Should You Hire a Full Stack Developer?

Full stack developers. Talented, agile employees whose breadth of knowledge can prove invaluable. 

In the eyes of your busy project managers, chasing deadlines for your next release, they are absolute godsends, highly prized for their ability to fit into both frontend and backend teams. 

But does that mean that they are the right overall hire for you? 

Really, it all depends on your circumstances, what you’re building and what infrastructure you have in place for your project already. When you hire a full stack developer could be your ticket to building and launching a well-built, marketable app quickly. It could slow you down significantly if  you don’t think about where they fit in your team and how best to use their skills. 

Below, we take you through precisely what a full stack developer does, what skills they should possess and the pros and cons they offer as in-house hires. We’ll also take a look at a couple of alternatives to full stack developers. 

What is a Full Stack Developer?

A full stack developer is simply a developer who writes the code for your entire mobile or web application. 

All types of web-based software have two main development domains: 

  • Frontend (or ‘client side’) development consists of everything a user can see or interact with. This includes the main interface and any interactive elements you’d like to include in your software design. 
  • Backend (‘server side’) development refers to the creation of servers, databases and other internal architecture that drives the application. Software users never usually need to interact with this directly. 

Full stack software developers work across both of these domains to build your app from the ground up. 

In other words, they’re something of a jack-of-all-trades in the development world. Highly sought after for their breadth of knowledge, full stack developers can bring speed, skills and flexibility to your software project. 

What Skills Should a Full Stack Developer Have? 

Full stack developers are known for their breadth of technical expertise – and this often extends well beyond direct coding skills. Full stack developers will also touch on UX/UI design, database design and several other development-adjacent skills over the course of their role.  

Each developer is slightly different, and may have areas they prefer working on, but generally a good full stack hire should have experience in: 

  • Frontend development languages (HTML, Javascript, CSS) and potentially frontend development frameworks such as React, Angular, Vue and jQuery
  • Backend development languages such as Python, PHP, Ruby, Java, C# and C++. You may also want to look for experience in backend development frameworks like Django (Python) and Ruby on Rails (Ruby), though these can be picked up quickly with knowledge of the base code
  • API development for REST and SOAP APIs, and HTTP protocol development
  • Knowledge of different database storage solutions (JSON, SQL, NoSQL) and how best to use each in a development context 
  • Configuration of Apache and nginx servers
  • UX design, potentially with some UI/visual design skills too, depending on how much UX/frontend overlap there is in your organization
  • Use of version control systems like GIt and GitHub

To find a great full stack developer, however, it’s important to look beyond the technical. Strong communications skills are vital for the day-to-day success of the role, whether acting as a bridge between frontend and backend teams or communicating with the wider organization. 

Web development is a constantly evolving discipline, and its pace of evolution will only get quicker as time progresses. To ensure your applications are the best they can be, look for a full stack developer who’s open to new concepts, with a naturally curious mind and a knack for picking up new skills quickly. They will be an asset in the long term. 

What are the Advantages of Hiring a Full Stack Developer?  

Full stack developers can take care of both frontend and backend development. We can’t emphasize enough just how useful that flexibility is, whether you’re onboarding them as your first tech hire or using them to augment an already established team. 

As an individual developer, a full stack developer improves efficiency. There’s no communication gap between frontend and backend because they are designed, built and maintained by the same person. This can result in a better designed app and, depending on scale, reduced time to market. 

In a team setting, full stack developers are invaluable for bridging gaps and picking up shortfalls in time and expertise elsewhere. Their expertise allows them to communicate ideas clearly between different teams, whilst taking on a wide range of tasks to speed up project completion. 

In the Right Circumstances, Full Stack Developers are Cost Efficient 

An in-house full stack developer will set you back an average of $104,000 pa according to Indeed. Whilst this isn’t so far away from the average frontend salary of $101,000 and the average backend salary of $117,000 their skill set allows you to make bigger-picture savings. 

Because they can work across both the frontend and the backend of your product, they are essentially a ‘two in one hire’. 

This doesn’t mean that you can hire them expecting them to produce the same output as two full-time roles. It does mean, however, that if you have too much for your frontend and backend teams to cope with, but not enough for two separate hires, a full stack developer can be a good compromise. 

