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Hiring Devs: Full Stack or Specialized?

In the ever-evolving realm of software development, the debate surrounding the employment of full stack developers versus specialized ones often evokes a compelling analogy: cowboys versus snipers. This analogy gains pronounced relevance when considering the distinct stages of a project: the 'Validation Phase' and the 'Consolidation Phase'.

The Validation Phase: The Cowboys Era

In the nascent, somewhat chaotic days of a project or startup, the role of full stack developers, akin to 'cowboys', is of paramount importance. Their versatility and adaptability are crucial in a milieu where rapidity and a wide-ranging skill set are of the essence. Full stack developers, much like intrepid cowboys, are adept at navigating multiple facets of a project, from the frontend to the backend.

During this phase of validation, where agility and the ability to pivot are key, cowboys thrive on tackling moving targets and low hanging fruits. They are masters at rapid prototyping and implementing a variety of features, adeptly adapting to ever-changing scenarios. This period is marked by a quest for exploration and seizing quick wins, a realm where these digital cowboys are in their element.

Bang! Bang!
Bang! Bang!

The Consolidation Phase: The Precision of Snipers

As the project matures and enters the 'Consolidation Phase', the emphasis decidedly shifts towards stability, scalability, and precision, ushering in the era of the 'snipers'. These specialized developers, focused on specific domains like frontend or backend, bring depth of expertise, meticulous planning, and a commitment to precision.

In this mature phase, the broad strokes laid down by the cowboys are meticulously refined. Specialized developers focus on fixed and hard-to-reach targets, ensuring each element of the project is optimized and performs flawlessly. It's a phase characterized by strategic, calculated moves, where precision and attention to detail are paramount.

The Hybrid Approach: A Rare Breed of Leadership

While cowboys and snipers have their distinct roles, there exists the potential for a hybrid approach. This necessitates leaders who are not only hands-on in the technological realm but also intimately connected with the product side. These leaders, akin to commanders who are themselves exemplary soldiers, must have a deep understanding of the user's pain points to effectively refine the product and technology, all whilst maintaining a brisk pace of development.

In my experience, such leaders are a rarity. They embody a unique amalgamation of technical acumen, product insight, and the capacity to guide and inspire their teams.

The Industry Parallel

This cowboy versus sniper analogy resonates across various sectors. In environments like Silicon Valley startups, the cowboy approach is often preferred for its agility and ability to quickly seize opportunities. Conversely, in industries such as industrial software and aerospace, where precision and attention to detail are vital, the sniper's approach reigns supreme. These sectors exemplify the need for a strategic, focused approach to hit fixed and challenging targets.


Discerning the phase your project or industry is in – be it the expansive Validation Phase or the detail-oriented Consolidation Phase – is crucial in determining the appropriate mix of full stack and specialized developers, or the adoption of a hybrid approach.

Initially, the adaptability of cowboys may be advantageous, but as the focus shifts to precision and quality, the expertise of snipers, or the rare combination found in a hybrid leader, becomes paramount. Ultimately, it's not about being the earliest or the quickest; it's about executing with a level of quality that unequivocally sets you apart.