The Myth of the Full Stack Developer
They’re the unicorns of the developer world. A rare breed of tech wiz that is highly sought after, highly intelligent and generously compensated—the full stack developer (FSD). This type of developer has knowledge that’s a mile wide but generally a fraction as deep. Unlike your average developer that specializes in one area, FSDs are proficient in system infrastructure, front-end, back-end, user experience, user interface, data modeling, project management and a whole slew of other project components. But when you spread yourself this thin, is it possible to excel at every aspect of your job? We’re skeptical.
As the saying goes, you can be a jack of all trades but a master of none, and this applies to just about every profession, skill or service in life. With the full stack developer, it rings just as true. Because the subject matter is so dense, most FSDs are familiar with each layer of the tech stack, but they lack the in-depth knowledge of a true expert in each area. Hiring a full stack developer can be beneficial because you have one point person that can make your life easier by being knowledgeable about all aspects of a project. However, there are downsides that can complicate the working relationship. For example:
- Nobody can be an expert at everything—lacking focus in one area generally means lacking the dedicated time to fully immerse yourself and become an expert at your craft.
- FSDs are highly sought after and command high pay rates. While this isn’t a problem for large companies like Facebook or Google, it’s usually not feasible for smaller shops.
- Innovation can suffer due to a lack of teamwork. When one person plans, executes and delivers a job, there are few checks and balances to their way of thinking.
- QA can be limited because there are no fresh eyes to catch mistakes.
- If you only have one FSD comprising your whole dev team, you’ve put your eggs in one basket. If they become unavailable, your project can come screeching to an unwelcome halt.
- FSDs can be time inefficient due to the lack of parallel paths. A team of developers can work on separate parts of a project in tandem, while a one-man team can cause bottlenecks if they become stuck on one problem.
With these factors in mind, is it wise to hire a full stack developer? Sure, if you can afford it and you’re aware of the potential drawbacks. An FSD can bring a boatload of talent and know-how to your organization and elevate your shop’s dev capabilities to the next level. But as the complexity of websites and apps evolves, the feasibility of being a pro at every layer of the tech stack dwindles by the day. And with other options such as freelancers, rural outsourcing or a team of developers to run parallel paths, hiring FSDs might best be left to the tech giants of the world.
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