How to hire a full stack web developer

Full stack developers are jacks of all trades, and can handle every part of your website. Here's how to find the right one.
Mar 31, 2020 • 7 minute read
Peter Thaleikis @peterthaleikis
Technical Co-pilot
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Finding the right web developer is key for a successful development project

You want to make sure your developer or development team is the right fit for both you and your project. Selecting the right freelance full stack developer, planning the project ahead of hiring as well as the ongoing project management are all needed for a successful delivery. Let’s look at what you need to know to hire the right developer:

What is the difference between frontend and backend?

In web development you often hear about “frontend” and “backend”. But what is the difference between the two? What do you need to know before hiring either?

The frontend of a website or web application is everything you see and use directly. It starts with the layout of the site itself and it continues with components such the navigation, buttons, links, forms, etc. It also covers most of the modern, dynamic functionality we all enjoy today. Frontend developers build these visual user-interfaces. It doesn’t include design or graphics used on the website. These are usually the task of a graphic designer. Same goes for the content on the website: The content is usually written by a specialized copywriter.

Backend, as the name suggests, on the other hand is what you usually can’t see. It’s hidden away and is only used by website administrators and the website owner. The backend is where the website is controlled and the information is loaded and saved into databases. In the backend all sensible data gets handled and aggregated. A backend developer handles the information flow as well as workflow behind the scenes. This also includes connecting any external data sources and services, so-called APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). With this, he or she opens up a whole new world to make your project interact with all kinds of services such as text messaging gateways or payments services.

Bringing it together: What is a full stack developer?

A full stack developer is at home in both worlds: He or she has learned to develop applications in both frontend as well as backend. This starts with turning your web design into source code, continues with adding the functionality and ends with handling the information until it is stored in the database. This can make your project delivery smoother. It avoids any communication issues from the outset as two roles are combined in one.

As of 2020, more and more developers don’t categorize themselves as only-frontend or only-backend anymore. An increasing share has learned to enjoy both sides for the benefit of faster project delivery. But not all that glitters is gold: Not all full stack developers feel equally at home in both worlds.

When should you or shouldn’t you hire a full stack developer?

There are pros and cons to most things. The same goes for hiring a full stack developer. In the following you will see when it’s the right call to hire a full stack developer and when another path might be more beneficial.

The pros for hiring a full stack developer are clear:

Less overhead

You don’t have to hire, manage and communicate with a number of developers. In some cases this turns a situation with two part-time developers with other commitments into a more favorable situation of one full-time freelance full stack developer. Full commitment usually wins over running your project “on the side.”

End to end

Your project will be managed and handled by one developer. As mentioned above, this avoids any communication issues with the team or responsibility questions. You would be surprised how often it’s unclear who has to pick up work within a team.

Go-to-developer

The wide view of technologies gives you a developer with a “can-do” attitude with a problem-solver mindset. This helps you as you’ve got your one “go-to developer” to talk to about any changes and issues.

Of course there are downsides to hiring a full stack developer as well. You should be aware of the following issues:

Less depth

Naturally, you can’t be equally good in two areas. You will have a hard time finding a great engineer and doctor. Someone who worked ten years as a backend developer has, of course, more experience with backend development compared to someone who has worked ten years in both frontend and backend. While hiring it is important to ask meticulously about previous projects and preferences.

Higher risk of underestimating the scope

If you are the sole full stack developer on a project you are at risk of being overloaded with the required work. This can come either right from the start if the project requirements aren’t communicated clearly or later, when the business needs to be expanded and new scope items are added. Both can lead to burn out and follow-up issues for the project. As a project manager, make sure your full stack developer takes enough time off to recharge their batteries.

Can make it harder to onboard other developers

Without another developer providing feedback, your project might be developed using your developer’s own “style”. This doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means it’s developed a bit differently and might lead to more work on-boarding new developers later on. A second pair of eyes, even if from a frontend developer on backend code, can help iron out little differences.

If you are considering hiring numerous full stack developers for your project, it probably makes sense to split the job and assign more specialised roles. The scope quickly gets too large and splitting work is more efficient at the end.

What should be included in your project description on Freelancer?

You want not just to find any developer, you want to find the right one for your project. This requires you to describe your project well - and with enough details. In your job ad you should at least mention the following points:

  • What are you looking for: A high-level description of your project and goal.
  • Size and duration: How large do you expect the project to be and how long do you expect it to run?
  • Technology: Often you have worked with a particular technology before and want to keep it consistent. Maybe you have already begun the project. Either way, make sure to mention any technology requirements.
  • Budget: Nothing comes for free and you should openly state what you are willing to pay for the developer’s work. This protects you from very high bids and allows the developer to decide beforehand if it is suitable to apply.

After your project post has been online for a bit you can move into the hiring process. Below you can find out what to keep in mind.

How to find the right freelance full stack developer for your project

Most hiring processes are split into two major phases: You begin with a screening of potential candidates and shortlist those who look promising. Afterward you go into individual conversations with the shortlisted developers. A call is a great opportunity to get to know each other. Here we cover the key points to keep in mind.

While screening potential full stack developers you should remember these points:

Your tech stack

If your project has already begun, make sure to check the developer’s experience with your current technology stack. Developers usually have a favourite technology. You want to avoid a costly restart with a different technology stack, if possible.

Previous work

Has the developer previously worked on similar projects? You can also have a look at the developer’s open source work on GitHub. Is it well documented? Is it used? Any insights on previous projects can help make your decision. If you can, pick a developer with experience in your domain.

Reviews

Read what the reviews say about applicants. Focus especially on those around similar projects as they give the best insights. What went well and what didn’t?

Once you have shortlisted a number of applications and are ready to move into the second phase of hiring a developer, share your project specifications with the shortlisted developers. Give them a chance to read through the document and schedule a call. This gives both sides a chance to ask questions to understand the project and expectations better. Focus on these points:

Communication

Are you happy with the flow of communication or are there issues? If in doubt you can always look for a native speaker in your language to make it easier.

Availability

Is your candidate available and ready to commit to your project? Make sure to confirm start date, weekly hours and the expected project duration.

Price

Do you and your candidate agree in regards to the price for his or her work? You want to make sure both sides are clear on this one as you want to avoid the developer dropping out to take on another project.

If you’ve already selected other team members, include them into the interviewing process: four eyes see more than two. Also avoid questions which aren’t providing any value. You won’t appear professional asking for information which can be found using a simple Google search.

Final words

Hiring a Full Stack Web Developer is a great chance to get started on a new project or build an MVP. Make sure to prepare your job description and project specification well. Every minute spent before the start saves time down the road. Screen the applicants carefully and spend the time searching until you find the right developer for your project.

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