My Journey to Becoming a Full Stack Developer

by Steven McLintock

Do you remember the early 2000’s when there was no Facebook, YouTube or iPhone? The technology landscape was very different at the time.

I was a teenager and the internet was a big part of my life. Napster, iPods and most of all, building websites. I couldn’t get enough of it. I would spend hours in my bedroom, using a 56K dial-up modem to connect to the world-wide-web and learn programming languages to make a website of my favorite band, TV show or PlayStation game.

Cartoon of a nerdy teenager at a PC
Cartoon by Ollie Randall

Without a blogging platform like WordPress to install, or popular front-end frameworks like jQuery or Bootstrap, it was every man or woman for themselves. HTML, CSS and JavaScript were the languages of the day and without communities like StackOverflow, it could be difficult for a developer.

You’re Hired!

Fast forward to a few years later and I was studying for my final exams at Glasgow Caledonian University. I’d somehow made it through an undergraduate degree in Internet Software Development and was preparing for the real world.

It’s not easy to secure that elusive first job when you have no experience in a professional capacity. Why would an employer hire you if there’s another candidate with more experience? At least, that’s what I thought at the time. But I had passion and lots of it, and I was about to find out that passion can go a long way.

With all the job applications I had submitted, I included a cover letter with screenshots of the websites I’d built over the years, in my bedroom with that 56K dial-up modem. I thought it would take forever to get a reply, but in no time at all, I got invited for an interview!

A local non-profit organization had replied and I was on my way to my first job interview. Suited and booted, I was nervous. I definitely had a lot still to learn. What I didn’t realize at the time is you’ll always be learning something new as a software developer. What you learn today won’t necessarily be around tomorrow. Adobe Flash, anyone?

Cartoon of nerd in his early twenties at his first job interview
Cartoon by Ollie Randall

I can only speculate why they hired me. Was it my eagerness to keep learning? Was it my interest in their organization? Whatever the reason, I got the job!

Pick Your Poison

I was definitely not a “full stack developer” on day one, or year one, two or three. At least I didn’t call myself one for a long time. For one thing, the term “full stack developer” wasn’t popular at the time. But as JavaScript libraries (jQuery) and frameworks (Angular, React) became common place in the industry, and CSS libraries (Bootstrap, Foundation) replaced writing your stylesheets by hand, there became demand to be capable in both the front-end and back-end of an application.

Whoa, you mentioned “back-end” I hear you say? Absolutely! If we’re talking about full stack development, we have to discuss the back-end. I was using PHP in the beginning, as all the “hip” companies at the time (Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress) were all adopting PHP as their language of choice, and Microsoft wasn’t exactly the company it is today.

I feel like back-end development falls into two different categories, or at least it did back then. There was the Microsoft category, and the “everything else” category. I was an unabashed Apple fanboy at the time (cut me some slack, this was the era of peak Steve Jobs and the release of the iPhone), so I saw myself in the “everything else” category at the time. I much preferred using my MacBook Pro at home for working on open-source projects. However, at work I was being encouraged to pursue Microsoft and I wasn’t quite sure what to do.

As Microsoft changed their leadership and became a heavyweight in cloud computing, in addition to the enhancements to .NET and their front-end languages (Razor, Blazor, TypeScript), the .NET stack gradually became my preference as I got older. These days I’m a Windows user and a Microsoft enthusiast, but with .NET Core and Visual Studio for Mac being released, not to mention Visual Studio Code, we could all easily use a Mac or a PC, using the language or framework that made the most sense for the current project we’re working on.

Twenty years ago I was eager to learn it all, and today I feel like not much has changed. I still want to learn all the new front-end and back-end languages and frameworks that are released on an almost yearly basis, and that is what will always keep it interesting for me.

Cartoon of young man in his mid-twenties working as a full stack developer
Cartoon by Ollie Randall

I would like to thank Ollie Randall of Randall Writing for the cartoons in this article.

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Steven McLintock

Kilt & Code is a blog written by Steven McLintock, a full-stack developer originally from Scotland, now living in Stratford, Ontario. Steven primarily uses Microsoft's .NET framework in addition to Angular and has been working as a developer since 2006.