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I will soon have a meeting with my manager, in which she will want to assign me to exclusively frontend development. I am a full-stack engineer and enjoy both frontend and backend development. But the thing is that I came to this company to do specifically full-stack development, and specifically because I wanted to work with Spring Boot. My goal is to improve as well on backend side with Spring. So I am quite unhappy that I will need to do frontend development only.

How would you approach this situation? What would you tell the manager in order to keep doing full-stack and at the same time not leave a bad impression?

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    To add to some of the answers here. Unless your situation is unusual, you are most likely in the driver's seat here. Employers need developers right now a whole lot more than developers need employers. So yes, by all means take all reasonable steps, talk to people, and make your case and all that. But once the dust clears, if you are not happy with what you end up doing, don't be afraid to look elsewhere
    – Joe
    May 4 at 20:48
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    Did you discuss this during the interview process? There's the cliche that the interview process goes both ways. If this is really important to you, you should bring it up before taking a job. Also, is moving internally to another team an option? May 4 at 21:21
  • The way you seem to view "full-stack" is accurate, but some in the industry see it as a frontend position. I've been at companies with full-stack teams that exclusively wrote UIs for APIs written by the backend teams. In this situation, it may be worthwhile to confirm expectations based on job title. May 6 at 15:56
  • @Indigenuity Does that company otherwise consider javascript, html, and css writing to be separate jobs? 🤦‍♂️ May 7 at 17:02
  • Are there currently any Backend tasks that you could be doing? (That are not already covered by the Backend engineers.)
    – Llewellyn
    May 9 at 19:03

11 Answers 11

81

You should talk to your manager. If you were given the impression that you would do full stack work, and that's not the case, then your manager should figure out that you are not happy about that, and try to do something about it.

If you think that your talk had no success, then you should likely look for a job elsewhere that gives you what you want. Don't mention it at work, do your job as you are told, and once you find a better position and have signed a contract, you give notice with the shortest possible notice period.

Ultimately you find a position that is best for you, with the best combination of pay, enjoyment, job security, and meeting your personal development goals. If a job doesn't meet your requirements, you find a job that does.

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    This sounds like good advice. Thank you. I will talk and see where this is going. May 4 at 9:29
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    I would also consider thinking of a way to separate your personal need to maintain technological relevance from your job. I recently started freelancing on Upwork to develop my technical skills instead of requiring my full-time job to do that, and it has opened a lot of opportunities for me on both fronts. I'm now doing Project Management full-time with no fear of obsolescence with my tech skills due to the freelancing gigs on the side.
    – Nelson
    May 5 at 8:06
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    There's a crucial element missing: We don't know why the boss wants OP to only do frontend. See my answer below. workplace.stackexchange.com/a/184625/7581 May 5 at 16:26
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    @Nelson, not everyone can work a 2nd job, not to mention that working extra hours on something that's related to your job may be against some people's contracts or other agreements with their employer. It's fine to do side-work on your own time, but not everyone can do that. Besides, it sounds like the OP already knows how to do full-stack dev, so they should have a full stack job, as promised by the hiring manager. If the OP was going to be doing Upwork/Fiverr or similar work, why wouldn't they make that their full time job? Why aren't you? I've thought about it. May 5 at 19:08
  • @computercarguy then don't work on the same stuff. Push bleeding edge tech somewhere else so far and remote from your job that they can't even put their heads around what you do. NFT and crypto has a lot of attention now, so learn to do dApp and Smart Contracts. Your employer sometimes has zero interest in training, and they would just fire you for the next guy.
    – Nelson
    May 6 at 2:41
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While the company may have employed you to do Fe, or BE or both, over time their needs can change.

How they use you in the short-term may be just for FE.

But you manager may well take note of your concerns and tailor your role to BE in the near future.

If that does not happen then you get to decide what you do about it.

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    Along these lines, I'm a software architect, and I was recently asked to drop everything and take on what's effectively a senior developer's job, because that team is too short handed to meet their goals. Since it's only temporary, and it's nice to keep fresh, I have no problem with it, but if it were long-term, I'd have objected. Sometimes, that's just what the business needs from you.
    – Bobson
    May 4 at 16:45
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How would you approach this situation? What would you tell the manager in order to keep doing full-stack and at the same time not leave a bad impression?

