Last Updated: April 10, 2024

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Mrunali Gaikwad

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When it comes to developing web applications or other software, we have seen our clients being confused about a lot of things. For decision-makers who come from a non-tech background, this is quite obvious. One such common confusion is deciding whether to hire a full stack developer vs software engineer.  

While people often use the two interchangeably, as experts we understand that there are notable differences to the roles. In this blog, we decided to clear several misconceptions and confusions regarding full stack developers and software engineers.

Before you proceed with hiring for your projects, make sure you understand these roles and how they are distinct from one another. 

Who is a Full Stack Developer? 

A full stack developer can handle all the software development aspects of a web application, from the user interface that you see and interact with (front-end development) to the server side that handles data storage and processing (back-end development). In simpler terms, they are like the jacks of all trades in the web development world.

Because they have expertise in both front-end and back-end development, full stack developers can:

  • Design and build entire websites and applications
  • Develop and maintain web services and interfaces
  • Build new features and integrate them
  • Troubleshoot and fix any bugs that pop up
  • Collaborate with designers and other departments on projects

This all-rounded skillset makes them valuable assets for companies because they can work independently on projects or seamlessly switch between tasks as needed.  This can help streamline development processes and potentially reduce project costs. 

Who is a Software Engineer? 

Software engineers are experts in their field and have notably high demands. However, unlike full stack developers who can pretty much handle all tasks in a web app development cycle, software engineers focus on native apps. They specialize in working with specific technologies. For example, a software engineer could mean a C++ expert and an embedded engineer.  

They are well-versed with system architectures and help the team with the same. Software engineers are meant to tackle tasks like handling databases, servers, and client-side development. Most of the time, they focus on specific areas of software development while full stack developers are likely to have a broader scope of work. 

Many skills of software engineers and full stack developers overlap each other because of various software development requirements. 

Newly emerging technologies bring about the need to update software and applications as per various architectural requirements. As a result, there’s a surge in demand for full stack software engineers for building and maintaining software that aligns with AI ML concepts.  

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Top Differences: Full Stack Developer vs Software Engineer  

Full stack developers manage both front-end and back-end, while software engineers specialize in specific layers or technologies. 

Full Stack Developer vsSoftware Engineer
Works on all layers of an application (user interface, database, server-side logic)Scope of WorkFocuses on specific aspects of software development (backend, frontend, security, etc.)
May have a broader understanding across domains, but not as deepDomainCan specialize in a particular domain (e.g., machine learning, embedded systems)
Broader understanding of various programming languages, frameworks, and tools across all development layersSkills & ExpertiseDeep understanding of computer science fundamentals and specific technologies within their domain
May work more independently, especially on smaller projects, or collaborate with other full stack developersRole In a TeamOften works collaboratively with other engineers, designers, and project managers
Can potentially build a complete, application or contribute to various parts of a larger software productProductContributes to specific functionalities or features within a software product
Depends on the project; and may be slightly lower than highly specialized software engineersCost Of HiringDepending on project, specialization, and experience, but generally may be higher due to deeper expertise

While there are many common aspects between full stack developers and software engineers, here are the most important differences between the two. 

Scope Of Work 

Full stack developers specialize in all areas of the software/application development cycle. They possess the expertise to oversee the entire development process of a web application, from the front end that users interact with to the back end that handles data and server-side logic. Thus they can write program databases, and APIs and even design a website.  

Software engineers, on the other hand, build and work for applications that are supposed to function on desktops in the first place. Their scope of work includes coding these applications, testing them for technicalities, and ensuring that they run smoothly without errors or bugs. While full stack developers cover broader aspects of development, software engineers work for specifications in the same.  

Domain 

Full stack developers excel at creating fast prototypes. These prototypes serve as a quick and tangible way to visualize and test product ideas. Since they possess knowledge across all development layers (front-end, back-end, databases), they can bring the initial concept to life swiftly. This holistic approach allows them to understand how different parts of the application will interact and function together. 

However, software engineers delve deeper into specific domains within software development. They might become experts in security, data structures and algorithms, machine learning, or specific programming languages. Unlike full stack developers who focus on the overall product vision, software engineers are responsible for building specific, well-defined steps within a larger application. This specialization allows them to tackle complex problems within their chosen area with a high level of proficiency. 

Skills & Expertise  

When considering a full stack developer vs software engineer, the breadth and depth of their skills and expertise is a major difference. Full stack developers generally have a broader skillset. They understand how users interact with applications, wielding languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to build user interfaces, ensuring a visually appealing and user-friendly experience. 

They also know other languages like Python or PHP to handle data storage, application logic, and communication with databases. Their expertise lies in ensuring all parts of an application work seamlessly together. They can troubleshoot issues across the entire development stack, guaranteeing the app receives, processes, and delivers information as intended.  

