Full Stack Engineer vs. Web Developer

When I started my professional career at Michigan State University’s Division of University Relations, I was a web developer.  I wrote PHP and ASP and JavaScript and HTML and sliced up images in Photoshop and designed MySQL databases.  I had to do a little bit of server management.  I also trained clients in how to use the systems I built for them but that’s beside the point right now.

When I made the jump to TechSmith Corporation I retained the title of web developer.  I wrote ASP and JavaScript and HTML and didn’t slice up as many images but did work with MSSQL databases.  I had to do a little bit of server management.  I also wrote VB6 apps.

Over the years at TechSmith the ASP and VB6 (mostly) gave way to C# but that wasn’t the only change.  Somewhere along the line I became a software engineer.

I can’t speak for the industry as a whole but at TSC there was an impression that web devs weren’t “real developers” compared to the software engineers working on the company’s desktop products.  So everyone became software engineers and everyone was equal, even if the job didn’t change at all.

Fast forward to several years ago and the term “full-stack engineer” starts being thrown around.  A full-stack engineer being someone who writes back-end code and front end code and maybe does some image manipulation and can do some server management…  And I fail to see how this isn’t what we used to call a web developer.

As an industry, did we create a new title just to get the word “engineer” into it?  “No, I’m not one of those slacker web developers.  I’m a full-stack engineer.”  I get that the term became famous when Facebook was (supposedly) only hiring full-stack devs but why give it that name when “web developer” already meant that.

For a long time, even after my title at TechSmith changed, I defined myself as a web developer.  One of my mentors called me out on it and I couldn’t explain why I clung to that label.  Maybe it’s because, the way I see it, “web developer” is just less of a mouthful than “full-stack engineer” and more accurate than “software engineer.”

If there’s supposed to be a difference between web developer and full-stack engineer, I don’t see it.

I should say that I don’t actually have a problem with the full-stack engineer title.  Web development has evolved.  There are fewer gaps between web development and mobile development than there were a decade ago, for example.  I just see web developer and full-stack engineer as the same thing and think it’s jarring to see the titles used as if they’re not.

1 thought on “Full Stack Engineer vs. Web Developer”

  1. I hope we can change what the term full stack engineer means by defining a new stack that allows us to build up technology layers to the level of artificial sentience.
    This stack would be 1) Relational Database – 2) Object Orientation – 3) Endemes – 4) Knowledge Representation – 5) Artificial intelligence – 6) Computational creativity – 7) Sentience.
    My blog https://thisstack.wordpress.com/ is about this.
    And yes, I believe am a full stack engineer by the current definition.

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