What is Full Stack Web Development?

Deborah Cohen

If you have been considering a career change, chances are you have seen the words ‘full-stack web development’ on just about every tech educational website and career listing. But, what is full stack web development? Full-stack web development is a relatively new word in the world of web development. You might have a mental separation between web designers and web developers. One decides how the website looks, the other builds it. Right?

Well, not exactly. 

Or, at least not in the modern world of web development. Web developers have become more and more niche as the world of app and web development becomes increasingly complex. You could be a front end developer, a back end developer, a full stack developer, or a title much more specific. 

Before we delve into the specifics of full-stack development (and why you might want to pursue this as a career), we’ll lay some foundations for each element that comprises full-stack development, including what front and back end development is. Then we will delve deeper into what full-stack web development is, whether or not you may want to transition to full-stack development. Should you decide to, we also layout how to build up your skills to pursue a career in full-stack development.

What is Front End Web Development? 

Front end web development is one of the critical ingredients of a full stack developer. However, a front end developer’s job only revolves around the visual elements of your web site. If the user sees it, it likely falls within the realm of front end development. This includes how the information on a website is presented between different web browsers and devices. For example, ensuring a website is responsive, meaning it adjusts to display correctly and facilitate an excellent user experience regardless of the screen size a user is browsing with, would be front end development. 

Because so much of front end development focuses on what the user sees and interacts with, it’s not unusual for a front end developer to have experience with user experience design and user interface design

Front end developers are likely to be skilled in coding languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript

What is Back End Development? 

If front end developers are responsible for the visual aspects of a website, the back end developers are the ones who build everything behind the scenes. For instance, the relationship between a back and front end developer could be likened to building a house. If a back end developer was responsible for building a house, a front end developer would be responsible for the interior design.

Back end developers ensure that the database, applications, and servers all communicate correctly. Back end developers are likely to be fluent in languages such as Ruby, Java, Python, and PHP. Back end developers are more likely to be skilled in taking a business’ requirements and translating it into a coded solution that fulfills their particular needs.  

For instance, when you visit this website, CloudApp’s servers sent some information to the device you’re browsing on, which allowed this blog to be displayed on your screen. The reason that’s possible is from the back end developer’s work. 

What is Full Stack Web Development? 

So, what is full stack web development? Full-stack web developers can produce a result from start to finish. Full-stack development encompasses both front and back end development, as well as server, network, and hosting environments. 

Sometimes, the lines are a bit blurred between the responsibilities of a front and a back end developer, which caused a need for ‘full-stack development,’ a term created by Facebook. Facebook realized a need for a person to have a full understanding of a project’s front end and back end. 

Many developers find themselves making the transition to ‘full-stack’ after having worked in a number of different development positions because of the many different areas of knowledge required of a great full-stack developer. 

Full-stack can be a difficult transition to make since it requires a great deal of in-depth knowledge in many different areas. For instance, full-stack may have at one time encompassed knowledge of HTML5/CSS2, Amazon, PHP/Python/Ruby, and MySQL, as pictured below. 

What is full-stack development? 
Full-stack development may have only encompassed a few areas of knowledge at one point. Image source. 

However, currently, the overlap of knowledge for the average full stack developer looks something more like this: 

What is full-stack development? 
Full-stack development has gotten more in-depth in recent years. Image source. 

While every single full stack developer may not have equally in-depth knowledge in each of these areas, it’s essential for them to know the specific tools dependent on the project to understand how to integrate solutions across the entire project. 

Should I Make the Transition to Becoming a Full Stack Developer?

While making the leap to full-stack development isn’t for the faint of heart, there are many benefits to acquiring the knowledge and skills to be able to enter a full stack development career. If presented with the option of becoming a back or front end developer, why would someone decide to learn the full spectrum? 

