The Full Stack Employee
April 18, 2015 7:20 AM   Subscribe

Full stack employees have an insatiable appetite for new ideas, best practices, and ways to be more productive and happy. They’re curious about the world, what makes it work, and how to make their mark on it. It’s this aspect above others that defines and separates the full stack employee from previous generations. Full stack employees can’t put blinders on once they land a job; instead they must stay up on developments in their industry and others, because they know that innovation is found at the boundaries between disciplines, not by narrowly focusing in one sphere.
Is the Full Stack Employee the future of workers, the glorification of privileged generalists or maybe just another expression of anxiety in the New Economy (tm)?
posted by dame (74 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just another attempt to put a happy face on the unpleasant reality of job insecurity and increasing demands on those lucky enough to have work and passing on of responsibility for this from employers to employees.

It is no longer enough that you your job, you have to be passionate about it and be glad to "invest" more in it, preferably on your own dime.

Not a new development and of course it's some ex-Google cock who's propagandising this.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:24 AM on April 18, 2015 [133 favorites]


It sounds like someone who trains as an engineer, get his hands dirty for a few years, and goes off for an MBA before coming back into a leadership or planning role. Or, the default management career path of basically every technical company for the past 60 years.
posted by MattD at 7:24 AM on April 18, 2015 [13 favorites]


In an hilariously sad coincidence I *just* clicked on a job advert which is one of these "all things to all people" jobs.

Job A, with experience in tangentally related field B (Photoshop skillz a MUST), and experience in intranet design too...

And all for a three-month contract.
posted by Mezentian at 7:37 AM on April 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


One real problem with employees today is that we've forgotten what to do to rate-busters who ruin it for everyone by pointlessly overproducing for the bosses.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:40 AM on April 18, 2015 [45 favorites]


Yeah, sounds like "how to avoid having to hire new people by dropping responsibilities on someone who isn't quick enough to dodge them."
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:42 AM on April 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Full Stack Employee, where, "full stack" is still a small spectrum of skillz. You're not engineering a bridge, marketing some useless consumer item, and delivering my pizza by bike, right?

It's a silly borrowing of a term from web applications, where you're still locked into one thing: working on software. Specialization can be as specialized as you'd like, but I'm not sure if "full stack" is really the opposite of that". It DOES sound like you're just working two jobs, for the paycheck of one.
posted by alex_skazat at 7:42 AM on April 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


You're suggesting we kneecap them?
posted by leotrotsky at 7:42 AM on April 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't know about how it works in tech, but generalization is a pretty bad idea in the sciences. I tried to go that path myself for a while, until I discovered that generalists don't know enough about any one thing to do anything.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:44 AM on April 18, 2015 [13 favorites]


Reminds me of the marketing blather that forms the beginning of Kevin Gilbert's Certifiable #1 Smash.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:47 AM on April 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, I'd suggest full stacking scales *terribly* once you're big enough that you can actually hire specialists. Those poor bastards are now going to be constantly pestered by over-enthusiastic dilettantes with 'great' ideas.

Imagine a company full of Marissa Mayers having 'fun' every weekend, with logos and everything else. It'd be a complete train wreck.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:50 AM on April 18, 2015 [29 favorites]


Stockholm syndrome has never been so buzzword filled!
posted by Ferreous at 7:52 AM on April 18, 2015 [41 favorites]


I am proudly, grimly keeping my stack as small as I can while I try to tunnel my way out of the even remotely tech-related job world.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 8:02 AM on April 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's as if the most ambitious, flexible, self driven individuals can be expected to become successful at what they do. It's shocking. Just shocking.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:02 AM on April 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


My favorite is the x10 employee, who does ten times as much as their coworkers, probably by being such an obnoxious "rockstar" that they slow everyone down by a factor of ten.
posted by Artw at 8:03 AM on April 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Hmm.

If management theory could be compared to biological warfare, then It seems to me that a "holocracy" comprised of "full stack employees" would be its version of weaponized ebola.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:03 AM on April 18, 2015 [12 favorites]


barf...
posted by brainimplant at 8:09 AM on April 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


> I discovered that generalists don't know enough about any one thing to do anything.

Pshaw, I'm a counter-example here and I can't be the only one.

