Full Stack Developer vs. Specialized Software Developer, which is right for you? Let’s reframe the question.
To specialize or not to specialize, that is the question.
The software industry doesn’t face this question alone. Like the answer to most queries, it depends.
In a corporate setting, specialization is common; within start-ups, the opposite. Specialization can impede our ability to create value in a small group. In a large group, the value of specializing may be off the charts.
I’m a Full Stack software development generalist that chases the knowledge dragon.
This approach works for me, but it’s challenging. I’m a jack of all trades, a master of none. I can’t know everything. As a result, the imposter monster is on my heels.
My specialist colleagues leave me in the dust on several topics. Fortunately, many people recognize the value of a multi-faceted perspective and accept my need for diverse knowledge.
I was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 after my daughter was diagnosed. Walking a single path remains challenging despite medication, meditation, exercise, and discipline. I go with the flow and embrace my love of all the things.
I’ve always loved learning big concepts that apply to all technologies. Sometimes I wonder what a single technology deep diving would be like. Then I sweep that consideration aside when another shiny paradigm comes along.
I’ve enjoyed playing with new tools and breaking them ever since I was a child. I would disassemble radios, inspect them, then put them reassemble them. I would attempt to fix them, and often with success.
Anyway, that’s enough about me; this is about you.
To be a Full Stack Developer or a Specialized Software Developer?
Many businesses start with a specific product and specialize in that product. It’s usually a successful strategy. It’s 2020, and Zoom has been trending well over the past six months.
Zoom invested in a specific product with a limited purpose. Initially, their product’s quality was low, but they’ve significantly improved. Specialization has fueled most of their success.
Meanwhile, Microsoft bundled Teams into Microsoft Office and now has video conferencing. Microsoft is not a company that specializes. It focuses on creating general solutions for broad applications. We’ll see if teams’ video conferencing will gain a foothold.
So Why Am I Talking About Companies and Not You?
Companies help us observe the advantages of generalization vs. specialization. We can correlate the outcomes and choose the right path based on our goals.
Let’s ask ourselves some questions.
- Do I want to start a business?
- Does mastery bring me joy?
- What will I do with a broad set of knowledge?
- What will I do with a deep set of knowledge?
These are loaded questions and require introspection.
Finding a balance between generalists and specialists is a great approach when building a team. With a generalist, a team can gain a perspective that sidesteps a challenge. With specialists, solving problems that require a deep understanding of software technology is possible.
The law of the instrument is an astute warning for specialists.
It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. Abraham Maslow — 1966
I worked with a guy that used a SQL Server database for everything. He stored the entire user interface definition in the database. He succeeded in tightly coupling the whole enterprise to SQL Server. He was enthusiastic about the power of this paradigm. I wasn’t sure if he was joking, but he considered creating a SQL MVC book.
On the other hand, knowing a small amount of everything isn’t practical. It’s important to dive deep into critical concepts like software design patterns, clean coding techniques, Etc.
Deciding between a Full Stack Developer and a Specialized Software Developer is challenging. It depends on your goals, your organization’s goals, and the environment.
Here is my take.
Full Stack Developer vs. Specialized Software Developer
Which is the right choice?
Software development is incredibly complex.
The Specialized Software Developer is already spread thin and must bear a significant cognitive load.
The Full Stack Developer bears more cognitive load and may become overwhelmed.
Full Stack Developer
- Can move from team to team
- Variety is the spice of life.
- Becomes an expert student
- Brings a diverse perspective to problems
- Cognitive load can get out of hand.
- Might make the wrong decisions when using complex tools
- Imposter syndrome might set in
Specialized Software Developer
- He had one job, and he did it well.
- Can become the lynchpin that makes a plan come together
- Easy to find a job if your specialization is in demand.
- Lower cognitive load; better focus
- I might miss the forest from the trees.
- Opportunities to save time and effort could be missed.
- If the specialization becomes obsolete, what now?
- Overfocus is a thing. Do you need an opportunity?
The differences between these two disciplines can be vast or just a few frameworks away from the full stack.
Whether you’re a developer or a company deciding between the two, choose wisely. A little soul-searching will help you find the right balance for yourself.