I've realized that one thing I really enjoy about writing is that I can do it all myself. Idea, draft, edit, design, publish. But when I build software products, I have to rely on a trusted partner. I've contributed a few lines of code, but I'm squarely the "non-technical" founder.
Usually people tell you this isn't a good mentality to have — the desire to be self-sufficient, nor to actually do everything yourself. But I kind of disagree. I think it's good to be able to do everything yourself (even if you don't always end up running at things solo).
Whether it's writing, building products, or something else — I think it's good to be full-stack at something.
What does it mean to be full-stack?
The "full-stack" label is usually an engineering description. Being a full-stack engineer is like being a "technical" renaissance man. The solo founders just hacking away at project after project — usually full-stack developers. The coveted first eng hire for a startup without stellar technical chops — often a full-stack dev.
With the creator economy maturing, I’ve also heard the phrase “full-stack creator.” It usually describes an online content creator that can do it all themself. The actual tasks, e.g. scripting, speaking, film, editing videos, designing, coding (or no-code). And the overarching domains of audience building and marketing.
I haven’t heard the phrase "full-stack" used in many other fields, but I think it exists in every single domain.
What does it mean to be a full-stack designer? A full-stack marketer? A full-stack founder? A full-stack investor? A full-stack writer? A full-stack performer (maybe the closest to this is the “triple threat”)? What does it mean to be skilled, or at least have a working knowledge of something, in totality — from end-to-end?
What's the benefit of being full-stack?
There are a number of reasons being “full-stack” is good for you.
You’re better equipped to be a founder.
If you’re a technical founder, you can build and ship an MVP fast. Usually we think that “technical” founders (esp. full-stack devs) have an edge over “non-technical founders.” This is true when it comes to getting a software product out, but plenty still fail if they can’t figure out growth or partner with someone who can.
You’re better equipped to be an employee.
You don’t depend on other employees / hires to be a “complete package.” This is very helpful for an early-hire at a startup (e.g. an early engineering hire specialized in front-end but who can be full-stack). It’s also helpful for leadership hires, at times the first person in a function (e.g. senior data science or marketing hire).
You’re better equipped to be creative.
When you understand the entire “system” of something (it's full stack), you can understand the issues and gaps much easier. You can come up with creative solutions, communicate, get buy-in from other stakeholders to change things for the better. Hence being full-stack at something is a massive win for founders, future founders, and employees alike.
You're confident (and people are confident in you).
When you get the bigger picture, and you could even paint it, you're just more confident. You know what you know, and you know what you don't know. It's also an inconvenient truth that people who are full-stack at something are also taken more seriously when engaging with specialized colleagues (e.g. a "technical" PM).
How do you define full-stack [you]?
It’s no surprise that “full-stack” is most well-defined in a field like engineering. The challenge in other fields that are more abstract, creative, or change rapidly is defining it. Regardless, if you're building any skill, you can start to notice the edges of adjacent skills that would be nice to know — explore those edges.
Figure out how to be full-stack at something. The biggest benefit is the unique sense of freedom and flow that comes with only depending on yourself. Being full-stack at something gives you a greater sense of agency that any single specialization can. And sure, this post is about the professional applications, but being "full-stack" can just as well be a broader life philosophy.)
One thing to consider — the more specialized every field gets, the harder it seems to be all-knowing. But, being full-stack is more about awareness and understanding of the whole pie, not always the intricacies of how to make it. Interestingly, with the acceleration of generative AI, it should become easier to upskill, whether directly or by using new tools as extensions of us.
Usually the people best positioned to define "full-stack" are the people in a field that are both experienced and “new” to the field (i.e. not the traditionalists). If this is you, you would be doing a great service by helping define what it means to be “full-stack” in your field — and being kind enough to share it publicly.
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