But I still hate the full-stack employee idea. I don't see any advantage at all to the employee - it sounds like a huge number of context switches, and context switches are extremely expensive to you, the worker. Work conditions that achieve flow are both more fun for the worker and more productive - and switching between skill sets is a great way NOT to achieve flow.

As everyone points out, the only advantage is to the employer and even then it's short-sighted and will increase burnout.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:11 AM on April 18, 2015 [24 favorites]


Another attempt by the failure/parasite side of the management/bureaucracy pool to tell the rest of us that they aren't the ones failing to properly allocate resources, assign training, and plan to meet the objectives set by their boss or by the nebulous "needs of the company/industry" in anticipation of all that could go wrong in the company's future possibility cone.

As usual, its our fault for not doing their job for them while we also do the jobs of our three colleagues who were let go.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:12 AM on April 18, 2015 [51 favorites]


I suppose I qualify? Within the games industry I've worked as (chronological order): intern tools programmer, QA, voiceover editor, art producer, technical designer, voiceover editor, systems designer, FX artist, currently core tech programmer, and I sideline in helping people setup source control/workflow for midsize teams. QA through systems designer was on AAA titles (Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite), so it wasn't like there was a shortage of specialists, and I don't know that I'm especially passionate compared to other game devs...

Honestly it was more I just kept getting bored and after finishing my tasks hung around the studio every night until 2am working on stuff that actually interested me, instead. Maybe other people would call that passion but for me it was always more a sense of going stir-crazy after doing the same thing for more than six months.

I will say that I think context switching is actually super essential to maintaining neuroplasticity and keeping your brain nimble enough to age gracefully in this industry, and that's something I actively pursue.
posted by Ryvar at 8:16 AM on April 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Hidden inside that “full-stack employee” manifesto is the idea that tech equals work and work equals life. Despite all the talk of learning and growing, the full-stack employee is primarily focused on conquering domains within the tech industry.
Indeed. I read the first article thinking, "None of those skills is required, except in a very tangential way, in my workplace. At all." And we're tied not only to email but also to the fax machine, though scanning and emailing is getting slightly more popular among the tech-savvy.
posted by jaguar at 8:16 AM on April 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Here is what happened to my full stack generalist knowledge in the last year.
posted by srboisvert at 8:24 AM on April 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


> I will say that I think context switching is actually super essential to maintaining neuroplasticity and keeping your brain nimble enough to age gracefully in this industry,

Context switching refers to the cost of having to switch from one task to a completely unrelated task (and, usually, back to the original task when done).

All the work I'm familiar with shows that frequent context switches are extremely expensive for the worker and increase stress and burnout. Here's a popular article, but there are lots of academic articles - the takeaway is that each context switch burns over 20 minutes of your time.

Now, variety in your work is useful in keeping your brain from petrifying, but the way to do it isn't with frequent context switches. Today I'm working on lasers, yesterday I was working on cryptocurrencies, but there hasn't really been a context switch in there.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:30 AM on April 18, 2015 [32 favorites]


More attempts to force training on overworked employees by giving them a special new identity if they sacrifice their free time and money to pursue training in areas that'll serve the masters. Fill those empty spaces, kids, we're a lean company now. Funny how executive pay is never made leaner, just the ranks of employees.

I had an employer that kept adding tons of technical skills unrelated to my job to my yearly employee goals. He wanted additional coders for the department and thought I should take classes in my free time to meet his skills gap. Mind you, my pay, job description and core duties wouldn't change (and were unrelated to the skills he wanted), but he could then deploy me to his pet coding projects without adding FTE. When I didn't meet those goals, I'd get a talking to by HR and management.

Fuck Full-Stack Employees! Be a Full-Stack Human and learn for the sake of learning and expanding your self. Keeping up on your industry, chasing the skills the owners want, and being a good do-bee putting in unpaid overtime won't let you keep your job or bring you any additional security. You're a commodity, a cog, and they'll replace you the minute they find someone who will work for less.
posted by Lighthammer at 8:32 AM on April 18, 2015 [38 favorites]


I don't have ANY tech skills at all, unlike most of my beloved MeFite brothers and sisters. I've been on Metafilter so long I have a four-letter lower-case password, the name of my old cat! I play CD's (and vinyl, but I've been playing "records," as we used to call them, for fifty years). And, I use email every day! (In the article--and I always RTFA--they italicize "Email is dead." Thanks, I get it, I'm old.)