Just explain that you came to the company to do full-stack development, that you want to do so and why, and that you would be unhappy if forced to solely do front end development.

Then listen.

If you aren't hearing what you want to hear, start looking for your next job.

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    Also, if the front-end dev doesn't end when the manager promised it would, reconsider your options and talk to your manager again about why things didn't change when they said it would. May 5 at 19:12
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Ultimately, companies pay you to do the work that they need doing now, not what you want to do.

You can ask to do other work. But if there's a lot of front-end work on, then that's what they will put you on.

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    True, but still I think I am the one responsible for stirring the direction in which I am going. So I am trying to influence that. May 4 at 9:28
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Every answer here has missed the crucial question:

Why does she want you to do frontend only?

Every answer here has addressed your needs, but we don't know why your boss is planning on making this change. I doubt that it is capricious, or that she just wants to change for the sake of making a change.

So ask her.

The first thing that comes to mind is that she is not happy with the work you are doing on backend projects. If so, that's a problem to be addressed. You say "My goal is to improve as well on backend side with Spring", so maybe you're not as skilled as she would like you to be. Discuss that with her.

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  • I'd guess the most likely reason is simple necessity -- maybe the backend is stable but frontend needs more hands. If it's a temporary change to address business critical needs, it might be worth OP considering accepting the change but discussing ahead of time when/how they will go back to fullstack eventually.
    – CCJ
    May 5 at 21:16
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    @CCJ There's no need to guess. That's the point. OP needs to talk to their manager. May 6 at 1:11
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    Also ask if the change in assignment balance is intended to be permanent, and if so make it clear that you'd prefer it wasn't. This could be a temporary change due to there being more priority work needing to be done in those areas in the near future. No point making decisions based on guessed information when it should be easy to have a polite clarifying discussion about their plans, your preferences, and how the two might both be able to be satisfied. May 6 at 10:50
  • @AndyLester you mention in a comment that "there's no need to guess", and yet your answer includes a guess. And frankly to me it's not even the most likely or intuitive guess. I honestly think it detracts from the answer as a whole, rather than adding to it.
    – Jim Cullen
    May 7 at 12:44
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This is the problem with companies that want "full stack". It's never actually "full stack"; when a company writes "full stack" on a job description it's because they don't actually know what they want and they're going to figure it out later, which means you don't know what you're walking into. This is up to you, during the interview process, to ask the company what, specifically, they mean by "full stack" and determine if that's what you're looking for.

What you should do now: Talk to your manager and tell her that you don't want to do exclusively frontend work and see if you can reach a compromise or agreement. If you were actually hired as an FE dev but they just called it "full stack" in the JD (which happens often; it also happens in reverse too, where "full stack" means "backend only") then you may want to look into finding a new job.

What you should do in the future: Learn from this experience and be careful when applying to "full stack" jobs, because they are very rarely actual full-stack and almost always have a strong focus on either BE or FE. I personally stay away from full stack positions, but if you want to continue to engage with such positions, you should ask during the interview precisely what "full stack" means, and if you don't get the answer you're looking for then you shouldn't take that position.

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    Companies hire for full stack because they don't have enough distinct work to put only in a back end or front end bucket. It's deliberately a grey area.
    – Xavier J
    May 5 at 16:51
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    Usually, "full stack" roles turn into either front or back roles as the workload grows to support two specialists instead of one generalist. Rarely does it go the other way. Sometimes if a team is growing rapidly they might hire multiple "full stack" roles and plan spread the work around later once they know who everyone is. May 5 at 20:01
  • Sorry but this is simply not true: smaller start-up companies certainly do require developers who can develop across the full stack, and there are many of them out there. I've worked in those roles several times and developed front and back-end in tandem. May 7 at 9:12
  • Full-stack devs are also useful for when teams have broken into tiny silos around components, with all the bus number and co-ordination problems that come with that.
    – Adam Burke
    May 8 at 6:59
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It's really difficult to be a true "full stack" engineer these days. I cringe whenever I hear it. You might be able to claim the title if you have 20+ years of experience and have grown up with some of the technologies in use today. But otherwise, I don't think you can find too many modern engineers that are really good at both front and back end. How many engineers are really good at both React and setting up EKS clusters on AWS? Not many. In olden times, you could be good at SQL Server and jQuery or Angular and call yourself full stack. Things are a lot more complex now. You can get really good at something, but it will always be at the expense of something else.

