Full-stack developers and software engineers are two job titles that are often used interchangeably, making it difficult to tell the difference between them. These two types of roles can be found on the same team or in the same company, but they each specialize in different aspects of development and may require different skills depending on the project.
It’s important to understand what makes these professionals unique from each other and why both are an asset to your tech team or business.
What is a full-stack developer?
A full-stack developer is a professional with expertise in both back-end (server-side) and front-end (client-side) programming. They have a deep understanding of all parts of a web application or website and should be familiar with how each component works together.
Full-stack developers work on database development and implementation, server configuration, client coding, and QA testing. They can also create user interfaces (UI) that facilitate data input/output.
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What does a full-stack developer do?
Full-stack developers have a core skill set that allows them to work across the stack. This includes all layers of technology required to create and maintain a functioning website or application, from front-end design and development to server configuration, network security and monitoring, user interface design (UI ), and more.
Typically, full-stack developers are responsible for creating and maintaining websites, applications, databases, and other digital products. Other responsibilities include:
- Test and debug the software to ensure that its functionality remains optimal
- Collaborate with designers to take their ideas and concepts and bring them to life through code
- Coordinate with project managers to determine timelines and milestones for a given project
- Maintain codebases to ensure they are well organized and easily understandable
- Develop APIs and RESTful protocols allowing two software to communicate with each other
- Ensure cross-platform compatibility and optimization on a wide variety of different platforms, including iOS, Android, and web browsers
Skills of a full-stack developer
The following skills are common requirements for full-stack developers:
- Experience with databases such as Oracle, MySQL, NoSQL, PostgreSQL; web servers such as Apache; and UI/UX design
- Knowledge of modern development approaches and concepts such as continuous integration, continuous delivery, DevOps and Agile project management
Average Full Stack Developer Salary
According to Glassdoor, the total estimated salary for a full stack developer in the United States is around $113,324 per year.
Hiring? Download a full-stack developer hiring kit and job description on TechRepublic.
What is a Software Engineer?
A software engineer applies mathematical analysis and the principles of computer science to design and develop software for various platforms such as desktop computers, mobile devices, consoles, or televisions.
They must be able to choose the appropriate algorithms to solve a problem based on constraints such as processing power, memory storage space, and operating system compatibility. Software engineers often work as part of a development team that includes business analysts, programmers, and designers.
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What does a software engineer do?
A software engineer is typically fluent in several programming languages, understands how different systems interact, and is focused on creating new solutions that help businesses thrive in a changing market.
The main responsibilities of a software engineer include:
- Communicate project statuses and proposals to customers and cross-functional departments
- Optimize applications by identifying areas for improvement, then designing and implementing updates
- Evaluate software functionality throughout the various stages and environments of testing, development, and production.
- Oversee the development of software documentation
Skills of a software engineer
While software engineers primarily focus on programming, they must also possess a wide range of skills beyond just writing code. These include problem solving, planning, communication, math/logic skills, critical thinking, etc.
Additionally, they must be able to work both in a team environment and independently with minimal supervision or direction from others. Other skills and requirements of a software engineer include:
- Write, test and debug code in computer programming languages such as Java, C++ and Python
- Familiarity with Object Oriented Design (OOD) principles: abstraction, encapsulation, inheritance and polymorphism
- Experience with different testing methods such as unit testing, integration testing, system testing, and regression testing
- Understanding of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) and its phases/patterns
- Communication with team members, customers and other stakeholders
- Ability to analyze business issues and requirements and then assess the impact of proposed solutions on existing database architecture
Average Software Engineer Salary
According to Glassdoor, the estimated total salary for a software engineer in the United States is around $116,967 per year.
Hiring? Download a senior software engineer hiring kit on TechRepublic.
Full-stack developer vs software engineer: what are the differences?
The main differences between full-stack developers and software engineers center on their tasks, specializations, programming languages, and development stages.
Full-stack developers often perform design and implementation tasks throughout the development project. Software engineers usually only do one or the other, but not both.
Full-stack developers typically have experience in multiple areas, such as business intelligence (BI), data warehousing, and information governance (IG). On the other hand, software engineers usually specialize in just one area.
Full-stack developers take care of building an application, including UI design, logic design, code writing, and testing. Software engineers focus on designing system architectures through back-end or front-end development.
Full-stack developer vs software engineer: what are the similarities?
The biggest similarities between full-stack developers and software engineers relate to their business roles, testing needs, programming methodologies, and experience requirements.
Full-stack developers and software engineers work closely with computer scientists, programmers, data analysts, and other technical people to plan, design, develop, and deploy new technologies for businesses. They design, develop, test and maintain software.
Related: Brainstorming Solutions for the Tech Labor Shortage: Interview with Rob Kim at Presidio
Both roles create test environments that simulate real-world conditions to test products in various scenarios before they go into production. Knowledge of different types of testing and best practices is essential for both roles.
Learn more about IT Business Edge: Continuous testing in the DevOps universe
Both of these roles require a solid understanding of programming methodologies such as Agile, Scrum, and Kanban. Software development teams use these methodologies to improve productivity, code quality, and collaboration.
Learn more at Developer.com: Top 10 Programming Methodologies
Training and experience
Both roles require a bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, or other STEM programs such as math, science, or engineering. Hands-on programming experience using relevant languages and taking certification courses can enhance career growth in both fields.
Related: IT certification roadmap
Full-stack developer vs software engineer: which one to hire?
When deciding to add a full-stack developer or software engineer to your team, it’s important to have a clear idea of what your team needs. Full-stack developers can do a bit of everything, while software engineers focus on narrower areas like testing or back-end architecture.
Both roles offer advantages and disadvantages, so it depends on the type of project you are working on. If your project requires flexibility and variety, go with a full stack developer; choose a software engineer if it requires expertise or a narrow focus.
Read next: Why Low-Code/No-Code is Revolutionizing Application Development