Anyway, my point, not a new one (old people are chock full of old ideas) is who the fuck wants to work all of the time?!
posted by kozad at 8:33 AM on April 18, 2015 [34 favorites]


You're suggesting we kneecap them?
posted by leotrotsky


I thought you'd be a icepick man, myself.
posted by Mezentian at 8:34 AM on April 18, 2015 [18 favorites]


The article doesn't once mention whether a "full stack" employee should be greater compensated for bringing such a wide range of superior skills.

Compensted with, you know, cash. Not "style(s) of work that is suited for your team" or "flexible work hours, or support for alternative scheduling options" or "health and wellness" options.

This is what class warfare looks like.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:35 AM on April 18, 2015 [47 favorites]


Honestly it was more I just kept getting bored and after finishing my tasks hung around the studio every night until 2am working on stuff that actually interested me, instead. Maybe other people would call that passion but for me it was always more a sense of going stir-crazy after doing the same thing for more than six months.

See also.
posted by limeonaire at 8:36 AM on April 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


The article doesn't once mention whether a "full stack" employee should be greater compensated for bringing such a wide range of superior skills.

I think the 21C response is: Bro, do you even code?
posted by Mezentian at 8:37 AM on April 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


old people are chock full of old ideas

Such as, holy shit, I am actually going to die one day, and it would be kind of nice to not spend all the remaining time in a cubicle or conference room.
posted by thelonius at 8:39 AM on April 18, 2015 [40 favorites]


It's another shining role model that all good workers should (of course!) aspire to. Or else be right-sized. Brought to you by your local Chamber of Commerce.

See also: Cube dweller as "working-24/7 business warrior", working mother as "having-it-all-and-thriving-on-the-pressure superwoman", and the ever popular "middle-aged men enjoying low-paying, hard physical labor in slow-mo against a golden sunset".
posted by Thorzdad at 8:41 AM on April 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


The full stack employee really needs only one skill. Identify the most powerful man in the room and kiss his ass. (Be patient because there are people crowded up in front of you.) Charles Hugh Smith posted this on Washingtons Blog the other day. He has been on quite a streak there lately:

How Many Slots Are Open in the Upper Middle Class? Not As Many As You Might Think
posted by bukvich at 8:43 AM on April 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


> See also.

Yeah, the Leaning Out fpp from a little way down the hall is an interesting contrast. Anyone who hasn't seen it yet should go by and read the link and the comments (the author of the piece is now mefi's own).

I definitely got happier when I realized that I didn't need to rest my identity on what I did for money, and that that was a toxic expectation that opened me up to all kinds of potential exploitation.
posted by rtha at 8:46 AM on April 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


"flexible work hours, or support for alternative scheduling options"

Lots of people will take these over cash.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:00 AM on April 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm with Ryvar.

Also game industry. Figure 19-20 years. Game designer by trade, but I've always done full implementation in whatever language was around. Java, Javascript, C#, C++.

Was always focused on solving problems and broadening my skillset. Not because work demanded it, but because it keeps me fresh and excited. If things are easy or solved problems, I get bored and slow.

Recently I had the privilege of being a general manager/Executive producer. Typically these are roles that make work for other people. Because of the circumstances, I was able to build a team of senior development staff with the core ideal of "Everyone Implements".

My TD did the management stuff but also implemented. Director of production headed up environment art as well as all the outsource stuff. Lead level designer handled almost everything. I did GM stuff and creative direction as well as implementing core gameplay systems, UI frameworks, and a crapton of tooling in C++.

This wasn't because we were forced to. The team size was a fraction of a typical team because of the efficiency. Minimal meetings, minimal bullshit, and everyone jumped around trying to solve problems as they came up. Nobody stonewalled.

IT wasn't perfect. I had to fight to get people "paid for the work, not the title". Out cost per head was a little higher, but since the team size was a fraction, our burn rate was far far better.

We had no production per-se. Light touch scheduling, just timeboxed milestones.

I am a huge believer in this approach. It won't work for every industry. It won't work for a lot of game studios. You have to trust your people, and you have to pay them enough that money doesn't become the limiting factor. You cannot treat them like cogs. It is about the individual, and more importantly, the team.

The other downside is that now that i"m free-market (unemployed), I don't fit into an org chart. I could go get a gm/ep role, but I'd be bored. I could get a creative director role, but I don't want to be siloed. That's a waste of my skills.

