The web development industry is represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the website designers, who abstract and arrange; and the website developers, who test and implement. These are their stories. Dun -- Dun.
Law and Order quotes aside, if there were any criminally inaccurate representations in the aforementioned statement, it wouldn’t be the overly generic verbs I’ve spent way too much time scrounging around to find - It would be the fallacy that website Design and Development are two neatly separated groups. I believe it’s instead a range of disciplines. A range which needs to be re-evaluated over time due to the changing nature of the web. Unfortunately, every team is different, and there is no be-all-end-all solution to finding the best workflows and processes. I believe the key to finding the right direction of improvement for you or your team is to focus on empathy amongst team members, as it directly leads to stronger platforms for discussion and collaboration. Ensuring an easy process for improving workflows and processes and allowing their maintenance in order to remain on the bleeding edge of the industry.
The way I see it, the web, and it’s range of disciplines is best visualised the same way as the spectrum of visible light. Where we use a spectrum to illustrate the range of items, in the case of light, which can be emitted at various frequencies within the visible spectrum of light. It’s important to highlight that from this, we do not draw the assumption that light may only exist if within this spectrum - just because it has a start and an end point. Too many draw this kind of assumption with the web’s spectrum of disciplines. That it’s all about the Front end to the Back end, or Design to Development. These beliefs are restrictive to the growth potential of the industry if left to pervade the community.
We need to cast a better light on the different methods which interplay between disciplines can occur, particularly at each extreme in the spectrum, and imbue that knowledge into their workflows and processes over time. This is why I disagree with the use of the term ‘Full Stack’. It’s an over-generalisation of a group disciplines, totally unhelpful to the cause of setting clear expectations and creating collaborative platforms with empathy.
In the period between 1400 to about 1600, people used the word ‘renaissance man’ as early equivalent to a ‘Jack of all trades’. However, there is an interesting distinction which can be drawn between the two. Which is the fact that ‘Jack of all trades’ has come to mean ‘master of none’. Whereas the idea behind Renaissance men was that they were masters of multiple disciplines. Not Generalists. For the purposes of this article, our mastery of a discipline can be thought of as effectively the same thing as specialisation - unless you think we should all be held to the standard of Da Vinci. Didn’t think so.
The existence of a generalised role leads directly to less clarity, particularly when multiple team members adopt the same generalised job title, but consistently perform different roles amongst themselves. At the end of the day, you can call yourself what you like. Job titles are what you make of them. But I can’t help but feel that job titles should be utilised more to the purpose of illustrating a role via the range of the skill sets someone possesses and in most cases, the field of specialisation they’re interested in focussing from.
Developing workflows and processes based on analysis of a team’s spectrum of skills will often create a more accurate understanding of processes holistically, as well as individually how each discipline can be utilised. This understanding empowers a team to make smarter decisions like deciding on new methodologies, new deliverable formats, and reordering the steps taken throughout a process. Being at the bleeding edge might sound like it hurts, but it’s actually the most fun place to be. It means you have the opportunity to take part in the discovery and creation of emerging standards, a potential that isn’t afforded to teams unable to self-critique and re-evaluate processes.
For any of this to be achievable a team first needs to facilitate honest and detailed communication from within. They will have to invest time to allow free thinking and discussion to take place without rushing ‘easy’ generalisations of the past back into the equation. Over-generalisation is public enemy number one in communication-town. By its very essence, generalisations convey less meaning than what once was conveyed.
This issue is exacerbated due to the trend where job titles will err on the side of generalisation, with the express purpose to ‘sell’ the employee, rather than to accurately communicate the employee’s strengths, weaknesses, and specialisation. While the former scenario is true, it is difficult to make educated assessments of an individual’s skillset at a glance. Because of this, I’m strongly of the opinion that a role/discipline’s baseline expectations and KPIs should always be set out explicitly in documentation - not assumed as achievable for any ‘Full Stack’ team member - because that is not going to convey the same meaning universally.
Image Source: http://daemon.co.za/2014/04/what-does-full-stack-mean/
When folks were generalising Leonardo da Vinci as a renaissance man, what they meant closely resembled the spirit of today’s title, the ‘Unicorn’ - as a compliment to remember him by. These Unicorns are supposed to be the rare few who are positioned in the spectrum so as to have access to multiple disciplines at a specialist's level. I feel this is aptly named today, as the existence of Unicorns is rare and uncertain at best, because they are gifted, memorable people, like Da Vinci who can achieve mastery of many disciplines, as opposed to a Generalist’s mastery of none.