The Curse of the Full Stack Marketer

Cody Boyte | March 2014

Hi. I’m a full stack marketer. And I’ve mostly worked my way out of a job.

I knew this day was coming, don’t get me wrong. But some people don’t see it. They think being ‘full stack’ makes them better. It does, but only for a short time. As a company grows, functions get specialized. Without a clear specialty, your talent for being able to put together all the pieces has a tendency to get overlooked by your boss. Especially when you get a new boss.

They’ll tell you that you don’t have enough years of experience doing any of the things they want done. Or that you should learn one single skill set so they can compare you to other people on the market. It’s their job to put the pieces together, not yours any more.

Being a full stack marketer puts you in a tricky position. You learn everything in marketing, understand how it all fits together, and know when do use each strategy. But the only place you fit nicely, while executing, is at a smaller company. You’re training yourself well to be a VP of Marketing, but there’s a valley most people don’t tell you about when you start down the path of learning full stack marketing. The valley is the period when you don’t have one, single skill – you’ve been training to be full stack after all – but you also don’t have enough history to be hired as a VP of Marketing.

Let me explain what I mean. I’ve been a marketer for seven years. In that time, I’ve taught myself most of the full stack of marketing. I’ve learned SEO, SEM, web development (php/python/js), analytics, content, direct marketing, marketing automation, salesforce, ad buying, building presentations, events, press, social media, and I’ve sat on panels at both industry and non-industry events. I co-ran marketing for two years. But, I’m not a “world class” anything, except maybe full stack marketer.

Do you know who hires full stack marketers? Small businesses. Startups.

I learned the full stack at a startup. I had to figure out each piece in order to be successful. But now we’re not so much of a startup any more. Pieces of what I do are being pulled off my plate little by little. And that’s how it should be.

Someone should own marketing automation. A full-time developer should be running our website and backend technology stack to build out awesome features. Someone should own our content and social media presence. Someone else should be talking to the press and someone else still should be optimizing ad campaigns. Slowly, what I’m best at – integrating everything – is being take away from me piece by piece. That’s the curse of the full stack marketer. Over time, if we’re successful, we put ourselves out of a job.

Update

This post apparently blew up this week, first on GrowthHackers and then on HackerNews. There are interesting discussions about the post in both places.

Also, thank you a ton for all of the comments. I wrote this as a bit of a rant for myself and mostly a response to a bunch of articles I’ve read recently about becoming a full stack marketer. It’s a good thing to aspire towards, but just wanted to comment on the time where I’ve experienced being full stack works against you. It’s not bad for my career in the long run, and not even in the short run, just something I was reflecting on. I’m glad it stirred up a couple of discussions and hope it made a few people think.

Thanks again for the responses and comments.