Career AdviceSoftware Developer vs. Full-Stack Developer: Key Differences

Lindsey Rogerson

Lindsey Rogerson
writes on May 20, 2022

According to Stack Overflow Developer Survey 2021, full-stack developers were up to 49% of the population of more than 66,000 developers. That’s almost half! Additionally, software developers made up more than 38% of the population.

While both are popular, it’s important to remember that a full-stack developer is a subset of software developers. So, knowing that both of these development skills are popular and in high demand, which career path should you pursue — software developer vs. full-stack developer?

In this guide, you’ll learn what the functions and skills of both developers are, and what differentiates them.

What is a Software Developer? 

Software developers are professionals responsible for developing, managing, and optimizing applications that run on computer and mobile devices. These applications can be built for organizations or those going on the market for sale.

These developers can build various software applications from scratch so people can perform certain functions on their devices to improve their businesses and lives. 

These software applications can be:

  • Native application: is designed for a specific device or platform and its operating system. This can be navigation programs, social apps, or mail services.
  • Mobile application: runs on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. E.g game apps, and social media apps for mobile.
  • Standalone application: runs locally on devices and functions independently. E.g Adobe Photoshop, and Microsoft Word.
  • Embedded application: is software that stays inside a device permanently to perform specific roles. E.g fitness trackers, and motion detection systems in security cameras.

Also read: How to Become a Software Engineer [Complete Guide]

Why are Software Developers Important? 

There are several reasons why the role of a software developer is essential. Here are some of them:

  • Software developers create apps we use in our everyday life and business operations
  • They test and evaluate new software applications
  • Software developers identify applications that need modifications and update them to the latest technology approved versions
  • They write and implement efficient codes for programs
  • They resolve issues in the various phases of software logical and architectural development
  • Software developers work closely with people in other roles, including system analysts, product managers, and UX designers.

Check out: How to become a Software Engineer despite Imposter Syndrome: Jonas’ Story

Software Developer Skills 

There are certain skillsets that efficient software developers should have. These include:

  1. Knowledge of programming concepts: It’s important for software developers to understand programming languages and relevant concepts as well. These concepts include dynamic programming, data structures, and object-oriented programming (OOP).
  2. Understanding of software development phases: It’s necessary to understand the software development life cycle (SDLC) — and properly handle designing, testing, and development. 
  3. Experience with operating systems: Software developers have skilled experience working with different operating systems.
  4. Database creation skills: The ability to create and manage databases and database operations is vital in the process of software development.
  5. Problem-solving techniques: Software developers should be able to think and develop solutions for open-ended problems critically. 
  6. Communication and collaboration skills: As a software developer, you need more than technical or logical skills for the success and speed of a project. You should become a team player and communicate effectively with other members of the development team.

Related article: 5 Virtues of a Good Software Developer

What is a Full-Stack Developer? 

Full-stack developers fall in a subset of software development, and are professionals who handle both the back-end (server-side) and front-end (client-side) development of a website or web application. They combine the expertise of both the front-end and back-end developers.

Full-stack developers efficiently handle the programming languages for the application logic and user interface of a program. They also handle the database operations, system engineering, and design procedures.

You can also say a full-stack developer is a generalist software developer because they have the knowledge and skills to build entire applications from scratch to finish.

Related reading: Front-End vs. Back-End vs. Full-Stack

Why are full-stack developers important? 

Full-stack developers are important for a number of reasons that include:

  • Full-stack developers save organizations the stress, time, and money required to separately hire front-end and back-end developers.
  • They create functional websites and applications for smooth business operations
  • They ensure cross interface optimization by ensuring that a site or application is responsive to desktop, tab, and mobile display
  • These developers learn about the latest technology trends and solutions and implement them to improve existing websites and applications
  • They are responsible for updating website applications 
  • Full-stack developers create documentation and guides for website development.

Related Reading: How to Become a Full-Stack Developer

Full-Stack Developer Skills 

Becoming a full-stack developer requires certain skills which include:

  1. Knowledge of front-end programming languages: Every full-stack developer needs to know the front-end coding languages — Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) — and their frameworks such as AngularJS and ReactJS.
  2. Back-end programming languages: The server-side coding languages like PHP, Python, and Ruby, and their associated frameworks (such as Django and Flask) are also essential.
  3. Understanding of Javascript: Javascript is a scripting language useful for the development of both the front-end and back-end of a website or web app.
  4. Creation of APIs and management of databases: Full-stack developers should be able to manage databases and servers and create Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for software to software communications. 
  5. Knowledge of web structuring: This is about website layouts and basic designs. It’s important to know how to structure websites and applications that offer a great user experience (UX). 
  6. Problem-solving and communication skills: Full-stack developers should have critical thinking skills to solve complex software problems. They should also be able to communicate productively with other project members.

Full-Stack vs. Software Developer

Here’s a comparison chart that shows the difference between software and full-stack developers.

Software DeveloperFull-Stack Developer
DevelopmentSoftware developers focus on building applications. — native, mobile, standalone, & embedded software.Full-stack developers build websites and web applications, but they can also develop native and mobile apps.
Skills Software developers are skilled in creating and handling operating systems. They understand the phases involved in the SDLC process. They invent, develop, and test software applications.Full-stack developers learn front-end and back-end web development skills. They have a solid grasp of web development frameworks and libraries. Full-stack developers focus on creating and improving the website and web app structuring.
RolesSoftware developers build software. They have access to resources based on the current phase of the software development process. They are a part of the development team.Full-stack developers use front-end and back-end technologies to develop entire websites. They have access to resources used in the development of websites and web applications. They can be the team lead for a website or website application project. 

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