Full-Stack Developer vs Software Engineer: Which One is Best for Your Project?

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In this article, we explain the difference between a full-stack developer and a software engineer. Get advice on who to choose in different situations and learn important questions to ask in an interview

Building a development team is a complex and time-consuming task. If done wrong it can lead to the failure of the whole project. It is especially true when it comes to choosing the right type of developer for your project. Today, we dive deep into the world of developers and find out, how to hire a perfect developer exactly for your project.

Who is a full-stack developer?

A full-stack developer manages both the frontend and backend development of a web application or website. They are accountable to the client, the design, the system, and the database.

A full-stack developer has a diverse set of skills and deep knowledge of web application development. They can work on a web development platform, native application platform, or mobile application development platform — it depends on the project and the client’s requirements.

What does a full-stack developer do exactly? A full-stack developer’s basic responsibilities are supporting the database and the web development life cycle, creating a powerful UI/UX using vibrant graphics for application web pages, and crafting customer interactions.

Since they are skilled in both backend and client-side development, it is easier for full-stack developers to follow the project and monitor overall progress. In addition, full-stack developers can help others complete their tasks on time, as they are generally good at multitasking.

Organizations need full-stack web developers, as they are experts at taking on multiple responsibilities and enhancing their teammates’ productivity. The high demand for full-stack developers is driven by their web application development prowess and their broad skill set.

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Who is a software engineer?

Unlike full-stack developers, who cover the entire process of building a web application from scratch, software engineers only focus on creating desktop-compatible applications that can be installed on desktop computers to perform specific tasks.

What does a software engineer do? A software engineer develops native applications that you download and installs on your computer system. Essentially, software engineers are aware of the system architecture for which the software is being developed and make sure their teammates also are familiar with it. All software engineers are experts focused on one element of software development.

What is software engineering, and how is it different from full-stack software development? Full-stack development deals with databases of client-side and server-side development descriptors, while software development covers the broader aspects of development, including all those mentioned. From games and business applications to control and monitoring systems, software engineers are prepared to handle it all. As a result, there is a massive demand for both full-stack developers and software engineers.

The field of software engineering requires high technical knowledge, and to develop this knowledge, a software engineer must earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science or any other engineering discipline. Full-stack development is a subcategory of the software development process. Many of the skills of a full-stack developer and a software engineer overlap, and there is a huge demand for both specializations.

Full-stack developer and software engineer skills

Full-stack developers and software engineers typically require distinct skill sets to excel at their jobs. Both jobs require specialized technical skills and well-developed soft skills to succeed. Full-stack developers may require additional project management skills compared to software engineers.

Let’s now discuss the difference between a software engineer and a full-stack developer. Here are some of the key skills that can help full-stack developers and software engineers perform their tasks effectively:

Essential skills of a full-stack developer 

You should know what kind of skill set a full-stack developer should have, to hire a good professional. Knowing these skills will simplify a hiring process for you because you would know what to ask a candidate and what to expect as an answer.

Here are some skills typical for the full-stack developers:

Technical skills

Full-stack developers often master multiple programming languages to excel in their roles. The main frontend languages and technologies that full-stack developers usually know include HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Successful full-stack developers also usually know some server-side languages such as PHP, Python, Ruby, and Java. They need to understand web architecture and be able to structure code, categorize files, structure data in databases, and perform necessary computations.

Project management skills

Full-stack developers are often in leadership positions in application development projects. They can use project management skills to oversee projects, from the initial stages of planning and consultation through project execution and completion. Project management skills include the ability to manage a project’s goals and budget. Other management needs include knowing how to properly lead a team, communicate with clients, and solve problems.

Soft skills

Along with proper leadership, communication, and interpersonal skills, full-stack developers often possess skills in time management and attention to detail. They often prioritize tasks and work to meet the client’s deadline. Programming also requires attention to detail. Successful full-stack developers use their creative thinking skills to design visually appealing user interfaces. As a rule, they are analytical thinkers who are able to solve technical problems.

Essential skills of a software engineer

Here are the skills that software engineers use often:

Technical skills

Just like full-stack developers, software engineers are often familiar with multiple programming languages. The software engineer requirements include the knowledge of at least two languages, but they may also have a basic knowledge of many relevant coding languages. Some of the programming languages that software engineers know are C++, Java, C#, Python, and Ruby. They also generally understand computer and database architecture, data structures, and optimization strategies.

Design skills

Effective software engineers develop the visual design and web design skills. They are well-versed in proper web design principles such as content, usability, aesthetics, visibility, and interaction. Software engineers can work directly with clients to design applications that meet their needs.

Soft skills

Software engineers work on their own or as part of a team. Their role requires skills such as time management and organization in order to meet strict deadlines. The core skills of software engineers include attention to detail and the ability to think analytically when solving programming problems. Software engineers also use communication, cooperation, and interpersonal skills to effectively work with other team members.

What is the difference between a full-stack developer and a software engineer?

Before we dive into the specifics, let’s define the main differences between these specialists. As you can not choose one without knowing the particular qualities of each developer.


Full-stack developer

Full-stack developers are experts in all phases of application development. They can control both client-side and server-side development. This means that they can write APIs, program databases, and develop websites.

Software Engineer

Software engineers create applications that run on PCs. All software applications installed on desktops are the product of software developers. They write code for these applications, test them, and make sure they work without errors. When working with an operating system, a software engineer is responsible for a particular aspect of the OS.


Full-stack developer

Full-stack developers can easily access every aspect of a web application and can help their teammates with issues related to their field of work. For example, a full-stack developer can assist a frontend developer with solving design problems.

Software engineer

Since software engineers are only responsible for a certain aspect of the application, their availability is limited. According to the best practices of software outsourcing, you need to have at least two software developers for the server and client side of your application or website, to successfully develop software.