Having the ability to understand and work on a project from start to finish can help bridge the communication gap in the development process. Being able to facilitate conversations between both sides could mean more transparent communication on how a website should function while still understanding the technical limitations of implementation. These skills make any team member more valuable on a project. 

While being a full stack developer brings more value to your team or company, the compensation average is higher for those who only specialize in either front or back end development. The average Full stack developer salaries range from $72k - $145k a year, with $105k being the average. 

How much does the average full stack developer make? 
The average full stack developer makes $105k a year. Image source. 

While the average developer specializing in either back end or front end makes around $77k. However, keep in mind factors like years of experience will influence any position’s compensation rate.

Does the higher salary make full-stack development the end goal of every developer? Not necessarily. If you’re looking to get back into the workforce after an extended break, or if you’re just looking for a casual part-time gig, you might not need to go the route of full-stack development. If you decide to learn and master back or front end development, you won’t be limiting yourself from making the transition down the road. Almost any skill you learn as a front or back end will be transferable if you decide to transition to full-stack development. 

How do I Become a Full-Stack Web Developer? 

If you’re set on becoming a full-stack web developer, you’ll be an incredible asset to your team. However, there are several technologies and languages you’ll need to learn and keep up-to-date on! Here are our tips to getting started on making the transition to becoming a full-stack web developer

  • Learn the essential coding languages
  • Learn the necessary theories 
  • Learn many technologies, but master one
  • Keep educating yourself
  • Get practical experience

Learn the Essential Coding Languages 

Having a good understanding of the essential coding languages for both front and back end development is a must for a full stack developer. 

These essential languages include: 

  • HTML/CSS
  • JavaScript
  • PHP, Java, Python or SQL

Most of the web is built on HTML and CSS. HTML is used to input information onto webpages, and CSS is used for the design elements on the said page. Both are essential. 

JavaScript is an incredibly functional coding language and can be used in both back and front end applications, making it an incredibly useful tool for full-stack developers. 

Of course, any full-stack developer should also have a good understanding of at least one back end language such as Python, SQL, Java, or PHP. 

Learn the Necessary Theories

Practical skills are helpful, but having a full understanding of some development theories can add value to the programming skills you already know. We recommend making sure you have a solid foundational understanding of the following technologies: 

  1. Data structures
  2. Web-hosting environment
  3. Networks
  4. Servers (and how they function) 
  5. Applicable algorithms and their functionings
  6. Databases (and how they’re managed)
  7. Programming technologies 

Learn Many Technologies, But Master One 

Becoming a full stack developer with expertise in every single programming language, function and technology would be a full-time job in and of itself. Simply keeping up with the technological advances alone could keep you busy in all your waking hours. 

Having a base understanding of many technologies is necessary, but try to choose relevant technologies for your job or projects to truly master. 

Keep Educating Yourself 

As mentioned, it could keep all your waking hours busy simply keeping up with the technological advancements relevant to web development. While that’s a nearly impossible goal, we do recommend you keep educating yourself in applicable technologies. Take a course online or follow some related publications to keep up with technological advancements and keep broadening your knowledge base.

Get Practical Experience

Lastly, you will want to get as much practical experience as you can. Whether this is in the form of working on projects at your job, pursuing a passion project, or even passing on knowledge through teaching others, getting experience will help drill down the theories and skills. Theoretical knowledge is great, but working with a team, troubleshooting issues, and working through your skills will build your skillset and help make you more valuable to your current or future employer. 

Conclusion

If you’ve been considering a career change and have been wondering, ‘what is full stack web development?’ we hope this article has helped. We skimmed the surface of the skills of front end and back end development that comprise most full-stack development jobs. We also delved deeper into what full-stack development is, whether you should consider pursuing a career in full-stack development, and, if so, how to pursue a career in full-stack development. 


Whether you’re a front, back, or full-stack developer, don’t forget to download CloudApp for free, one of the most powerful developer communication tools available. CloudApp is free and available for any device, meaning all your team can use it to start saving time.

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