Full Stack Developers are a Great Starting Point 

As well as being flexible team members, full stack developers are ideal hires for startups (or larger companies just starting out on their tech journeys). 

If you don’t have any particularly complex requirements, a single full stack hire is a great way to build and release an MVP quickly, attracting the attention of investors and consumers before adding more extensive functionality in the long term. 

What are the Disadvantages of Hiring a Full Stack Developer? 

Full stack developers offer a breadth of useful programming experience…but because of how far they stretch themselves, they sometimes lack the in-depth expertise necessary for complex modern apps and websites. 

This isn’t a disadvantage per se if you know how to use your full stack hire effectively. It’s important to remember that your full stack developers, by the very nature of their work, tend towards being generalists. Whilst they work well with standard applications, relying on them to provide, say, a rich, in-depth knowledge of ML or AI programming may prove problematic. 

Ultimately, if you’re building anything more complex than a straightforward website or mobile app, you will need more than a full stack developer can provide. Full stack developers work best in a combined team of specialists and generalists. This limits their cost-effectiveness as a hire, and means that for startups and SMBs building a more complex product, a single full stack developer might not be sufficient. 

What are the Alternatives to Hiring Full Stack Developers? 

To summarize, full stack developers work best: 

  • On smaller projects with no complex requirements
  • As a flexible generalist on a larger project team

But what happens if your project doesn’t fall into either of those categories? What happens if you want to make something more complex, or you need a greater depth of expertise in one particular area of your tech project? 

If this is the case, you might want to explore the areas below. 

Full Stack Software Developer vs Software Engineer

There’s definitely a lot of overlap between full stack developers and software engineers, which can lead to confusion over which role to hire for. So, to clear up the “what’s the difference between a full stack developer and a software engineer?” question: 

  • ‘Software engineering’ covers a whole range of skills and positions, of which ‘full stack developer’ is one. In other words, full stack development is a subset of software engineering. 
  • Professionals calling themselves full stack software engineers are typically involved in system architecture – they design the way an application should be built before it is developed. Development can be done by a software engineer or a full stack developer.
  • Historically, software engineers have tended to focus on native applications rather than web development, but with the onset of cloud computing, this division is blurring.  

So, if part of your project is designing how, when and where your application will run as well as simply building it, a software engineer might be a better fit. 

Typically, software engineers also have a more defined focus in their work. If you’re looking for a specialist for your project, a software engineer with an interest in that particular area might be the best option. 

Hiring a Full Stack Software Developer vs Outsourcing to an External Development Team

If you’re building a software product from scratch, a full stack developer is a tempting option. To get the most in-depth knowledge and experience possible, however, you could consider outsourcing to a team of experts. 

This means that you get top-of-the-market experience in each of the areas a full stack developer would cover, which is a step up from what even the best generalists can offer. So, for example, rather than having your full stack developer covering APIs, protocols and database infrastructure, you would benefit from one or more: 

  • API specialists, whose job it is to exclusively focus on API development
  • Database engineers, who focuses on database design and build
  • Backend developers coding the backend of your product
  • Frontend developers building client-facing interfaces
  • UX and visual design specialists dedicated exclusively to the visual interface and interaction design 

The process may take a little longer, because you’re coordinating a team of people around a larger, more complex project. On the other hand, you benefit from a dedicated specialist in each of these positions – each with a professional network they can fall back on for advice and recommendations.  

If you outsource these positions rather than hire in-house, it could also end up being cheaper for you in the long term. When outsourced to a development agency, complex software projects can cost around $70,000 –which seems like a lot until you realize that that’s less than a single year’s salary for a full stack developer. 

If you don’t envisage tech as a core competency, outsourced teams can be an easier, faster and cheaper route to achieving your goals than hiring full stack developers or software engineers in house. 

Find the Right Outsourced Development Agency For You

If you are thinking of outsourcing, now’s a good time to tell you about Tivix’s decade of experience in software development, our global network of talent and the range of clients we work with, from exciting early-stage startups to the United Nations. 

If you’ve got a software project in the works and aren’t quite sure where to start, why not give us a call? We’d love to hear about your vision, spend some time geeking out about possible solutions and see if there’s any scope for closer collaboration. 

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