So You Wanna Be a Full Stack Engineer…May 31, 2016
Its a hot buzzword these days and probably on a lot of people’s Linkedin Profile as well. The idea that you are an engineer that knows many things about many different silos of technology. You’re the guy that can break down those walls between storage, networking, servers, cloud and all these specific disciplines. Companies are finding lots of value in these type of engineers who can see the big picture, but just remember there are a few caveats that come with this job function.
Here’s what you need to know
If you plan to go down this “full stack” path you should know this things.
- Be prepared to feel completely clueless much of the time – You’re a “Jack-of-all-Trades” and likely a “Master of None”, or at least a master of little. You’ll be working with subject mater experts (SME) much of the time and they’ll know more than you do about a specific technology. Don’t let this intimidate you. These SMEs may be clueless as to how their technology works with others and they’ll look to you to be the person who can figure it out for them.
- Expect to be considered an Expert by others – You likely won’t agree with people when they consider you an expert and may even cringe when they say it out loud. You’ll know enough to know that there is so much to learn.
- You can be an SME in one or more areas – Just because you know a little about a lot, doesn’t mean you can know a lot about a little. You can be an “Expert” in one subject area, but don’t expect to be an expert in all of them.
- You’ll be a busy person – You’re the go to person when it comes to all things computer related. You seem to know how the pieces fit together so you’ll be called upon often when new projects arise. The more you show your talents, the more people will think you must know EVERYTHING.
- Soft skills will be important – As if it’s not enough to learn all these different technologies, you’ll be expected to communicate with executives, as well as each of the IT disciplines (storage, compute, etc). You understand how things fit together and you’ll need to articulate that vision between teams and up to IT management. Public speaking, and writing skills will be important to you.
- Learn how to play education wack-a-mole – You have a wide variety of new things to learn and old things to keep up with. You understand switching, but new projects require you to know routing protocols. You understand Amazon Web Services and new projects require you to know Microsoft Azure. You understand vSphere but now you’re required to do Hyper-V work. Not only do you have to learn this new stuff, but Amazon has released a new service, and VMware has released a new version. Your current certifications need to be updated. This is going to happen constantly and you’ll need to be able to keep up with this. Stephen Foskett once explained this process as walking UP the DOWN escalator. You have to keep moving at a certain speed just to keep up, and if you want to get Ahead, walk faster, or in this case learn faster.
- Don’t be disheartened – Knowing how many things you’re not an expert on could be difficult to cope with. You’re good at things and want to be good at all the times you work with, but it’s just not possible to know everything. People won’t expect you to either. There is no shame in saying “I don’t know” now and then. Try to remember that knowing a little about everything is a skill in itself and there is real value in it.
- You’ll have fun – If you are interested in being a full stack engineer already, then you’ll have a lot of fun. There are so many new things that you get to touch and play with that you can’t help but enjoy what you’re doing. Just be prepared to feel overwhelmed as well.
- Don’t get caught up in the buzzwords – “Full Stack” engineer is just a cooler name for a “Jack-of-all-Trades” so don’t get caught up in any of the hype. It’ll go away when the next buzzword comes around. I’m thinking it might be something like “Cloud Jockey?” <–Trademarked.
It’s tough to keep up with everything, especially in the Information Technology sector, but you do the best that you can. If your role is a full stack engineer you’re going to have to try really hard to know everything but expect that it won’t happen. Your actual job is to be an expert and being an expert.