Is the concept of the Full-Stack Developer dead?

When it comes to filling application and development roles, a lot of employers are typically looking for a purple squirrel. In essence, they want someone who can do almost everything, especially in full-stack development. That got me thinking, does the full-stack developer actually exist? In 2020 is the idea of full-stack development dead?

I attended a conference last year, Connect.Tech Atlanta and the keynote speaker planted an idea in my head.  He encouraged developers to focus on what they are good at and not to be an expert on everything in order to market themselves as specialists. It makes sense, but why did I find myself always on the hunt for the elusive purple squirrel?

From my experience, it’s rare to find a candidate who confidently identifies as a full-stack developer.  While some candidates market themselves as such, in conversation with them, it seems they typically gravitate towards front- or back-end development.

I decided to interview two hiring managers from a leading national retailer at the forefront of technology to do a deep dive into what they look for in a full-stack developer.

I was surprised by our conversation. The idea of a full-stack developer seems to be a buzzword that just happens to articulate the concept of a “full-understanding developer.I’d never heard that term before.

The consensus was that a full-stack developer has never really existed, especially from the talent acquisition standpoint. It turns out, what most hiring managers are trying to convey is that they’re looking for candidates who understand the entire concept of software development, even if they lean towards the front or back end.

Over the years, full-stack development has become a more widely known buzzword that hiring managers are accustomed to using to convey what they actually want – they want candidates with a full-understanding mind. Aha! A light bulb moment.

Who is the “full-understanding developer”?

The full-understanding developer understands the way that front- and back-end development works.  While they might have a preference on which they prefer to work with, they know that to code efficiently, they need to understand both, be able to think critically and be solutions-oriented.

As a candidate, you should be able to pose questions like:

  • What happens after a user clicks an item?
  • How secure are packets?
  • What happens to code when it reaches an end client?
  • Can I problem solve and become adaptable when issues arise on the front or back end?
  • Can I figure out what the best tools are to come up with a solution?
  • Can I do all these things in a highly efficient manner?

Yes, yes, yes and yes? Well, then you are a full-understanding developer.

How to market yourself: front-end, back-end or full-stack?

My answer is none…you are a software engineer. A manipulator of code, a critical thinker, a problem solver, a puzzle solver, a mind that wants to dismantle code and put it back together. You are not a buzzword.

How do I convey this on my resume or while interviewing?

Projects worked are a key differentiator that our clients look for when hiring software engineers. Candidates who can articulate exactly what they did in a project stand out.

Candidates often find themselves speaking broadly when talking about projects that they worked on as a team. While giving your team credit, hone in on exactly what you contributed and the process you took to get there.

Keep these questions in mind when updating your resume:

  • What did I add to this project?
  • How did I do it?
  • What hurdles and challenges did I face?
  • How did I overcome these challenges?

Those questions go beyond the realm of how many years of experience you have or other mundane things we think matter when crafting a resume.

These days, experience is rooted in the types of challenges you have faced and problems solved, not necessarily how long you’ve been in the field. Not to say experience doesn’t matter, but it certainly isn’t everything. Besides, the more experience you have, the more challenges you have faced.

My conclusion

I found the right description of the purple squirrel and you do exist. The purple squirrel isn’t quite as elusive as I thought. While it is up to me to ask the right questions to gauge your “full understanding”, it is also up to you to convey it well. I want to hear your passion, your penchant for problem-solving and critical thinking skills that go far beyond putting your head down and writing line after line of code. And I want to feel your drive to be better.

If this is the type of software engineer you are, contact us. We have a job for you!


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