You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about the term “Full Stack Engineer”. You may even hear that everyone’s looking for one, so you probably want to be one to help your career. A Full Stack Engineer (hereafter FSE) is someone who doesn’t just know their one area deeply, but knows a bit about the rest of the stack. That depth of knowledge varies from very shallow to deep expertise, with the idea that the FSE knows how the different levels of the stack work together so they can make decisions that benefit the entire stack, rather than a local optimization that may harm the rest of the stack. You don’t want someone making an application decision that blows up the storage stack, or vice versa, so this kind of wide knowledge rather than deep knowledge is definitely helpful.
There’s a huge challenge to becoming an FSE, one of which is the sheer amount of layers in the stack to learn about these days. There’s so much to learn that it’s not actually feasible that any one person can learn all those layers deeply enough to really know the full stack. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking the journey toward Full Stack Engineer, but I think there’s another worthwhile goal out there:
Full stack engineer? Maybe. I’d rather aim for full stack human first. There’s more to being than your work, even if it’s awesome.
— Rob Nelson (@rnelson0) January 8, 2016
There’s always tomorrow for existential dread that you don’t know enough and can’t do something.
— Rob Nelson (@rnelson0) January 8, 2016
A quipped about a “Full Stack Human,” a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek response to the overuse of the FSE term, but there’s some seriousness behind it. What it really means is that you should try and be a well-rounded person. In a sentence: Be more than a job.
A job is (hopefully) only 40 hours out of each 144 hour week and 2000 hours out of 8766 hours a year, less than 25% of what you do in a year. Sleeping should take up about 30% more – and it really should, we have to work very hard to not have a perpetual sleep deficit. Many of us will spend some of that remaining time trying to advance our work and careers, which is perfectly fine. This still leaves a lot of time, time in which we can find some hobbies and activities to enjoy so we’re more than just a working machine.
For exercise, I really like playing flag football. There’s a very diverse assortment of players out there and it’s far more entertaining than a treadmill or machine. When I feel creative, I enjoy woodworking. It requires deliberation, planning, and care in ways that my day job doesn’t – well, since I like having all of my fingers, anyway. I really like my sci-fi and fantasy novels, but I also make sure I fit some classics like War & Peace in between them. My wife and I don’t do anything truly adventurous, but we have been fortunate to visit a number of countries and enjoy their different cultures.
These activities gives you depth and adds dimensions to your character. (I realize I’m starting to sound like your parents did when you were filling out college applications, but bear with me a bit longer!) You meet other people and cultures and gain new viewpoints in which to perceive life. For example, in a decade of flag football, I’ve learned so many different ways to inspire teammates – and which ones don’t work! – and how to calm people down so they don’t lose the game.
I’d never get those experiences just by focusing on working my way up the stack at work, and those experiences help me out just as much at work. We talk a lot about encouraging diversity in tech, and in my opinion, it has to start in your personal life. A well-rounded person, a Full Stack Human, has those diverse experiences and can bring that diversity back into tech.
Your hobbies also give you a healthy escape from work. You aren’t just the project you released last week, and you shouldn’t kill yourself over work (figuratively or literally!). Identification and burnout can be a significant problem for everyone. If you don’t think so, you either aren’t there yet, or you’re there and you don’t know it! When you get too wrapped up in work – the deadlines are pressing down on you, politics got heated, you missed a family event because you were working late and didn’t even realize it – you need a safety valve to relieve that pressure and your personal time should help with that. PSA: If you’re struggling with burnout, please reach out to someone. We’re here to help!
Be a Full Stack Human. I guarantee it will be rewarding on its own, and it’s a huge step up on becoming a Full Stack Engineer!