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Full-stack web developers are engineers who work to build websites or web applications from the ground up, with an understanding of front-end development (user interface and experience) and back-end development (technical architecture, data flow and structure, server integration, etc.).
A ‘stack’ is the complete set of technical components that come together to form an application. For example, a fully interactive website includes not only the user interface and the back-end programming, but any number of APIs, third party libraries, animations, environments, and other tools needed to bring the application together. In other words, the ‘full-stack’.
But full-stack web development is not only about these hard skills. A full-stack developer is involved from a project’s beginning, working on areas of full-stack design and structure. And once a project is delivered, the developer’s skills are needed for ongoing improvements, updates, and maintenance.
It takes a wide range of skills to be a great full-stack developer. But what do full-stack engineers do, and what skills do they need?
What does a full-stack web developer do?
Full-stack developers typically come on at the start of the project to convert user requirements into a design plan for the web application. This often involves conversations with non-technical teams as well as with key groups within the firm.
For example, the Security Operation Center’s (SOC) team may provide input and guidelines on key areas of security around the web applications network and data access. Likewise, the data team may advise on key elements of the application’s required data structures.
The nature of the project will determine how much time a full-stack developer spends on each area of the application. Likewise, it is common for full-stack developers to work with teams who are contributing specific pieces of code, and to use existing 3rd-party applications or libraries to streamline their app’s development and execution.
But even with these contributions, a full-stack developer needs to understand the full design and execution of the application so they can jump in anywhere. This requires key hard skills, including a number of critical programming languages for web stacks.
What languages should a full-stack developer know?
Full-stack developers need to focus their programming language efforts in three key areas:
Front-end languages to build and control the user experience
Back-end languages to design and execute the overall app’s operation
Database building and management languages
On the back-end, the choice of languages may depend on the project and the firm’s overall technological stack, but the most common programming languages will be PHP, Python, and Ruby.
PHP is the most common back-end programming language in full-stack web development, as it is used in 79% of websites as the server-side programming language. It is open-source; simple to learn and flexible to use; and has a huge volume of user applications, extensions and libraries supporting it.
A full-stack programmer will need to work with the company’s database structure, which might be in SQL (Structured Query Language) or MongoDB (a Json/NoSQL database program).
All these languages may sound intimidating, but once you understand how each is used, you’re on your way to becoming a full-stack web developer.
10 skills you need to become a full-stack developer
Let’s take a moment to recap those skills, and to discuss a few additional skills you’ll want to build out over time. Here are 10 skills you need to become a full-stack web developer:
1. Overall web architecture and application design knowledge
Understanding best practice web design will be critical as you intake business requirements and plan your approach.
2. HTML & CSS
HTML will be the core front-end programming language as you build out the overall structure of your webpages. CSS will help you customize the design of your HTML pages, rounding out the foundation of your front-end web developer languages.
Ruby is one of the most popular scripting languages in web development. Ruby is a dynamic open-source language that is fairly simple and productive, making it an excellent beginner language.
4. PHP & Python
PHP and Python will serve as strong general-purpose languages to begin structuring your back-end solution.
The Node.js runtime environment will give you fast, scalable implementation for your application.
7. Database programming skills
Whether it's SQL, such as through an Oracle database, or a NoSQL setup in MongoDB or Redis, you’ll need to understand how your web applications give, receive, and manage data throughout their life cycles.
Git is the standard for managing code, implementing version control, producing necessary documentation, etc. It serves as a key element of programmers’ work and will be present throughout much of your code work for the web and non-web applications.
9. Understanding ongoing development and maintenance
As a full-stack programmer, you will be ideally situated to ensure that your applications receive the best-quality development and maintenance updates over their lifecycle. This will require you to stay abreast of new developments in the web technology sphere, as well as work with business stakeholders on their ongoing needs.
10. Communication skills
Full-stack developers work with teams and individuals across the business. From user-facing teams and product managers, to other developers, to the SOC team, you’ll be expected to effectively intake requirements or concerns, and communicate answers in a quick and professional manner.
6 Essential tips for becoming a full-stack developer
Interested in becoming a full-stack web developer? Here are six tips to begin your learning process.
1. Learn the fundamentals of front-end design.
2. Add back-end programming languages.
PHP, Python, and Ruby will round out the core of your full-stack learning efforts. A high level of expertise in these languages will give you confidence as you pursue your full-stack development goals.
3. Understand databases.
Whether it be a SQL or NoSQL environment, you’ll want to make sure you understand how to quickly and seamlessly integrate your company’s data into any web application’s workflow.
4. Learn web development frameworks.
Programming languages are a great start, but web development frameworks give you the confidence to ensure that your application will meet the changing standards of modern web design. Django, Rails, Spring, Angular, and React are some of the best frameworks to start your learning process with.
5. Stay current.
Web development is forever changing. Full-stack developers need to stay current not only on their chosen programming languages and any libraries or applications they use, but also on key standards and adjustments that change in the larger industry. Maintenance is a key part of web development, and full-stack developers will constantly be learning to keep up with the industry changes.
6. Consider a structured learning program.
There’s no shortage of online resources to learn any of the programming languages or environments mentioned in this article. But understanding how to make the parts work together will be key in your development as a full-stack web developer.
A full-stack web development course can help you bring the elements together into practical, specific projects that represent the flow of real-life web development. From front-end and back-end languages to web applications and APIs, a bootcamp can offer the perfect next step for those pursuing a full-stack web development career.
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