Full-stack vs specialized developers: Costs and benefits

Jul 02, 2021 - 7 min read
Joshua Ahn
editor-page-cover

According to the 2020 LinkedIn Emerging Jobs Report, full-stack developer’s job availability maintains a 35% annual growth rate since 2015. However, when building a high-quality software development team, teams and startups debate whether to hire full-stack developers or specialized developers. So what are the variables to consider when choosing between these two types of software developers, and why would your company hire a full-stack developer? Today we will cover the skill sets represented by full-stack developers and specialized developers and best use cases for hiring full-stack developers. Curious to see where your company fits without reading everything? Skip down to the hiring tool.


What are Full-stack and Specialized Developers

Costs of Full-stack Developers

Benefits of Full-stack Developers

Full-stack vs. Specialized Developers Hiring Tool



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What are Full-stack and Specialized Developers

Often referenced as a Jack-of-all-trades, full-stack developers are known for their proficiency in front-end development (client-side) and back-end development (server-side). For this reason, they understand the different layers involved with software development. Earning the title of a full-stack developer takes years of experience and makes these developers a highly valued asset for any software development company or various small businesses.

Skillsets of Full-stack Developers vs Specialized Developers

While full-stack developers are expected to know various languages and the layers of software development, they haven’t mastered every technology. A full-stack developer is versed in UX design, web development, and app development, but a top-notch mobile app or web app may be better suited for specialized app developers. Considering every company has a different tech stack, full-stack developers generally know a blend of the following languages and frameworks, while specialized developers focus on a specific domain with great in-depth knowledge:

Front-end (client-side) Languages:

Front-end Frameworks:

Back-end Languages:

Back-end Frameworks:

  • Node.js

  • Ruby on Rails

  • Django

  • Laravel

  • Flask

  • ExpressJS

  • Spring


Challenges with Full-stack Developers (and How to Avoid Them)

Stay informed during the process of building your team. While the term “Jack-of-all-trades” sounds appealing to most companies, there are generalized downsides to hiring a full-stack developer. Consider these generalized characteristics for a full-stack developer and consider your project’s necessities before starting the hiring process.

Latest Trends and Technologies

Challenge:

The breadth of knowledge may come at the expense of in-depth knowledge. Considering the wide range of languages and technologies, full-stack developers might not be the most up-to-date on the latest trends of technologies.

Solution:

To keep your full-stack developers up to date on the latest trends, consider promoting subscriptions to various newsletters or offer course options for more in-depth studies. Surveys have also shown a correlation between more learning opportunities and lower employee attrition rates. Here are some helpful links to blogs and email newsletters for your developers to stay up to date:

  • Bizarro Devs

  • TLDR

  • CB Insights

  • The Hacker Newsletter

  • Educative

Project Tracking

Challenge:

Considering that projects for full-stack developers are broken up into larger chunks with less task distribution, tracking the project progress can be difficult.

Solution:

Keep an open line of communication and set a weekly cadence to check in on your team. There are also various tools you can use to improve project tracking. All of these tools and methods help outline the roadmap during development. Here are some project management tools used for software development:

  • JIRA

  • ProofHub

  • Hive

  • Celoxis

  • TeamGantt

Allocation of Responsibilities

Challenge:

Managers hire full-stack developers due to their flexibility and skillsets. For full-stack developers, the lines blur when managers assign responsibilities for front-end or back-end projects. While the breadth of knowledge gives full-stack developers versatility, assigning multiple small tasks at different layers during the development process can overwhelm or disrupt time management. Specifically, when the assigned task has more complexity or higher quality work demand on a specific stack, a full-stack developer might lack expertise compared to specialized front-end developers or back-end developers.

Solution:

Understand the limitations of your full-stack developers and assess the complexity of your project. Managing your expectations for the final product helps tailor the allocation of responsibilities for your full-stack development team.


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Benefits of Full-stack Developers

Since we’ve covered the differences and challenges between a full-stack developer and a specialized developer, let’s cover the benefits of hiring a full-stack developer team.

Dependency

Full-stack developers pride themselves on their dependency and adaptability. You can depend on full-stack developers to code a feature from start to finish as they deliver flexibility to learn quickly and identify a path to production.

Development Time

Due to a full-stack developer’s more comprehensive skillset, their work completes less complex projects more efficiently. A team of specialized developers requires a set plan with smaller chunks of work passed between the front-end and back-end developers, reducing development time. Don’t expect a beautiful code, but you can expect more efficient production times. You value time, and full-stack developers deliver on efficiency with fewer team members.

Lower Budget Cost

You hire full-stack developers for a lower overall cost. To put it simply, one full-stack developer holds a breadth of skills that two specialist developers would typically fill. While larger companies don’t face this issue, smaller and medium-sized companies require cost-efficient strategies when building a team.


Full-stack vs. Specialized Developers Hiring Tool

Now that we’ve highlighted the costs and benefits of full-stack developers, let me introduce you to a simple hiring tool. Based on simplified metrics to characterize your company, the tool recommends hiring a full-stack vs. specialized developer.

Here are the metrics used to recommend hiring a full-stack vs. specialized developer:

  • company size

  • budget

  • project complexity

  • project flexibility

  • project quality

Instructions:

  1. Write down a number between 1-3 for each scale mentioned below

  2. Add up the numbers and write down the total

  3. Find your total number for a recommendation

Company size

1-100 = 1

101-999 = 2

999< = 3

Budget

Low = 1

Medium = 2

High = 3

Project Quality

Low = 1

Medium = 2

High = 3

Project complexity

Low = 1

Medium = 2

High = 3

Project flexibility

High = 1

Medium = 2

Low = 3


Total:

5-10 = full-stack developer

11-15 = specialized developer

Since this tool isn’t perfect, let’s go over the thought process behind each metric, and you can use your judgment to choose the best option for your team.

  • company size

Smaller companies will most likely have a smaller budget and less bandwidth to support multiple developers. Since numerous specialists are costly, I recommend looking for full-stack developers to help faster development times build your product’s features.

  • budget

As mentioned before, hiring two specialists instead of one or two full-stack developers requires a larger budget and is considered a high investment. Depending on your budget size, consider hiring more full-stack developers to cover the multiple layers of your project.

  • project complexity

The more complex your project, the greater need there is for a specialist. While full-stack developers cover a breadth of knowledge, specialized developers will better understand complexities in their field of expertise. Developers are a better fit for small projects, while large projects need more specialized developers.

  • project flexibility

The more flexible your project, the lower need there is for a specialist. Full-stack developers best fit the mold of a flexible project and reduce communication mishaps between two development sides.

  • project quality

The more high-quality work required of your project, the greater need for a specialist. Full-stack developers push out production faster, while specialized developers may develop a better solution for database design.

Wrapping up

Before building your team, outline the parameters set by your company and needed for your project. Over the years, demand has increased for full-stack developers, as startups and smaller-sized companies require quick solutions and lower development costs. On the other hand, larger companies look towards specialized developers to solve complex problems with first-rate solutions. Hopefully, this article served as a helpful resource as you start to build your team or hire new developers!

Happy learning!

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WRITTEN BYJoshua Ahn

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