Anyway, if you really do want to call yourself "full stack," then you need to work on the frontend when they need you on the frontend, and the backend when they need you on the backend. Right now they need you on the frontend, so you work on the frontend. If that's not what you want to do, then first, stop pretending you're a full-stack engineer, and second, tell your manager that you would rather focus on backend.

Depending on the size of the company you work for, this may not go over well. If I were your manager, I would not be happy to discover that the full stack engineer I hired only wants to focus on the backend now. You might be the only frontend engineer that I have, and I might not have the ability to hire someone else at the moment. So it's you on the frontend, or you find another job and I hire someone else. Even if I were able to accommodate your request to concentrate on the backend, I would still very likely need you to do the frontend work until I find that someone else. In short, it's fine that you want to concentrate on backend, but that's not going to happen overnight. It's going to be transition. In the meantime, you'll work on the frontend.

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    This does address the needs of the company, which is a context missing from other answers. When the OP described themselves as "full stack" what the company heard was "you can put me doing whatever you need as you need". Full stack isn't a job, it's statement about skillset. May 6 at 17:35
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I take it that you would do this anyway, however: Be very polite in speaking to management. Remember, they are paying you. It usually looks bad to not do the work you are assigned, whatever the reason. As some of the answers state, if need be, find another job ("vote with your feet"). Personally, I have seldom successfully received the work-assignments that I have wanted. I recently asked for more back-end work, specifically SQL, and this request has not yet helped my career.

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    "specifically SQL" - what are you, crazy? :-)
    – Neil
    May 5 at 14:54
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    I like SQL very much! May 5 at 14:58
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    @Neil - I find that many don't like the DB optimisation stuff that I do like. This can be quite useful at times: I'm relatively secure with work I find interesting that others aren't “competing” for. And there is enough of it that is vital, to justify a decent salary! May 6 at 10:53
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You should do all three:

  • Have the conversation. Gives both a chance and provides both parties more insight.
  • Start looking for another job. For reference / to learn what more is out there.
  • Think again about specializing in FE or BE. Or focusing on FE in year one and the BE the year after might be an option as well.
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My advice will be different because I don't believe you should bother with the management. Simply the company's needs don't match your needs. You are not a match. Done. Period. I'm out of here. You need to get divorced. Companies will string you along until you're technically dead then they'll lay you off and find someone up-to-date. Move to somewhere challenging and keep moving until you find it. Don't get rusty. You will learn different industries, many systems and a lot more technologies if you search for what you want. Be ready to move to a different geographic location until family becomes a priority over career. I'll give you an example. I worked at a place for one year, they paid me a fortune, 100% insurance, vacation out the wahzoo. All I had to do was HTML and jQuery. They advertised it as full-stack. I had to quit after a year because I was going brain dead.

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    this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape?
    – gnat
    May 11 at 14:13
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You need to be a little flexible. FE or BE it is all still web development. The particulars of what stack is used is a management decision.

It is not what particular tech you want to work on it is what particular tech the person who signs your paychecks needs you to work on that is the crux of the matter.

Fullstack is a croc anyway. You make a website. If it needs to interact with a server or a database then you deal with it but all of it is just web development

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    Not so. There are IT businesses now that ONLY do back end. Back end via web services is a whole different ball game versus back end with direct connections into repositories. Front end doesn't always mean web any more -- what about mobile? If things were as easy as lumping everything into "website", no one would be making a distinction.
    – Xavier J
    May 5 at 16:49
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    "FE or BE it is all still web development". Wait what? (first of all neither front end nor back end development necessarily means web development) Front end and back end are two totally different things. That's like saying "butcher and vet both work with animals so it's all the same".
    – Voo
    May 5 at 21:00

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