Accordingly, I can't even get through the title pre-screen stuff at the big employers. Fortunately there are a bunch of startups that look for this type of skillset.

Production driven orgs like EA/Activision still grind employees, till miss dates, still spend hundreds of millions more than they need to. But they keep doing it. The production band tends to think that games only get built because of them.

Anyhoo. Full stack, T Shaped, whatever. It's important. Not because your worth is defined by a company, but because learning to do stuff is good for the individual. Not just development. Cooking, woodwork, professional driving, whatever.

Never get complacent and stop learning new stuff.
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:16 AM on April 18, 2015 [13 favorites]


This is just another wrapper term for talented arse-holes who are terrible to work with (keep getting fired) and have down time to retool.
posted by xtian at 9:23 AM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I couldn't even read more than a couple paragraphs of that when I first encountered it last week. Such drivel.
posted by hwestiii at 9:43 AM on April 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


At first I thought I was probably a quarter or maybe a half-stack employee. But then I realized: I actually do have pshop skillz. Also, I'm the only one who seems to be able to fix the color copier (My trick? unplug it, then plug it back in!) I also fix all minor computer problems. I'm the better option than waiting for IT to get to anything, that could take days/weeks. Also, as a fairly large guy, I usually get the call when large objects need to be moved around.

Fuul Stak, indeed!
posted by freakazoid at 9:45 AM on April 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm one of the few people in my office who seem to understand that when we run out of paper towels, dish soap, hand soap, forks, knives, spoons, or napkins in the lunch room, the appropriate procedure is to open the cabinet underneath the relevant item and refill or replace the item from supplies, rather than waiting around for them to magically refill or replace themselves. That's my full stack job security.
posted by Kwine at 9:51 AM on April 18, 2015 [21 favorites]


I'm sick of being a full stack employee. The expectations are higher but the pay isn't. I'm a dad too, and have hobbies and do things outside of work. So no, I don't want to fly out and lead training on my level 1 support pay and miss playing lego with my kids every night. I don't want to go to the hackathon because we have a game night with friends planned this weekend, along with church. Now I get paid the same as the guys who just punch the clock but the expectations are higher.

I'm sorry, I'm just not interested in volunteering my free time for a company that isn't going to pay me to while it earns money on my hard work.
posted by sleeping bear at 9:55 AM on April 18, 2015 [32 favorites]


Word, Lord_Pall. I'm engaged to a producer (the non-parasitic,asskicking hell-on-wheels kind that any Lead Programmer would rather double her salary than see her leave), so I can't speak out too much against them as a category but the setup you described sounds pretty ideal. It'd only work with dedicated veterans, but if you can pull it together... nothing better.

Context switching refers to the cost of having to switch from one task to a completely unrelated task (and, usually, back to the original task when done).

I'm familiar with what it is (cognitive science dropout before games), and I don't have time to read the article but I'll trust your representation - it's just I've always viewed it as a muscle to be exercised. I honestly think good habits can hugely minimize the impact if you take the time to develop them. Practical example from yesterday:

I'm hip deep in debugging streaming voxel data to clients in a multiplayer session. I get an IM from an old friend with a pretty easy visual level scripting question. After the initial flash of irritation and mental image of crushing a trachea (deep breath, this is lifting weights for your brain...), I tab into the instance I'm debugging, construct a working case in 30 seconds and paste it back to him as XML. No other reply. I minimize the IM before I even see his "thanks!" because a) I know he's smart enough to work out what he was missing from a working example, and b) if I don't actually engage any of the English/language/social parts of my brain, all of the voxel streaming stuff won't get flushed out of my short-term cache and I can just carry on.

There was a context switch to a totally unrelated skill, but by avoiding the much greater and more painful switch of communicating with other humans (always a nightmare), it cost me nothing.

My actual concern in all this? I've noticed that increasing the breadth of my skillset seems to accelerate the loss of memories of my childhood. I used to pride myself on having crystal-clear memories of growing up - not photographic but freakishly good by any standard - and yet the more skills I pick up the faster and faster it all evaporates, beyond what I can attribute to aging. I'm not going to stop, and I wouldn't if I could, but if there's anything about this that I deeply regret it's not the being consumed by work aspect or whatever, but the losing something that I always felt was essential to keeping me grounded in a coherent sense of "self."
posted by Ryvar at 9:57 AM on April 18, 2015


It's funny that this is getting traction, when I - an interdisciplinary generalist type, which isn't uncommon in the arts and activist worlds - has trouble getting jobs because my experience wasn't "specific enough". The tech industry has been especially flummoxed at why someone with my background would want to join in.

