For a while now, full-stack developers have been touted as highly skilled coding experts who have to deal with any kind of problem that’s thrown at them. Although it sounds foreboding, joining this elite club can be easier than you think.
So what are the essential full-stack developer skills that you need, and how do you go about picking them up?
Look no further, for this guide will set about demystifying the full-stack skillset.
First, we’ll briefly go through what a full-stack developer actually is, and then we’ll look at some of the skills and technologies you’ll need to have a good grasp of. After that we’ll dive deeper into the oft-overlooked “softer” full-stack developer skills for actually making it on the job.
Lastly, we’ll talk about how much this kind of coder can earn, as well as how you can go about becoming a full-stack developer. If you’d like to skip ahead to a particular section, just use the table of contents:
- What is a full-stack developer?
- Top full-stack developer skills
- Full-stack developer soft skills
- How much can a full-stack developer earn?
- How to become a full-stack developer
- Final thoughts
1. What is a full-stack developer?
Web development has two parts: frontend and backend development. Every web or mobile application includes these two parts.
Frontend includes the visual parts of the application. This is what the user interacts with on the screen. The backend of an application handles the business logic. How the site functions, how the data flows, and how data is stored is all the domain of the backend.
When you combine the two, you get full-stack web development. A full-stack developer is proficient in both front and backend technologies. This also includes the related libraries, frameworks, databases, and environments. All these are part of the company’s tech stack.
If you’re looking to learn more about what a full-stack developer is and does, we’ve created a complete full-stack developer guide for you.
2. Top full-stack developer skills
Here’s a quick overview of the top skills every full-stack developer needs. Feel free to click on an individual item to go straight to that section.
- Frontend frameworks
- Backend technologies
- Databases and web storage
- HTTP and REST
The first few in our list are focussed more on the frontend, but if you want even more to pick up, then we’ve created a dedicated frontend developer skills guide.
HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) is one of the basic building blocks of the web. It defines the structure of web content, and the links between pages.
HTML uses markup to define text, images and other content that’s displayed in a web browser. Some examples of common HTML tags include:
<head> <title> <body> <header> <footer> <article> <section> <p> <div> <span> <img>
You can learn more about tags and the other elements in our beginner’s guide to HTML.
If you’re feeling like rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck into building a web page in HTML, Mozilla security engineer Abhishek Nagekar gets you started in this video:
CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is the language we use to style said HTML documents. It describes how the HTML elements should be displayed. This includes color, size, font, borders, alignment, and even animation.
React is currently one of the most popular frontend frameworks. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other frameworks worth considering. Vue, Angular, Svelte, etc. are some such examples. Each of these frameworks has a certain way of organizing and writing code, with their own benefits and trade-offs.
So far, we’ve covered the most important frontend skills for a full-stack developer. Now the other integral part is the backend.
Backend development is tasked with making the user’s interaction with the website smooth. As well as that, backend developers maintain and organize databases.
Databases and web storage
Pretty much all websites will have a database where the application’s data is stored. For example, if you’re an e-commerce website, this would be data about your products and users. For social media, it’s the users and their posts.
Part of a full-stack developer skillset is being able to write queries to call up the proper data on the website when it’s needed. Knowledge of data structure is also helpful here. That way, the data is stored in a way that allows it to be queried most efficiently. Designing, understanding and manipulating database queries is a big part of the job.
Git and GitHub are a core part of the development flow for most companies. Git is a “distributed version control system“. Using Git, developers can keep track of changes, errors and work together more easily.
GitHub is a platform that allows developers to manage projects and review each other’s code. It’s also a place where developers network and interact. Most developers will have a profile on GitHub.
Confused by the names? Don’t worry! We’ve put together a handy guide to Git vs GitHub.
HTTP and REST
The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the basis for data communication on the web. It powers most of our everyday interactions on the internet. HTTP handles communication between web clients and web servers via requests and responses. Clients are often web browsers, while servers might be computers on the cloud.
Representational State Transfer (REST) is an architectural standard. It makes it easier for computer systems to communicate with each other. RESTful systems use HTTP to gather data and perform different operations.
REST translates between the frontend and the backend. You can see then, how it’s important to full-stack development.
3. Full-stack developer soft skills
Most guides point to hard technical skills when considering what makes a good developer. Yet, because you’ll be working on a team on complex projects, certain soft skills are equally important.
Technology is always changing and improving. Developers have different styles, and features often evolve as they are implemented. Even the most senior of engineers will face tasks they have no idea how to start.
It’s easy to face a big task, get overwhelmed and shut down. This is a problem when a deadline or major bug is looming.
While it’s fine to acknowledge, “I have no idea how I’m going to do this”, a growth mindset comes in when you decide to try. First figure out what exactly you don’t know, and find the solution to that. Break the task into manageable pieces, sit with the ambiguity and view it as a chance to learn something new.
Nobody is perfect, and most engineers don’t know the answer at first. Yet, it’s important to be willing to try and figure it out, and be able to sit with the uncertainty as you do so.
Organization and patience
Working on a feature, especially a big one, takes a decent amount of organization. You”ll want to do some research and planning before you dive in. This is where patience comes in. Writing code and seeing what you made in action is certainly the fun part. To save pain and trouble later, you need to be able and willing to sit down and map out your plan.
This might include:
- Reviewing the data structure, so you know how to organize your components
- Researching different packages to solve a problem, like formatting dates or avoiding mutating complex states
- Looking through the existing code to be sure you understand it, as well as making sure you really understand the task
Oftentimes you’ll map out a plan and realize you have more questions to be clarified with your senior engineer, the designer, product manager, etc. This might mean the feature needs to change a bit.
It’s important to have patience to really think through the task, process each bit, and ask for clarification when needed. Otherwise you can end up with a lot of pain and hack-y code later.
There is a lot to communicate when working on a project with a team. You will need to speak with the designer, product manager, other developers and perhaps stakeholders depending on your company and position.
Maybe you start your feature and realize the design is not realistic. Or you start a ticket and find out it’s much more complex than assumed, and it will take much longer than expected.
Your code might start to overlap with your colleagues’ code. You want to prevent writing conflicting code, so you need to discuss who will do what, in which order.
On top of this, you have your normal work boundaries. Maybe you worked on a bunch of frustrating tickets and are feeling burnt out. Or there’s something about the system architecture you don’t understand.
Perhaps you are totally stuck on your task, and going in circles. To be happy and productive at work, these are things you need to own and communicate, so that your team can help you.
4. How to become a full-stack developer
If this all sounds achievable and interesting to you, a career as a full-stack developer might be right up your alley!
Not sure where to start? We’ve collected a selection of the top free coding courses out there if you’d like to dip your toes in it.
If you tried that out and liked it so far, and are looking for something more formal, a coding bootcamp might also be a good option.
Of all careers, there are many paths to become a developer—mostly it’s just important that you start somewhere.
5. How much can a full-stack developer earn?
In the US, the average full-stack developer salary is about $86,850, according to our full-stack salary guide for 2023.
As always with these things, how much you earn depends on where you live. However, there’s a decent living to be made, for sure.
Our guide is handy for a more detailed breakdown on full-stack developer salaries by location, seniority level, and industry. As well as that, sites such as Glassdoor and Indeed are also a great place to look to drill down to the regions you’re considering.
6. Final thoughts
When considering if a full-stack career is right for you, it’s definitely worth pondering what expertise is needed. It’s not so much about having all the full-stack developer skills already, rather an interest and willingness to learn and practice them.
Most developers are continuously building and refining their skills their entire careers. It’s not about being perfect, moreover being interested and open.
If you’d like to read more about the world of web development in general, these articles might interest you: