In the fast-paced world of SaaS (Software as a Service) development, companies often find themselves at a crossroads, facing the "multi-tool dilemma." Much like a Swiss Army knife, full-stack developers offer a range of tools in one package. But, is this Jack-of-all-trades approach the right fit for every scenario? Does your startup need to hire full-stack developers or do you need to go “specialized”? Does the specialized developer provide the edge needed in today's competitive landscape? Let’s try to find some answers. 

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Some history & the rise of Javascript

In software and web development, there's such a wide range of technologies, frameworks, languages and skills that it's impossible to be a specialist in everything.

That's also why a sort of bifurcation historically emerged between front-end developers (HTML/CSS designers) and back-end developers (coders). The designer used to deliver HTML/CSS, and the developer integrated it into the code.

When JavaScript broke through, the front-end suddenly became much richer and more complex. Instead of just graphical skills, front-end developers suddenly needed a variety of coding skills. The knowledge required to build a modern front-end is quite substantial.

This division then became even more pronounced, resulting in many developers identifying themselves as either front-end or back-end. In some cases, specialization is extremely important. A modern web app needs both types of specialists.

The consequence is that suddenly two developers are needed to build a feature. This kind of dependency makes collaboration a bit more difficult. That's why there was a shift back towards full-stack developers, generalists who can handle both front-end and back-end. This makes it easier to deliver results because these all-rounders are in principle, more versatile.

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In practice, we notice that this is not always the case. Often, front-end developers have a bit more knowledge of design, UX, and graphic design. Back-end developers might be able to write React, but the overall look is not always there.

Finding balance - It's a spectrum, not a dichotomy. 

Some context first. As always, there is no right or wrong answer and the roles of software developers should not be seen as black and white. In an ideal world, every developer should know enough to perform most tasks in another domain, with someone who knows more about a specific domain to handle the complex matters. Skills and roles can (and should) overlap. Developers and (Fractional) CTOs should not be pigeonholed strictly into one domain. 

While general knowledge across domains is important, there is also a need for specialists. Their expertise is crucial for tackling challenges that go beyond the scope of generalist knowledge. However, if there is too strict specialization, planning and development become more difficult because engineers are unable to work outside their niche, they have to wait for each other and knowledge-sharing becomes way harder. 

There needs to be a balance between generalist (full-stack) and specialist skills to complement successfully tackling complex tasks. It’s important to know this balance will have a big impact particularly in team dynamics and project management. This is why you might benefit from having a Fractional CTO on board, with an outsider point of view.

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