Full stack but only in certain flavours?
posted by divabat at 10:04 AM on April 18, 2015 [20 favorites]


Yeah, I don't know that it's a bad thing by itself. I'm pretty "full-stack" industrial. I'm a radcon guy who knows a lot about rigging, pipe fitting, machinery, used to be a plant operator, project management. I know enough about each of those things that they like to have me in meetings as the "extra outside opinion" because I'm often the guy who notices what's missing, what they're forgetting. Often that's out of my "area". I probably at this point have the basis for being able to start tomorrow and be a pretty dang good (I think) project manager. Or a pretty dang good rigging manager. Or a pretty dang good pretty much anything else.

But the key is, I think, I am a certain thing. I'm a radcon guy, and that's what I maintain my skills in. I keep up on the changes and maintain my "expert" status. Everything else I'm just picking up by osmosis, and can only be the authority in a "hey, I might be wrong here, but..." way. There's a real guy for that, whatever it is, and I'm just backup advice.

That's great to be looking for someone like me, as long as they are looking for enough of them to have a reasonable division of responsibilities. I guess I could be all those things at once, but that would really limit the size of the project I could be responsible for. I'd spend so much time looking up and verifying my hunches and guesses, the pace would slow to a ridiculous crawl. When you add another project, you would need another "full-stack" person for it. At some point, you've got so many of these project people that you could have just had specialists cover several projects each and be kicking ass.
posted by ctmf at 10:15 AM on April 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


divabat: it honestly sounds like you're just running into the wall that is the freakishly clique-y nature of the tech industry. The hard, borderline impossible part is getting your foot in the door. Once you have, though, you quickly build up an inadvertent network of contacts who see that you can contribute 100% effectively to *every* stage in the project cycle, which is not always the case with specialists.

Breaking in is unbelievably hard, and not specializing makes it harder - but once you're in it's a major asset
posted by Ryvar at 10:23 AM on April 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think too many of these "think pieces" try to identify a vague generalization as a useful trend. Aside from that, though, I do think there's a lot of value for employers and employees alike in the simple idea that to be, say, a developer, you should also understand the entire environment in which your application works, the expressed goals of the end users, the unexpressed goals of those end users, how to communicate with everybody involved (the people that you need to understand, and the people that need to understand you).

I categorize myself as a generalist. I'm a developer - not a great one, but adequately competent - but I also understand at least the basics of how everything works that my applications rely on in one way or another: basic networking, DNS, web server configuration, database server configuration, etc. And I understand how to communicate with customers, end users and project managers. In my experience, developers who can do this are very hard to find, and worth far more than other developers (even if those other developers are better at their specialty).

And I'm a manager now, and I would love to hire more of these people and pay them more. I'd be happy to pay them more than I make, commensurate to the value they're bringing to the company I (partially) own. People like this are the glue that hold things together, and they're exceedingly rare in the tech industry.

I don't think that this concept of being a generalist - whether you want to call it "full-stack employee" or something else - is just about getting more work out of people while paying them the same amount. Right now, I'm working as a consultant on a project with a huge team of people, none of whom really has a grasp of the "big picture". Consequently, we spend an enormous amount of time in meetings rather than actually solving problems, as everyone in the meeting tries to determine the shape of the elephant by touching part of it. It would be tremendously valuable to have someone who has an adequate grasp of the whole project, and no one does, and said project will end up costing more, accomplishing less and taking longer than if that role were adequately filled.

I don't want my employees and coworkers working all weekend, and late nights during the week. That is, frankly, a sign of management failure. Life is too short, and no one's going to regret on their dying day that they didn't spend more time at work. To me, having these sorts of people is a way to avoid this, by doing work more efficiently and more quickly.
posted by me & my monkey at 10:29 AM on April 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


This reads as a definition to be used by management of something an employee is not.

I'm sure most employers would love to hire ten people that do the job of forty and put them on salary, but fuck a big bag of that. I'd like to be able to pay 25% of my mortgage, too, but the banks aren't lining up for the deal.