Software engineers have the skills to dive deep into a particular domain, often dependent on the project's requirements. They are well-versed in languages suited to building applications for specific operating systems. This might involve mastering C#, Java, Swift, or other software development languages. They can design efficient algorithms, solve complex problems, and write clean, maintainable code. 

Software engineers often work collaboratively within development teams. Their ability to effectively communicate with colleagues is essential. They need to explain technical concepts clearly, discuss issues, and coordinate development efforts to ensure a cohesive final product. 

Role In a Team  

When you are about to hire full stack developers or software engineers for your teams this is one of the important differentiators you must understand. Due to their comprehensive understanding, full stack developers are often seen as team leaders, especially in smaller teams. They can guide junior developers, troubleshoot issues that span across different layers, and ensure all pieces of the puzzle fit together seamlessly. 

Full stack developers can also work more independently. Their ability to handle all aspects allows them to take ownership of a feature or application from start to finish. They act as a bridge between designers, front-end developers, and back-end developers. They can translate technical concepts into layman's terms for non-technical stakeholders and explain design as per your full stack development requirements.  

Software engineers typically work as part of a larger team. They collaborate with other engineers who specialize in different areas, designers who create the user interface, and project managers who oversee the overall development process. Each of them contributes their expertise to build specific functionalities or features within an application. They work together to ensure their pieces integrate smoothly with the work of other team members. 

Read More: Software Development Consulting

Product  

Full stack developers create web applications (web apps), accessible to anyone with an internet connection and a web browser. These applications exist entirely online, eliminating the need for installation. This accessibility makes them ideal for a wider audience and diverse functionalities. 

Software engineers, on the other hand, primarily focus on building native applications. These applications need to be installed directly onto a specific device, like a computer or phone, to function. Thus their specific expertise related to various OS and devices are put to use. 

Cost Of Hiring 

This is something that most CTOs and managers are concerned about. However, the cost difference between hiring a full stack developer vs software engineer can be negligible. You might save on hiring costs with a full stack developer for a smaller project, but for complex projects, you might need to bring in additional specialists, negating any initial savings.

The true cost should be considered in terms of value delivered. Hiring a more expensive developer with the right skill set can lead to faster project completion and fewer bugs, reducing overall costs in the long run. 

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Full Stack Developer vs Software Engineer: Whom To Hire? 

While the above section explains the differences in detail, here's a brief of when to hire a full stack developer vs software engineer, considering your project needs and team structure: 

Hire a Full Stack Developer When:

  • Your project is well-defined and smaller in scope: Full stack developers can efficiently handle all aspects of a smaller project, saving time and resources on coordination between specialists.
  • Your development team is lean: If you have a limited team, a full stack developer brings a broader skillset, allowing them to work more independently and fill gaps.
  • You need someone who can wear multiple hats: Full stack developers are adaptable and can handle various development tasks across the front-end and back-end. This is ideal if your project requires flexibility or frequent iteration.
  • Cost is a major concern: While not always the case, full stack developers can sometimes be a more cost-effective option for smaller projects compared to hiring separate front-end and back-end specialists.  

Hire a Software Engineer When:

  • Your project is complex with distinct layers: For larger projects with separate front-end, back-end, and database functionalities, software engineers with specialized expertise in each area can ensure a more robust and efficient development process.
  • You have a dedicated development team: If you already have a team with front-end and back-end developers, a software engineer can slot in seamlessly and contribute their specialized knowledge within their domain.
  • Deep technical expertise is crucial: If your project requires specific technical skills in areas like security, performance optimization, or specific programming languages, a software engineer with proven experience in that domain is the better choice.
  • Scalability and maintainability are top priorities: Software engineers often have a strong understanding of best practices for building scalable and maintainable software systems, which is essential for complex projects that will grow over time.

Get the Best Of Full Stack Development With Us 

We hope this blog gives you clarity on hiring full stack developer vs software engineer. Moreover, working with professional teams always gives you a better edge with your projects. Whether you want to onboard developers as an addition to your own team or outsource the entire project to a team of experts, Narola Infotech is all set to partner with you. 

We are a team of 350+ enthusiastic experts serving our clients in various industries across 50+ countries. We never hesitate to make an extra effort for your satisfaction and project success. Leverage our 18+ years of industry experience to launch successful software solutions. Contact us now to hire remote developers or get answers to any of your queries.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

See the answers to some of our most commonly asked questions below.

Full Stack Developer works across the entire development stack, including front-end (user interface) technologies like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and back-end (server-side logic) technologies like Python, Java, PHP, and databases. They can design, build, test, and deploy web applications.

Software Engineer specializes in a specific area of software development. This could be front-end development (focusing on user interface and user experience), back-end development (focusing on server-side logic and data management), or mobile development (building applications for smartphones and tablets).

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