How Long Does it Take to Become a Full Stack Developer?
That’s it, you’ve decided. You’re done playing around with “what-if”s and “someday”s. You’re finally going to launch your career as a full stack developer.
But, you wonder as you stare down your calendar, when should you schedule your take-off date? How long does it take to become a full stack developer, exactly? The answer is tricky, and it can depend on your specific schedule and needs.
In this guide, we’ll help you figure out where you stand and outline a few potential academic paths that might suit your current needs and future goals. We’ve included information on:
- considerations for experience level and availability
- common learning timelines
- ways to speed up the process
- average time spent on the job search
Where Are You Starting From? (A Few Considerations)
One of the most important things you can do to determine a realistic timeframe is to categorize yourself based on your experience and availability. By fitting yourself into these categories, you can create a reasonable timeline that will allow you to become a full stack developer without sacrificing other aspects of your personal and professional life. These labels will help guide you through the rest of this article and provide a more tailored sense of how long it will take to become a full stack developer.
First, What’s Your Experience Level?
The time and effort required to become a full stack developer will depend on your starting point. If you’ve never worked in development before, you will face a different set of challenges — and perhaps a different timeline — from those faced by coding hobbyists or industry professionals. Previous educational and professional experiences will influence your timetable.
On the flip side, having a more advanced technical background can be helpful in easing your transition into full stack development. If you are already familiar with programming basics or have coded simple projects, you aren’t starting with a blank slate; your road to becoming a full stack developer may be speedier than the one a total beginner walks.
Take a few moments to parse through your experience and education to determine where you fall on the beginner-to-expert spectrum.
- Beginner (No Experience) — A beginner has little to no experience in coding and development. You use websites and web applications, but you don’t know how to build them. You may have an aptitude for technical work, but you haven’t yet explored the extent of your capabilities.
- Enthusiast (Some Experience) — An enthusiast is a hobbyist or amateur who has done some coding, built some websites, worked with HTML, CSS or PHP or otherwise explored the field. You don’t work professionally as a coder, but you’re somewhat familiar with the thinking and structures involved.
- Professional (Extensive Experience) — You are already a front end or a back end developer, and you’ve worked professionally in the field. You need to learn the other side of the discipline or revise and upgrade your skills to become competitive in the full stack job market.
What’s Your Availability Look Like?
How long does it take to become a full stack developer? The answer is complicated, and much depends on your availability.
Let’s walk through a few factors that you’ll need to take into account as you plan your education and career pivot:
- Do you already have a full-time job, school obligations or significant family responsibilities (ex., being a stay-at-home parent to kids below school age)?
- Do you think you could study full-time, or would you need a part-time schedule?
- Do you have personal deadlines for making a career transition — for instance, do you want to become a full stack developer before you have kids, purchase a home or reach a certain age?
Don’t forget to think about your existing work-life balance. Does it allow you to engage in intensive study, or do you need a slower path? Either road can lead to success, but you need to choose the schedule that works for you.
- Part-Time — This is for someone who can engage in part-time study. You might already have a full-time job or extensive family responsibilities, but you still have time each week to dedicate to your education in full stack development. The duration for most part-time programs is 6 months to 1 year.
- Full-Time — This is for someone prepared to go full-time into an intensive study of full stack development. You are planning to dedicate your days to this project, and while you may have a part-time job or some family obligations, schooling will be a major focus for you. Many full-time programs are 3 months long.
Common Learning Timelines
Full stack developers need to have robust knowledge of both front end and back end development to make it in the field. After all, that comprehensive knowledge is what makes them marketable as full stack professionals.
From the earliest days of the internet through the dawn of the web in the 1990s, one person usually coded an entire project. As tech advanced and the work intensified and diversified, however, many developers began to split, dividing themselves into front end and back end camps.
Today, relatively few people have the skills to build a project from the ground up — and those that do are well and truly in demand. In LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report (PDF, 11.2 MB), full stack engineer was listed as the #4 emerging top job for 2020. Listings for full stack development roles have increased by 35 percent every year since 2015.
A full stack developer can design complete web applications and websites, working on both the front end (the side seen by visitors and clients) and the back end (the server-side portion) of the site or app. They think about and handle user interactions, data processing, APIs, layout and presentation and site structuring and security. In short, they can create a web project from start to finish.
There’s a ton that aspiring full stack developers have to learn, but don’t worry — with the right educational program, you could be taking on a full stack workload in a matter of months. Let’s lay out a few academic paths.
1. Learning in 3 Months
So, how long does it take to become a full stack developer? Three months is generally the minimum amount of time required, and this timeline tends to be best suited to highly-motivated learners. These learners already have some level of professional skill in coding and development and are willing to take on a full-time schedule.
Take note that the pressure of a full-time program tends to be intense; if you want to enter the job pool within three months, you need to be willing to commit to the challenge wholeheartedly.
