10 essential skills to becoming a full-stack software developer in 2019

The definition of a full-stack software engineer is often either unclear or misrepresented. Sometimes it is overstated as someone who is a master of everything when it comes to working with code. For this guide, we take the basic definition of a full-stack software engineer. A full-stack software engineer is a developer who is capable of working with front-end and back-end development.

This guide details the required skills to be a full-stack engineer with the necessary technical and collaborative skills to be a productive member of a team. It serves as a roadmap for those looking to fill in the gaps to cover the various areas required as a minimal full-stack software engineer.


Web development with HTML and CSS is the building-block of front-end development. It is the basis of front-end development that every software engineer needs to have a solid capability. Basic HTML and CSS syntax are straightforward to learn.

Responsive web

On top of basic HTML and CSS, it is essentials in today's prevalent mobile world to be able to build responsive web applications. The web applications built today need to work on various devices effortlessly. A regular toolkit for this purpose is Bootstrap, and there are various others that you can progress into that are lighter and serve more specific purposes.


It often comes in handy to be able to create interactive web pages. The vast majority of websites use JavaScript in one form or the other to create interactive features on front-end web pages. JQuery is a simple and commonly used library that comes with essential tools to make client-side scripting simple. It can quickly come in useful for implementing simple features on web application front-end.

Version control

It is essential to be able to work with version control to become a member of a team of engineers that can work on code together effectively. Source or version control can seem difficult to work with at first, but it is easy to get the hang of it and is extremely rewarding when team members to be able to track and merge changes in code.

The commonly used version control used today is Git. Every major software company or project today use it. Therefore, the preliminary skills with it would serve any engineer well in the career.

Back-end language & framework

Back-end development is a broad topic and comes in many flavors. Many different programming languages and frameworks can be used to create back-end applications. The basis of what a back-end does and how it serves data to be consumed by front-end applications are mostly the same, and you can use any programming language to create a functional back-end.

For those who are new to it, you can take a look at this back-end programming language guide. It is best to start with a language or framework that would be suitable for your needs and goals and work your way up from there to explore other languages.


SQL (Structured Query Language) provides the ability to work with a large number of different relational database systems. It is the primary method to store application data in a reliable and scalable way.

Most back-end languages and frameworks come with the ability to work with databases. Good knowledge of SQL queries allows you to understand database queries and capabilities better to design an organized structure to store information.


REST (Representational State Transfer) is an architectural style for APIs commonly used today. It is a standard way of writing your APIs in a clear, organizable, and scalable manner. Some web frameworks enforce a RESTful method of writing APIs, and learning them are a great way to gain a firm understanding of the structure.

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is the most widely used data format for APIs today. It is a standard way to create an easy to read format for data in an API.

Server software

It is a strangely familiar sight for web application developers to have little expertise in working with server software and operating systems. It is beneficial to understand how to work with server software to be able to deploy their web applications to the cloud in a secure and scalable way.

The most popular server software to use today are Apache and NGINX, and they require some knowledge of server operating systems to run them. Ubuntu Server is a great server operating system to start with for beginners as it is accessible and comprehensively documented.


There is no reason to have an insecure website that is without an SSL certificate today unless that reason is that you are unfamiliar with how to set one up. Unlike previously where you have to pay to get one that is certified, they are now provided for free by Let's Encrypt.

It used to be a lot more difficult to set one up on your server web application, but the process has been made a lot easier now to set up one using Certbot. It is essential to understand how to implement SSL certificates for a web application as it is a standard requirement.

Mobile development (optional)

While a front-end application usually refers to a web application, it is becoming increasingly common for front-end also to include mobile applications. The reason for it is that they serve the same purpose to communicate with a back-end to display information in a consumable and human-centered manner.

Mobile application development is a lot less straightforward and more advanced than web application development as they use compiled languages to build them. It is beneficial to understand the process of building them even though the knowledge is not essential to be considered a full-stack engineer. The reason is that it gives developers a broader view of the concepts of front-end applications.


This guide provides a complete list of the essentials skills for a full-stack software engineer. It does not end here as these are simply the necessary skills required to be able to work on the various areas in full-stack development.

There are many more areas in which software engineers can explore and improve their expertise on to make them more complete engineers. Therefore, go ahead and explore different fields and expertise but ensure that you have these essentials skills to build a solid foundation.

Wei-Ming Thor

I create practical guides on Software Engineering, Data Science, and Machine Learning.


Full-stack engineer who builds web and mobile apps. Now, exploring Machine Learning and Data Engineering. Read more

Writing unmaintainable code since 2010.


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