not just internationally. For example, while full-stack developers in San Francisco earn an average of $142,401 a year, a full-stack developer in Atlanta might earn $106,802. That’s a 33.3 percent variation in compensation.

What remains to be seen, though, is how the rise of remote work will affect developer compensation. Should employers determine compensation based on where the company is located, where the employee is located, or the national average? The answer to this question depends on who you ask. 

In 2020, Reddit announced it won’t lower compensation for remote employees. Instead, it will scale their compensation packages to reflect the pay ranges of high-cost areas. Meanwhile, both Facebook and Twitter announced they would decrease the compensation of remote employees who move to regions with lower costs of living. 

Companies will take their own approach, the prevailing trend appears to be the latter.

“We’ve seen salary convergence, or the removal of location-based pay scales, for C-suite executives over the last several years,” said Vivek Ravisankar, CEO of HackerRank, in an article for Fortune. “This coming year, we will see the same trend pick up steam for individual developers’ salaries. The remote-first model and ongoing tech talent shortage will further drive this convergence. We have started to see this convergence taking place across the globe as well.”

 

Requirements to Become a Full-Stack Developer

Technical Skills

Full-stack developers use a range of both front-end and back-end technologies to build websites and applications. 

Some of the front-end technologies full-stack developers use include:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • CSS frameworks (Bootstrap, Tailwind CSS, Bulma, and Foundation)
  • JavaScript (JS)
  • JS Frameworks (React, Angular, Ember, and Backbone)
  • jQuery

Some of the back-end technologies full-stack developers use include:

  • Python
  • Ruby
  • Java
  • .NET
  • C
  • C++
  • C# 
  • Rust
  • Go
  • PHP
  • PHP frameworks (Zend, Symfony)
  • SQL
  • Database tools (SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, Hadoop)
  • Linux experience
  • Cloud frameworks

Out of the above languages, the most widely known is JavaScript.

Full-stack developers also have to learn a number of general web development skills, including:

  • Git 
  • SSH
  • GitHub
  • Algorithms
  • HTTP / HTTPS
  • Terminal usage
  • Data structures 
  • Character encodings

Depending on their area of focus, full-stack developers might also have an understanding of front-end and design concepts, such as:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • User experience (UX)
  • Content management systems
  • E-commerce
  • Mobile-first design
  • Graphical editing tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch, Figma)

It’s worth noting that the above lists are an overview of both front-end and back-end technologies that a full-stack developer might use. The number of technologies a developer knows — and the depth at which they know them — will vary on a case-by-case basis. Full-stack developers at the beginning of their careers won’t have complete mastery over both back-end and front-end, but they will increase the depth and breadth of their skills throughout their careers. Even a senior full-stack developer might have working knowledge of the entire stack, with true expertise in only a few layers.

One thing that technical recruiters and aspiring developers alike will notice is that there’s no standard way to learn these skill sets. There’s a huge variety in the technologies full-stack developers know and the order they learn them.

Take, for example, the first programming language developers start with. JavaScript is the best known language, but it isn’t a language most developers learn to code in — only 5 percent of respondents reported it as their first programming language.

This is likely because developers are strongest in classic languages taught in computer science programs, like C, C++, Java, and Python. Front-end-heavy languages, though, are often excluded from traditional CS programs, leading developers to learn JavaScript through on-the-job experience or self-directed learning.

Soft Skills

Technical competency alone isn’t enough to succeed in a full-stack role. Mathematical, design, analytical, and problem-solving skills are a must in any software development job. And soft skills are even more critical in a digital-first or digital-only environment.

Employers may put even more stock into developers with strong soft skills, such as:

  • Time management
  • Communication
  • Project management
  • Creativity
  • Problem solving

Experience

After competency, the most important qualification for full-stack developers is experience. On-the-job experience and training is a critical requirement for many employers.

Then there’s education. Worldwide, about 75 percent of developers have a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree. Many companies still require developers to have a four-year degree. While hiring developers, it’s likely that many of them will have a degree. 

But competition for skilled full-stack developers is fierce, and it’s common for job openings requiring degrees to go unfilled. Companies looking to hire developers should be prepared to recognize other forms of education and experience. Employers will have access to a much larger pool of talent if they prioritize skills over education and pedigree.

Online training and bootcamps are popular ways to learn new technical skills. And research has shown that 86.7 percent of developers have taught themselves a framework, language, or tool outside of a classroom or course. 

The career of a full-stack developer is one of constant learning. Even if they have a formal education, full-stack developers will rely on online courses, on-the-job training, and self-directed learning to stay up to date with the latest advancements in front-end and back-end technologies.

Increasingly, developers with no higher education or on-the-job experience are becoming ideal candidates for many roles. Many of the world’s leading tech companies have taken notice and no longer require a four-year degree. Employers that hire developers from a diverse range of backgrounds will be able to scale their team with ease.

 

Resources for Hiring Full-Stack Developers

Best Practices for Hiring Software Developers: Front-End, Back-End, & Full-Stack

Developer Hiring Solutions

15 Common Problem-Solving Interview Questions

Resources for Becoming a Full-Stack Developer

HackerRank for Developers

Software Engineering Questions to Know in 2022

How to Write a Data Scientist Job Description [Template]