Full stack mobile developers were once the unicorns of the software world. They existed but were so rare and hard to find that they may as well have been mythical.
Companies that outsourced their mobile apps to individual developers had widely mixed experiences (rarely good ones).
That isn’t to say that full stack mobile development is impossible, though. It’s highly functional at a company level. Software development agencies have been expanding their capabilities towards building a cohesive stack instead of simply creating a tool or app.
What It Means to Be “Full Stack”
“Full stack developers” have the knowledge and skills to build an entire mobile app, from back-end to middleware to front-end tools. The list of subject areas includes:
- Hardware (including device utilities)
- Operating systems
- Package Management
- Server management
- Frontend development
- Frontend design
- Requirements gathering
- Project management
- Non-technical communication skills
The developer needs to be intimately familiar with a few options at each level to qualify as “full stack”. They also have to be able to build native, hybrid, and mobile web apps.
The knowledge base doesn’t stop there, either. Full stack developers should keep on top of changing trends in application architecture in order to properly guide clients in their choice of tools.
It’s incredibly difficult for one person to do all these things with any degree of skill. Those few talented developers aren’t going to be found without luck or extensive headhunting.
What’s hard for one person, though, is considerably easier for a software development agency. Many developers within these comprehensive-minded agencies have the knowledge to build an app top to bottom within a narrow range of requirements.
Where there are gaps in their experience, the agencies have room to employ a mix of specialists to provide full coverage.
Why Full Stack Is Coming Back Into The Conversation
In early days everyone was expected to be a full stack developer. As computing became more complex and involved multiple languages and toolsets, people began specializing in areas like front end, back end, databases, or mobile development.
What changed is the modern tools and resources that have begun to make it possible for individuals to be capable of building an effective mobile app from the ground up again.
- Programming languages: Languages like Ruby abstract away complex machine details, letting developers build from scratch with less code.
- Development frameworks & third party libraries: React, Angular, JQuery, PHP, Node.js, and similar tools speed up development while delivering a better quality app.
- Cloud databases: With simple, guided setup and management, developers don’t need the same level of database construction skills they once did.
- Expanded support: Most of these tools have forums where developers can reach out for help. This allows them to use tools they’re less familiar with more effectively.
When a single developer builds an app alone, it can be highly cohesive. They don’t need to make compromises or balance opinions among a team, so programming is cleaner and more straightforward.
On a more pragmatic note, mobile developers are still expensive and highly in demand. There’s strong motivation for companies to find someone who can “do it all”.
Despite the appeal of full stack mobile development, there are inevitably trade-offs. Aiming for more breadth of skills results in a shallower understanding of each.
Full stack developers generally have limited range within a specific topic, limiting their flexibility. It’s a “jack of all trades, master of none” situation.
Because of this limited toolkit, apps created by individual full stack developers tend to lack innovation and creativity. Their apps all seem very much alike.
There’s also the risk of lower overall quality. Every developer has their idiosyncrasies and blind spots, and they might not catch their own mistakes.
Some trade-offs seem trivial, but in reality, they can break a project. The biggest culprit is communication. Successful app development involves next-level communication skills, and that’s something that challenges full stack developers who are busy actually building the app.
Communication takes away from that work, so they may skimp on updates or overlook feedback until they’re past the point where it can be easily integrated into the project.
The Future of Full Stack
The best use for full stack mobile developers is as a force multiplier on a mobile app development team. They can serve as an “architect”, using their wide knowledge base to create a more cohesive final product.
Because they know every step, they’re able to spot potential issues and gaps in the team’s skill set. As a bonus they can fill in for other developers as needed. The team can then be smaller without having to take on new developers mid-project.
So, does full stack mobile development exist? Yes, but in practice it’s most effectively done at a company level rather than an individual one.
A fast, high-performance mobile presence is key to staying competitive, even for small and medium businesses. Concepta’s experienced developers have created dynamic apps for everyone from educational companies to country singers. Set up your free consultation to find out what we can do for you!