Full-stack developer

Full-stack developers create prototype products quite fast. They use a holistic approach to solution development.

Software engineer

In most cases, software engineers are responsible for a specific aspect of an application. Unlike full-stack developers, they should pay special attention to this specific aspect of the development process. They need to ensure it doesn’t have bugs and works without any problems with the other parts of the application.

Role in the team

Full-stack developer

Usually, the full-stack developer is the team leader. They help their colleagues to do their job properly, as they have profound knowledge in frontend and backend development.

Software engineer

Software engineers are part of the team and work in a particular area. They work with other team members through different steps of making the app.


Full-stack developer

Full-stack developers work on web apps, which may serve different purposes (SEMRush) or may serve a single purpose (Grammarly). All web applications are considered products of the work of full-stack developers.

Software engineer

Software engineers build native apps. This means their products are installed locally on a device. Examples of native applications include Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Word, and the Skype desktop app.

Who to choose: full-stack developer or software engineer?

The choice between a full-stack developer and a software engineer can be tricky. But we hope that considering the differences mentioned above will help you with this choice. There is strong market demand for both fields.

To choose, the main things to consider are your needs and project requirements. A full-stack developer helps you create a robust software application/application stack, while a software engineer can create complex programs.

Now, let’s find out in what situations, to choose which specialist. As this choice can improve or worsen the development process. We analyzed the differences between the two positions and came up with a list of tips on how to choose a perfect specialist for your project.

When to choose a full-stack developer:

  1. For managing clients, databases, servers, and system development together, hiring a full-stack developer is your best bet. Only full-stack developers can integrate all these modules.
  2. In addition, a full-stack developer creates prototypes according to the client’s requirements. The more experience a developer has, the better, as they can develop the best prototypes for new projects based on specific customer requirements.
  3. Once a prototype is completed by the client, the full-stack developer can start the development process. Then the project moves to the next stage, dividing it into modules and distributing those modules among team members. Full-stack developers can help other team members when an issue interrupts the development process and complete all tasks in a timely manner.
  4. The web application development process doesn’t end with the creation of perfect code. This code also needs to be tested in specific test cases, and if it passes all test cases perfectly, it’s ready to go and the project can be implemented. It’s the responsibility of the full-stack developer to create these test cases.

When to choose a software engineer:

  1. Hire a software engineer if you need someone versatile who is good at documentation, coding, math, and problem-solving. Also, new trends and technologies are emerging every day, so you need a software engineer to keep up with them.
  2. Software must be regularly updated to meet the requirements of the system architecture. A software engineer can help you through the complex process of developing a system with their knowledge and experience. The software engineer brings ideas to life. If you give them an idea or a problem statement, they will be able to come up with the perfect software solution. Clients usually require such a decision to be communicated to them in advance, and once they have given their consent, work on the implementation process can begin.
  3. The job of a software engineer doesn’t end here. The software engineer must make sure that the newly formed system works flawlessly in all situations. For this purpose, the software engineer must create various test cases. If the system works perfectly, you’re good to go. But if the system fails miserably in the test cases, you need to go through the code again. The project should only be released when it successfully passes all test cases.
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Interview questions to ask a full-stack developer

Describe some of the projects you have been working on. How did you choose the tools and technologies you would use?

This is for experienced candidates. Pay attention to the process the candidate used and why he/she chose languages, tools, and technologies. 

How do you keep up with new trends in the industry?

This is a basic question that will help you understand a candidate’s involvement in technology. A good candidate is likely to discuss social gatherings as well as webinars and forums they attend regularly.

What’s the most recent thing you have learned?

This question is used to verify the information provided by the candidate in the last question. It is important for a full-stack developer to keep abreast of the latest developments in the industry and be aware of what is happening. If a candidate has not learned anything in the last six months, that is a bad sign.

What is CORS?

CORS, short for Cross-Origin Resource Sharing, is a process used to obtain permissions for different web resources in different domains. With CORS, you can more freely integrate web scripts with external content of the origin domain.

What is multithreading?

The process of improving processor performance is known as multithreading. This is usually seen as the ability of a program to be controlled by multiple users at the same time, which is done by executing several processes supported by the operating system.

What is continuous integration?

Continuous integration is the process of implementing code specifically designed and automated for testing purposes. During production, this helps developers apply code easily. Web developers prefer integrating code many times a day. Continuous integration helps you quickly identify bugs and makes them easier to find.

Interview questions to ask a software engineer

What programming languages do you prefer?

This gives the candidate a chance to talk about the programming languages they use and what they like or dislike about certain aspects of each. Do they like object-oriented languages or perhaps more functional ones?

How is an array different from a stack?

An array does not have a fixed structure for adding or retrieving data, but a stack has a strict LIFO (last in, first out) approach. Questions like these test the candidate’s understanding of the nuances of data structures and their ability to remember them.

What web technologies are you interested in and why do you think they will win/survive in the next decade?

This question attempts to assess the candidate’s passion for web development and new technologies, as well as their strategic vision for the future of web development.

What are functional and non-functional requirements?

Functional requirements are the functionality users expect from the software product. Non-functional requirements are related to security, performance, appearance, and user interface behavior.

Final thoughts

As you can see from this article, the difference between a full-stack developer and a software engineer is quite big. We hope that now that you know enough information on this topic you’ll have an easy time choosing the right person for your project. Define a skill set you need for your project,  make a list of requirements for the job position, and prepare questions for the interview. Now, you are ready to find a great specialist for your web application development project.

Our company has tons of experience in the process of developing web applications and hiring the right candidates for our clients’ projects. If you have any questions regarding this topic and want to find out more about who to choose for your project, contact Mobindustry for a free consultation.

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