Funny, that.
posted by Mooski at 10:33 AM on April 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


It would be tremendously valuable to have someone who has an adequate grasp of the whole project,

You need a good tester or test coordinator, somebody who knows testing is more than just providing Selenium scripts and get them involved early.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:36 AM on April 18, 2015


You need a good tester or test coordinator

No, that wouldn't be sufficient. I guess you'll have to trust me on that, but the problem here is not specifically one that can be solved by a single specialist using that specialty alone.
posted by me & my monkey at 10:40 AM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


me & my monkey: As Martin Wisse said, a good tester would tend to have that big-picture view that other folks might not. As a tester, I was relied on at my former job to have that perspective, and I brought it daily.

Of course, there's an exploitive side to that, too, especially when the tester is the lowest paid and titled person in the room. Too many companies deem testing as a job to be "unskilled" (because they aren't brogramming). I put up with that for a while... until I didn't any more.

divabat: so true. I suspect that if I hadn't learned some programming during my last testing job, I would have had a much harder time finding a new job.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 11:32 AM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think too many of these "think pieces" try to identify a vague generalization as a useful trend.

I think a lot of these think pieces are a purposeful attempt to manufacture something that, when it happens naturally (as Lord Pall describes above) can be awesome. But of course, what manufacturing provides is coercion in place of enthusiasm, which is kind of the whole dystopian side of capitalism in a nutshell, to me.
posted by fatbird at 11:50 AM on April 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh man I was all set to defend the value of "full-stack"/generalist engineers - which is a role I've always done well in - but that's not really what this is about, is it? Very sneaky, biz guys.
posted by atoxyl at 11:54 AM on April 18, 2015


It's really a shame that 'full-stack' appears to have migrated from a very specific and useful developer term to generic VC/Silicon-Valley blather. It was useful, meaning "This is someone who can work on back-end features for the server, the front-end UI/client-side face to it, and connect the two".

This, I think, is a very useful (but by no means necessary) thing for a developer to be able to do. Mainly because knowing how both sides need to be structured means that you can better design the back-end to be easier to connect to the front, and you can push back on the front-end when it isn't feasible from that side.

People tend to lean more one way or the other, but it saves on having a full front-end developer who can't debug why they're not getting the results they expect from a REST endpoint. (for example) Or, flipped around, it reduces the case of having a full-on back-end developer designing the endpoints in a way which doesn't align well with how browsers work.

(Which, yes, this can be avoided through sufficient communication between teams, but that's not always reliable, and I'm pretty convinced that having at least a skeletal understanding of your whole system improves your design of your specific bailiwick)
posted by CrystalDave at 12:05 PM on April 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


And fourth, do you support health and wellness or family time?
Curious he thinks family time is important, what with always-on connectedness via mobile devices and the boundaries between work and non-work blurring.
posted by MtDewd at 12:06 PM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Their think pieces might be better-thought-out if some of these tech guys had a fuller stack in the liberal arts.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:07 PM on April 18, 2015 [30 favorites]


Why Liberal Arts is Super Dumb
Once upon a time, there were dumb people who did not want to be engineers. There people are Liberal Arts majors. Why do they want to be Liberal Arts? In my opinion it is because they do not understand why engineers are so great, and now I will tell you why. Because I am an engineer and I know that I am right and here is why that is.
posted by jaguar at 12:26 PM on April 18, 2015 [16 favorites]


I'm a back-end developer. When I come in to work in the morning, I read the notes I left myself the day before and then I get started writing and debugging code, mostly for new features. My work is complex and interesting. My days fly by quickly. I don't surf the web or play computer games at work. I'm happy to engage in a friendly and helpful way with my coworkers, but I don't spend all day in idle chit-chat. I've used the company-provided ping-pong table twice. At 5:20, I write my notes for the next day and start packing up my stuff. At 5:30, I walk out the door, leaving all thought or care about my work behind. I'm paid for 8 hours of work each day and I give my employer 8 full hours of my time, attention, skill and effort.

I don't hate my job, my boss or my employer. I enjoy my work and, after having terrible jobs and being unemployed, I appreciate having a great job. I get a lot of work done. My boss seems to appreciate me and the work I do. I don't do hack nights or other after-work activities. I don't program very much when I'm not at work. I do spend some of my own time every week learning about new techniques and technologies to stay sharp but I spend much more time with my wife and kids.

