Full stack developer? Software engineer? Rockstar Ninja Hacker?

When the World Wide Web started to take off as a commercial medium, it took a while for professional roles to form and settle. There were a lot of different titles flying around: Webmaster, Web Developer, Web Designer, even Markup Author. Some of these have stuck around, and others have died off.

Then as dynamic back-end technologies gained wide adoption, a natural split in specialisation occurred. Some developers stuck with mostly front end technologies, and some focused on server-side tech. But there were plenty of developers who tackled the whole stack. They weren’t called Full Stack Developers, though. Just Developers or Web Developers.

‘Full Stack’ as a modifier was added relatively recently. Look at this Google Trends chart comparing various terms:

Google Trends chart showing comparison between different developer titles


  • Blue - web developer
  • Purple - software engineer
  • Green - software developer
  • Yellow - front end developer
  • Red - full stack developer

2012 or 2013 seems to be around the time the term started taking off in any meaningful way.

Local variations aside, I find this chart interesting for two reasons:

  1. The limited use of full stack developer goes against the chatter about it on social media.
  2. The real story here is the rise of software engineer over web developer.

Of course, software engineers don’t just work on the web, but these data do seem to match something I’ve noticed in real life - that developers working on web applications are increasingly called Software Engineers with no further modifier.

I have worked with companies whose hiring policy boils down to searching for capable or promising software engineers, and not worrying too much about current specialisation. The implication is that a good engineer is able to adapt and learn across languages, paradigms, architectural patterns, frameworks, syntax styles and runtime environment.

Do you think this kind of generic hiring policy works in practice? What challenges does it present?

All the best,

– Jim

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