Main image of article How to Become a Full-Stack Developer

Although many technology professionals have successful careers as front- or back-end web developers, becoming a full-stack developer can multiply your marketability and versatility, especially in a turbulent market.

A full-stack developer is knowledgeable not only in the user-facing aspects of a website (the front-end) but also server-side operating systems, frameworks, libraries and databases (the back-end). According to a recent Stack Overflow Developer Survey, roughly 55 percent of working developers consider themselves to be full-stack developers—hinting at a big market and lots of opportunity.

Is there demand for full-stack developers?

The short answer to that question is “yes.” Due to their comprehensive skillsets, full-stack developers tend to be more efficient and cost-effective than hiring multiple back- and front-end developers when it comes to integrating the server- and client-side parts of a website. Businesses appreciate those savings, obviously. A good full-stack developer also has a holistic view of the web property’s development, potentially allowing them to identify and squish bugs (and scheduling problems) in relatively quick order.

Employers are willing to pay a premium to gain these benefits. According to Glassdoor, full-stack developers make total average compensation of $108,803 per year, while back-end developers average $92,963 per year and front-end developers average $102,308.

Whether you are already proficient in front-end or back-end development or are a newcomer to coding and need to master all the requirements, here’s a look at some options and tips for landing your first job as a full-stack web developer.

Where should you start?

If you don’t have any web development skills, learning front-end development first is a good option.

Even though you don’t need a computer science degree to become a web developer, knowledge of computer science concepts, programming, data structures and algorithms are essential to landing your first job. For that reason, many transitioners choose to learn the basics before moving on to more advanced topics.

The good news is you don’t need to learn everything to get started, explained self-taught whiz kid Michael Panik, who “cut his teeth” on WordPress-based front-end development during middle and high school and now works as manager of cloud and digital practice for PwC.

“You absolutely have to know HTML, CSS and JavaScript, so start there,” Panik added.

Although boot camps are a popular option, they can be pricey. It’s a good idea to confirm your aptitude and interest by taking some free courses, accessing W3Schools’ collection of tutorials or reading books like “HTML + CSS” by Jon Duckett before making the investment.

For instance, full-stack web developer and software engineer Jajuan Burton taught himself how to code by studying Swift before opting to enroll in a bootcamp, which provided structured learning and the chance to acquire important “soft skills” through hands-on projects and team collaboration.

However, self-learning isn’t for everyone. Think about your baseline knowledge, your preferred learning style, the time, effort and funds you can commit, and the level of support you think you'll need if a learning path is right for you.

Other essential front-end skills that you can add to your toolbox over time include JavaScript libraries and frameworks (jQuery, React JS) and version control/Git. Again, there’s a huge selection of free online courses to choose from.

Move on to back-end development  

Once you’ve mastered the front-end and built a few websites, move on to the back-end by learning any server-side programming language, paired with a web framework. Examples include C# and .NET, Python and Django, PHP and Laravel, as well as JavaScript and Express.

“You can’t go wrong with Python,” Panik noted. “It may not be the best, but it’s generally useful.”

Next, master database management with relational databases by learning SQL. Knowledge of web services or API architectures (REST/SOAP) is also important for full-stack developers.

Continuing to study UX and UI best practices will make you a more competent full-stack developer and help you build sites that are user-focused.

If you’re going to learn full-stack development from the ground up, you have to be obsessed with it, Burton noted. While an experienced back-end or front-end web developer can learn the “other side” in about 90 days of full-time study, if you don’t have much experience, it can take up to 12 months to learn the skills you need to land your first job.

Build and break things

The only way to learn programming is by doing it. Hiring managers and recruiters want to see what you’ve built and validate your skills before giving you a job offer. Unless you put what you learn into practice as you go (and break and fix a few things) you won’t have the confidence or competence to take the final step in the journey. That’s where open-source projects come in.

Start by building yourself a website. Every full-stack developer should have a dedicated portfolio website where you can showcase your work, expertise and unique style. Think about how you want to brand yourself and the type of jobs or contracts you want to pursue when selecting projects that showcase your abilities.

Another way to showcase your full-stack development skills is to find a real-world problem and solve it. The more projects you work on, the more you will have to talk about during interviews.

Almost every small business, non-profit and community organization’s website could use a facelift, a back-end database, better navigation… and much more. Harnessing your previous experience and combining it with a well-stocked portfolio of the things you’ve built (that actually made a difference to an organization) is one of the best ways to impress employers and land that all-important first job.


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Full Stack Developer Salary