I work to live, not live to work. I've met a lot of older workers who regretted having worked lots of overtime instead of spending time with their families or doing the things they enjoy. I've never met one who regretted not working enough overtime. I want to enjoy my time with my kids while they are still kids.
posted by double block and bleed at 12:43 PM on April 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think the designation of a label and talking about generalists as being effective employees is a direct result of the derision and judgement so many people who fit into that category feel they receive from employers and peers. The vitriol towards generalists in this thread alone is highly indicative.

I code. I test. I design. I write reports, design data structures, support customers, manage teams, organize new departments, create marketing materials, handle sales calls and demos, evaluate contracts and SOWs, validate requirements, conduct usability studies, push to production, manage servers, compare technology purchase options, interview and hire new employees, reach out to potential partners, network with other companies, manage vendor relationships, create account management and sales funnels, hand correct crappy xml, maintain scripts, debug code from BASIC to perl to F#, create mockups and wireframes, create departmental budgets, contribute to annual filings, review architecture, and sometimes I'm a grammar nazi.

On top of all of that I have a family, home, pets, hobbies, friends, and a life I love.

How in the hell does being able to do all of that make me a less useful employee than a single-purpose or even full stack coder? I'm not gonna come up with some new and fancy combination of 6 design patterns or a new interpretation of elliptic curve encryption, but while the coder I hire to do that is off doing that, I'll be helping the business run because not every company can hire specialists to do all of those things like Google can.
posted by Revvy at 12:44 PM on April 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Revvy: "I think the designation of a label and talking about generalists as being effective employees is a direct result of the derision and judgement so many people who fit into that category feel they receive from employers and peers. The vitriol towards generalists in this thread alone is highly indicative."

It's great if you enjoy jumping from skill set to skill set. Employees who are able to do that well are extremely valuable. It's not so great if you're forced to do that because your employer is too cheap to pay for the 2-3 expert employees they really need to get the job done.
posted by double block and bleed at 12:54 PM on April 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also, I'd suggest full stacking scales *terribly* once you're big enough that you can actually hire specialists. Those poor bastards are now going to be constantly pestered by over-enthusiastic dilettantes with 'great' ideas.

Imagine a company full of Marissa Mayers having 'fun' every weekend, with logos and everything else. It'd be a complete train wreck.


This is eerily close to my experience watching a startup grow from "everyone has to do everything" to "big enough to hire specialists." People who think they can and should do everything annoying the people who actually know how to do things really well. It is worst for the non-tech people. Woe to the poor marketing folks stuck in these growth-stage startups...
posted by ch1x0r at 1:12 PM on April 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Where is the Full-stack Employee on this chart, please?
posted by sneebler at 1:48 PM on April 18, 2015


Umm. As a friend of someone who's a designer and this friend works with devs all day long... All I can say to this is an emphatic "NO!"

"Full stack employees are capable of speaking design lingo, know that using Comic Sans is criminal, and are adept at making mocks in Keynote, Sketch, or Skitch (if it comes to that). And they know the difference between UI and UX."

No, just because you dabble in a little something doesn't mean you know jack shit. Your little knowledge should NOT override the person whose job has been as a professional in the design field for 2 decades now. It should help you understand where the designer is coming from, it should not enable you to think you know better and argue your point ad nauseum, or refuse to do what the designer (WHOSE JOB IT IS) wants designed. You can offer technical critique and why something isn't feasible technically, but come the fuck on, just cuz you say you know Comic Sans is criminal doesn't make you a fucking designer. Jesus Christ.

And what happens if my design friend were to say "Yeah, I know a little python..." and get up in your grill about the framework you're using or something. You think it wouldn't piss you off a little?

Sorry. Just...

I mean, the phrase "Full Stack (insert Job Title)" alone is enough to make me barf. I'm a generalist, myself. I don't have the ability to rely on others to do things for me (I'm not a rich mother fucker, and I'm not a sweet talker, so I just have to do on my own), so this process helps me learn things. But I would never dare think this generalization makes me competent enough to be something I'm not. I'm not saying that's what Chris is saying (I know he's certainly skilled enough as it is, his reputation precedes him (not in a negative way)). I'm just saying, this is one more of those SYNERGY bullshit terms that all the hip kids seem to want to use. Ugh, I am so fucking old.
posted by symbioid at 1:57 PM on April 18, 2015 [16 favorites]


As a full time librarian of several years, I've noticed this bullshit correlates directly with a crap ton of branding as well as new books on taming the brain and learning mindfulness. There are more books and more interest in coping with ADHD-like symptoms...and that is if you make it to get a book, print or downloaded. Otherwise it is work/life/tech hack sites that pop up every week that future numerous articles with numbers in titles such as 10 Ways to Live Simply or 7 Tips on GTD Quicker that also have 6 more links to simplify it further!

