What Is a Full Stack Developer?

full stack developer designing front end of website

If you have a passion for technology, you may be thinking about ways of turning your passion into a career. There is a wide array of career options in the tech field, including the role of full stack developer. What is a full stack developer and what does a full stack developer do?

The short answer is that a full stack developer is like the Swiss army knife of software programmers; they have knowledge and skills to work on software development projects from the client or front-end perspective to the server or back-end components and through to the data persistence piece. The complete development picture make these people capable of working on pretty much any type of software development project. Learn more about this exciting career in this guide and start planning to earn your software development degree.

Full Stack Developer Explained

As technology becomes increasingly complex, there are more opportunities to specialize within the field. For instance, a software developer could specialize in working on the front end of a website using HTML/CSS/JavaScript or on its back end languages like Java, Python, .NET and other. Some software developers specialize in working with networks or with a wide range of technology tools.

In the case of a full stack developer, however, the specialty is quite broad, but is invaluable for business to create a coherent application user experience and end-to-end cybersecurity focused solution. Full stack developers can work across development environments, performing tasks on the front end or the back end and applying in-depth knowledge of multiple programming languages. In short, they are highly knowledgeable and skilled professionals who are at the pinnacle of their field.

What Does a Full Stack Developer Do?

Now that you know the general answer to the question, “What is a full stack developer?” it’s time to take a closer look at the more specific answer to the question, “What does a full stack developer do?” A full stack developer is a software developer who works on both the client / front end and the server / back end.

The front end is everything the user can see and could be a website, mobile application, or desktop application. The back end includes all of the internal software architecture and integration that enables the application or website to carry out its functions.

One easy way to think about the various pieces of a full stack developer is to use a car analogy. You as a driver sit in the driver seat and have access to information on the dashboard and to the controls like gas, brakes, and steering. Someone had to design the size the gas pedal, the diameter of the steering wheel, and determine what information the user might need on the dashboard — this is the front-end. When the driver steps on the gas or brakes, they don’t need to understand how the pressing of a pedal accelerates or stops the car, but someone needed to put all the pieces in place to make that happen – this is the back-end. A full stack developer would work on any and all the components of a car.

On the front end of a website, the full stack developer focuses on optimizing the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). The professional uses HTML, CSS and Javascript to build the “skeleton” of the front end. They also apply knowledge of typography, color theory and aesthetic layouts to make the front end look visually appealing to users.

On the back end, a full stack developer is primarily concerned with issues such as network scalability, server configuration, integration with other systems, data persistence and storage, and cybersecurity. In this area, the professional will write code that enables proper communication with the servers, databases and software. On the back end, knowledge of programming languages like .NET, Node, Java, Python and SQL is essential.

Knowledge and skills on both the front end and back end are what primarily defines a full stack developer. However, at some organizations, a full stack developer is also expected to serve as a de facto project manager who is capable of overseeing a project throughout its entire lifecycle — from conception to implementation to fine-tuning and troubleshooting. A full-stack developer might also be involved with cybersecurity planning an database design.

How To Become a Full Stack Developer

Even if you’re still in high school, you can get started working toward your career goals right now. Meet with your high school guidance counselor to discuss your aspirations and find out if you can add computer courses to your schedule. You can also check local resources, such as a library or community center, for available programming classes.

Building your software programming knowledge now will enable you to get a strong start after high school. You should plan on earning a Bachelor of Science in Software Development. Since full stack developers are expected to have project management skills, it’s a good idea to look for a degree program that has general business competencies built into the curriculum. 

After graduating with your software development degree, you’ll be qualified to pursue entry-level jobs in the field. Initially, you might find an entry-level job that focuses on either the front end or the back end. After you gain some full-time experience, you can work on climbing the ladder and becoming a full stack developer.

Throughout your career, you will need to prioritize continuing education and professional development opportunities. Continue to take courses and build your skills, earn voluntary certifications and attend industry conferences. Demonstrating a commitment to ongoing professional development will improve your chances of being hired as a full stack developer.

Earning Your Software Development Degree

A software development degree will give you a solid academic foundation in programming competencies. These degrees generally introduce students to a variety of programming languages, web application frameworks and cloud platforms, among other web and mobile technologies.

You can expect to develop advanced knowledge of web development languages like Java, HTML and CSS. You’ll also likely explore data structures, database design and development, operating systems and cybersecurity issues. The GCU software development incorporates project-based learning and hands-on activities to allow student to gain the necessary experiences for a successful transition. Faculty help students get familiar and practice using tools like Visual Studio Code, SpringBoot, Postman, GitHub, Mongo, mySQL, AWS, Azure, and many other modern libraries, frameworks, and tools demanded in even the most entry-level developer roles. During the senior year, students get to put all their knowledge and education together to complete a year long capstone project and showcase their full breadth of capabilities at a Capstone showcase with industry leaders.

During the course of your studies, you will work on a variety of software development projects. It’s a good idea to use these academic projects as your first entries in your professional portfolio. After graduation, potential employers will likely request to view your portfolio to see your skills in action.

Essential Skills and Traits of an Effective Full Stack Developer

In addition to their technical knowledge, full stack developers need a diverse range of soft skills and characteristics for success in the workplace. These include the following:

  • Communication skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Creative problem solving
  • Project management

Is There a Demand for Full Stack Developers?

There is indeed a very strong demand for full stack developers and other software experts. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for software developers, quality assurance analysts and testers to increase by about 22% from 2020 to 2030, faster than average, accounting for an estimated increase of 409,500 jobs in the field.1

There are a number of factors driving the rise in demand for full stack developers and other software developers. Some of these new job openings are attributable to the current professionals who are expected to retire or transition to other fields during the coming years. However, the increasing demand for software applications on tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices is also contributing to the robust hiring trend.

The healthcare and medical insurance industries are increasingly relying on complex software to safely manage patient information, which is also contributing to the growth in this field. Another significant factor is the explosive growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). As more everyday devices—from smart fish tanks to programmable window treatments—are given software and internet connectivity capabilities, more software developers are needed to work on them.

Are you ready to take your first step toward pursuing an exciting career as a full stack developer? Apply today for enrollment in the Bachelor of Science in Software Development degree program at Grand Canyon University. Graduates will emerge with core programming competencies, along with essential business skills like project management and workplace collaboration. 

Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to learn more about our software development degree and other STEM programs at GCU.


COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on September 2021, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.