If you are on an accelerated path to your full stack development career, boot camps tend to be a promising option. Coding boot camps are designed to prepare students for employment as quickly as possible, and so tend to offer intensive training in practical, in-demand skills. While boot camp schedules vary, most full-time programs run their course within four months.
In 2019, over 23,000 students graduated from coding boot camps. Researchers for CourseReport note that nearly eight in 10 of those surveyed say that they are employed in a position that demands the skills they learned in boot camp.
Employers are equally enthusiastic about boot camp grads. According to a 2017 Indeed study, 72 percent of employers see boot camp grads as equally prepared to be high performers as conventional degree holders, while twelve percent believe that boot camp graduates are “more prepared and more likely to be high performers.”
A full 80 percent of surveyed employers hired boot camp students after graduation, and almost all (99.8 percent) said that they would employ a boot camp grad again.
Given all of this, it isn’t surprising that the coding boot camp market grew 49 percent between 2018 and 2019. Regardless of your previous experience or prior education, boot camps can provide marketable skills and employability. Enrolling in a boot camp is worth serious consideration — especially given that most boot camps offer part-time, full-time, in-person and online options suitable to a variety of learner schedules.
Your best bet as a beginner will be to choose a boot camp specifically designed to train full stack developers. If you want to start applying for industry jobs within three months, you should enroll in a full-time program.
It is worth noting that this choice comes with caveats. If you’re looking to take on a full stack developer role at your current company, then you’ll want to see if your employer will be flexible in granting you leave to complete a full-time program.
If you’re making a career pivot or don’t have a supportive employer, you will need to seriously contemplate the possibility that you will have to extend your timeline to accommodate a part-time educational schedule or have the ability to leave your job for three months to make your dream happen.
Either option is doable — but both require careful planning and preparation. Below, we’ve included a few resources that can help you plan for your enrollment.
- How to make the most of a tech boot camp (CIO Magazine) — This article provides context on what learners can expect from a coding boot camp and outlines the benefits of attending one.
- Want to keep your job while doing the boot camp? Here’s why you most likely shouldn’t… and how to do it right if you really have to (Le Wagon) — A measured retrospective that addresses the pros and cons of working while attending a boot camp and provides actionable advice on how to balance learning and professional responsibilities.
- Learn to Code Now: How to Pick the Right Dev Boot Camp for You (The Muse) — A brief article that examines the factors a hopeful boot camper should consider when mulling over their program options.
If you already have some coding skills, a full stack development boot camp with an intense, escalated schedule may be the right choice for you. If you are already familiar with some of the skills covered in the curriculum, you can dedicate more time to building independent projects, networking or carrying on your job search.
The three-month timeline of a full-time boot camp may be most comfortable for people who already have professional programming skills and work in either front end or back end development. You may still find a full stack boot camp useful, but you might also find that you are frustrated going over material you already know. Instead, you might opt for a boot camp in front end or back end development to focus your education on whichever discipline you have less experience with.
During this period, you may also choose to complement your boot camp experience with full stack projects that allow you to apply your new skills alongside your existing ones.
2. Learning in 6 Months
If you want to make a fast career change but have a little more wiggle room on your education timetable, a six-month timeline might be your best bet. This option is ideal for professionals who need a part-time study schedule while they work full-time, as well as those who want to take a more self-led approach towards learning about full stack development.
A six-month schedule offers learners plenty of time to complete a coding boot camp (either in-person or online) or to wade through with self-guided courses and tutorials. The courses you choose will depend heavily on your preferred price point, availability and learning preferences.
While free programs tend to be appealing because they offer convenient learning at no monetary cost, they shouldn’t be an aspiring full stack developer’s go-to choice. Appealingly low price points often come at the expense of low support and quality while paid options tend to offer more structure, access to resources and guidance.
This isn’t to say that excellent free courses don’t exist — but when choosing an online program, read reviews and consider how much structure and support you need before making your selection.
Choose a part-time boot camp, which you can supplement with tutorials and a variety of self-led online resources. As a newcomer to coding, you will benefit from having access to the more intensive support and structure provided by boot camps that will prepare you for a career in an entirely new field.
A part-time boot camp can be an excellent option for coding enthusiasts. If you already tend towards self-motivated or self-directed learning, you may find that you prefer online courses.
Enthusiasts are often well-suited to more independent educational avenues, as they already have some familiarity with the subject matter and can decide their own path with the material. You can use some extra time to investigate online tutorials or launch independent projects to build a portfolio.
A part-time boot camp can be an excellent option for professionals looking to quickly upskill and change careers. However, because you already know which skills you need to focus on, you could also choose a self-guided online program or take tutorials that can fill any knowledge gaps that you might have.
To impress professional employers, supplement your boot camp or online education program with independent projects that showcase your readiness for a full stack development role.
3. Learning in 1 Year
This timeline is a good option for people who cannot take time off from work or have a lot of family responsibilities. It can also be the ideal timeline for people who want to pursue an entirely self-directed or project-based education. You can supplement your theoretical knowledge with books, many of which offer at-your-own-pace options for independent projects. Some excellent titles include:
- Learning Node.js Development by Andrew Mead
- Hands-On Full-Stack Web Development with GraphQL and React by Sebastian Grebe
As mentioned earlier, three or six months is enough time for beginners to take hands-on courses or boot camps. However, a yearlong timetable can give aspiring full stack developers the bandwidth to supplement their education through other avenues.
You can prepare for a boot camp by taking free online courses, reading and following tutorials. Doing so can boost your skills to an “enthusiast” level before you start your formal boot camp program, thereby preparing you to gain marketable skills more easily and quickly.
Wondering where to get started? We’ve got you covered.
- Introduction to Programming (freecodecamp) — This two-hour video course provides a basic overview of programming concepts and is meant for people who are interested in computer science and programming but have little background information on coding.
- The Basics of Code (Khan Academy) — This comprehensive collection of tutorials walks you through the essentials of front end programming, from writing basic functions to animating web pages.
- Mozilla Tutorials (Mozilla Developer Network) — While it’s not a course per se, MDN’s guides provide comprehensive written tutorials that can walk developers of all experience levels through a wide variety of languages and programs. These guides are organized into four broad sections that target amateurs, beginners, intermediate programmers and experts, respectively.
Like true beginners, mid-level enthusiasts can also benefit from reading, taking online courses and completing tutorials. Your existing skills can help you with self-directed education. If you still feel you need more structure for a complete career change, enroll in a boot camp or online course to supplement your self-directed learning.
No professional’s education is ever truly complete. If you have a background in coding and are looking to make the transition to full stack developer in a year’s time, you can brush up on your skills at your own pace and take a self-directed approach.
Reading, online course, and tutorials are of benefit to industry professionals who want to expand their knowledge base and tackle new challenges. However, you’ll want to spend most of your year-long training period creating projects and expanding your portfolio. Employers will be able to see your full stack knowledge from your projects, even if you’ve never officially worked as a full stack developer.
Ways to Speed Up the Process
There are several great ways to make the transition move even more quickly:
Build your own projects
Project-based learning has shown better outcomes for retention, engagement and enjoyment, especially for adult learners looking to make a career change.
As Kate Kazin, Chief Academic Officer at College for America once shared in an article on the matter, “Working adults really need to know why they’re doing things. They’ll reject any learning they perceive as a waste of time. They don’t want to muck around on material that is very abstract. It’s more meaningful to them if they can see the relevance of what they’re learning.”
Taking on projects will help you secure the skills you’ve gained from books, boot camps or other courses within your repertoire. You can’t succeed with theory alone; it’s crucial to put your knowledge into practice.
- How to Come up with Coding Project Ideas — Learn to Code With Me Podcast
- 10 Programming Projects to Boost Your Resume — PurelyFunctional.tv
- The 10 Best Beginner Projects for New Programmers — Make Use Of
- How I Secured An Internship With One Amazing Side Project — CodeBurst.io
In the tech field, business networking can pose an excellent opportunity to collaborate on projects, find out about exciting jobs and move your career forward. It may even help you transition smoothly into a new role or find a job in your preferred field.
You never know; a connection you make at a conference or industry event could be the difference between you fumbling an interview for your dream job and landing it with flying colors. Don’t underestimate the power of networking.
- 10 Secrets To Networking Success For Developers — Forbes
- How Going to Coding Events Helped Me Get an Awesome Job — freecodecamp
- 10 Professional Development Tips for Programmers — NetworkWorld
For full stack developers, volunteering on open-source projects can be a great way to develop your portfolio. Because your code is subject to public scrutiny, volunteering lets you network with fellow developers and show off your abilities to prospective employers.
- How to Use Your Programming Skills for Social Impact — Idealist
- Volunteering Can Buy You IT Experience — Monster
- Volunteer Sign-Ups and Opportunities — DonateCode.com
Average Time Spent on the Job Search
You technically aren’t a full stack developer until you accept an offer letter. But how long will that take? The time spent searching for a job hinges on many factors, including your local area and your professional background.
Tech-heavy cities like San Francisco offer far more opportunities but also feature a high level of competitiveness. On the flip side, job pickings are slimmer in less tech-heavy hubs — say Salt Lake City, for example — but those that exist tend to attract fewer local applicants with the right skills and training.
According to researchers for Course Report, most boot camp graduates spend one to six months finding a new job. This statistic includes plenty of beginners, as most boot camp graduates have never worked as programmers before.
A career in full stack development offers fantastic opportunities for growth, development and job satisfaction. By looking into your educational options, you can develop a plan to make the career change you’ve been dreaming of. If you push yourself and focus on an intensive program, you can complete your education and work as a full stack developer in a year or less.