I admit I am making these titles up as examples, and please know I am not shooting at the quality of such books, sites, or articles...just the utter proliferation of such books, sites, and articles at this time. This speaks volumes to me that there appears a big need or insecurity to cope with trying to be all things to all people at all times. Reminds me when Homer Simpson took two jobs to get Lisa a pony and slept 1 second between jobs but I digress. (goes to check out ADHD book...)
posted by chicaboom at 2:03 PM on April 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I would rather work for Reggie Watts's corporation. I am a Fuck Shit Stack employee.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:06 PM on April 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


This guy's main claim to fame seems to be that he invented the #hashtag and has a blog. It seems extremely likely that the "full-stack employee" he's describing is the way he wants potential employers to see him himself. Why is anyone taking his self-promoting pontifications seriously?
posted by fivebells at 2:20 PM on April 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's all very well being a generalist, but you won't get hired by an underwater basket weaving company unless all of your experience in each layer of the full stack has been underwater basket weaving related.
posted by monotreme at 3:04 PM on April 18, 2015


Show me a human being who is not always-already "Full Stack". This is neo-liberal propaganda as amplified by Silicon Valley technology resulting in a provincial, uneducated worldview. That's all it is.
posted by polymodus at 4:01 PM on April 18, 2015 [3 favorites]




You can teach the craft skills of business.

"But it's easier and cheaper to just hire somebody who already knows the business and can be dropped into an open slot, so fuck that, dump the resumes of anybody with less than 20 years in banking."
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:36 PM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


"But it's easier and cheaper to just hire somebody who already knows the business and can be dropped into an open slot, so fuck that, dump the resumes of anybody with less than 20 years in banking."

Oh, totally. No argument there.

I was only driving at the fact that the notion of a "total stack" employee might be somebody who has the intellectual curiosity and research tools to figure our to get shit done.

I've corrected some people in our legal department about certain things, and only because I used to be a legal editor. I have no legal designation.

So I guess I'm saying I'm exploited like that.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:43 PM on April 18, 2015


I used to argue, "Give me a good MBA and I'll deprogram him over the next couple of years."
Sounds like the inverse of John Houseman's infamous Paper Chase quote: "You come in here with a skull full of mush; you leave thinking like a lawyer." I have since come to understand that "thinking like a lawyer" means "a skull full of shit."
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:45 PM on April 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


That Medium piece reads like a 90's style article on the latest, must-have fashion accessories for the fall season. Astonishingly so, actually.
posted by underflow at 5:08 PM on April 18, 2015


Jesus maybe just get one employee who can be the whole company and then move to Bermuda and move briefcases of cash between banks twice a week.

It's a great business model for you, but it doesn't work if you can't find that one person, and even if you do, it's not going to work for very long.
posted by newdaddy at 6:55 PM on April 18, 2015


newdaddy: It's a great business model for you, but it doesn't work if you can't find that one person, and even if you do, it's not going to work for very long.

That's an excellent point. If you do find a person who is motivated, intelligent, and understands all of the aspects of the business, you've found a person who is five minutes away from starting their own business or wondering why you're in charge instead of them. A person like that is ready to assume a leadership role for themselves, or operate solo; they have no reason to remain a cog.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:03 PM on April 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


A couple thoughts:

a) The piece was shite. ~A full-stack person might occasionally write code or look at a csv, but is fully knowledgeable about all of teh latest web frameworks!~ This seems profoundly silly.

b) On the other hand, keeping abreast of a broad swathe of your area is pretty important. Getting locked into using just a few tools (like say, the most popular framework from two years ago) is a recipe for extinction. Having a strong grasp of the fundamentals, curiosity about the shape of the world, and reading up and trying out new stuff is part of what it means to be an expert.
posted by kaibutsu at 8:51 PM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Came for relentless mocking of bullshit Silicon Valley/MBA speak. Left kinda disappointed.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:22 AM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


« Older Anthropology, already read   |   The Sandhogs Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments