Technology Stack: The Definitive Guide for Non-Tech Founders

Technology Stack
Table of Contents

The technology stack, often just called the tech stack, can be an absolute head-scratcher for non-tech founders. 

First, you scratch your own head, then you scratch your dog’s head, and before you know it you’ve scratched every head in the neighborhood and the police are looking for you.

Initially, the challenge is to understand what a tech stack even is. 

Then it becomes a (much more difficult) question of how to evaluate a developer’s tech stack.

Is it suitable for your project?

Or is it full of unnecessary compromises?

Decks of card representing the developer technology stack
This stack is one good fart away from tumbling down.

Plenty of sources try to explain tech stacks, but dang, they sure do like to use jargon to explain even more jargon.

Every sentence be like “…gajigimizing your despasitometer with twenty seconds of alternative flutterfuelgshock and ultimatatatron…”

And you reach the end of the article with the same amount of understanding: zero!

It’s a shame because we at Upstack Studio absolutely think non tech founders should know something about technology stacks, not a million software terms.

Deep down, you don’t care about tech stacks. Like, at all.

We get it.

But you know damn well it’s a huge part of app development.

And it’s very uncomfortable to be completely out of the loop on something so crucial to your project. 

This is where you are right now:

The state where non-technical founders are usually at when it comes to technology stacks - they are neither aware of nor understand it

Tech stacks are an unknown unknown – like staring into a black hole or watching a Christopher Nolan film. 

This is where we want to take you with this article:

The state where we want to take non-technical founders to after they start reading this article about technology stack - they are aware of but don't understand it yet

We want non tech founders to know what they don’t know about tech stacks.

There’s no way to turn you into an expert on software architecture in five minutes.

And honestly, there’s no point. 

You’re paying a developer (a lot) to be the expert. 

You just need to know enough to make sure they’re actually experts!

You need to remember:

  1. What a tech stack is, its components, and their contributions to your app
  2. The factors that determine tech stack choice (and its implications on your product and business)

Understand these two and you understand how a tech stack affects your product (which is what you care about anyway).

We’ve tried our best to be as simple as possible while still retaining crucial information.

With that out of the way, fasten your seatbelts, let’s talk about tech stacks for non-techs. 

So, what the hell is a Tech Stack?

Easiest question in the world. 

We stole this definition from a MongoDB article:

“A set of technologies that are stacked together to build an application.”

We like it. We think it’s accurate and easy to understand, though we would like to add a little Upstack Studio touch to it.

We think technologies can be expanded to include apps, platforms, and software.

Pizza as a necessity to build a decent software or app
And pizza – no decent software has ever been built without pizza.

And it’s not just to build applications; it’s to build any digital product or service, really. 

So our definition of a tech stack would be:

“A set of technologies (apps, platforms, and software) that are stacked together to build a digital product or service.”


Next!

Components of a Tech Stack

Every tech stack ever will have these components:

Components of a technology stack from the front end and back end

It could be several individual software services that a developer manually connects.

It could all be contained within a single platform (like no-code app builders).

Point is, these components will be there in one form or another, so don’t freak out if your developer doesn’t have one of each.

In fact, if you can get away with less, do it.

So what do these different components do?

We’d rather not just list out their functions one by one; we want you to understand how the parts work together

Let’s start with where the magic happens.

The Backend

Let’s pretend you’re a piece of data – this is what your eternity looks like:

The Database

Most of the time, you’re just chilling in the database with all the other pieces of data until a user wants to access you. 

Box full of lego representing a database

That’s part of what a database does, it stores data. 

And that’s all an app is: just a big old ball of data.

Obviously, the more data you want to store, the bigger the database has to be.

If a user only wants to see half of you, the database needs to cut you in half before sending it to them. 

lego head cut in halff to show database and backend tech stack function
ow!

That’s something else a database does – it manipulates data. 

They can be simple manipulations, they can be really complex, and everything in between.

It all depends on what your users need.

In any case, you (the piece of data cut in half) are ready to be transported to the user via the server.

The Server

The user enters a request via the front end: I want to see half of this piece of data.

The frontend relays this request to the server,

The server relays this to the database.

The database goes chop chop, then hands it to the server. 

The Server takes it and delivers it to the frontend for the user to see.

Lego head representing the server
“Thank you, come again.”

The user is happy, and the server goes on to handle the next request.

The server is the middle man between the front and backends – like a waiter taking customer orders to the kitchen and then delivering the meal as requested.

Only in a restaurant, it’s perfectly reasonable to wait ten minutes for your order to arrive.

On an app, this must happen instantaneously, or as close to it as possible. 

If two users want to access data at the same time, the server needs to transport data to both of them simultaneously.             

Same thing if a hundred users want access. 

The more users a server must serve simultaneously, the bigger it has to be.

This is irrespective of how big your database is – remember, the database only handles data volume and manipulation.

If your server is only meant to handle one user at a time and suddenly one hundred people put in a request, none of them gets to see anything – they’ll crash your server. 

That’s pretty much what you need to know about the backend tech stack.

It stores and modifies data, and without those abilities, you don’t have an app.

Now, if the backend is where the magic happens, the frontend is where the magic is shown.

The Frontend

Remember: you’re a piece of data, and a user has requested that you be cut in half.

You will now appear on the user’s browser, interface, or screen.

Now they can interact with you. See you, hear you, read you. 

If you’re a png, you appear as half a picture.

If you’re an mp3, you appear as half an audio track.

Some of you may be thinking, why even have a frontend? 

All the data is already in the backend, and that’s where work gets done anyways.

Well, because the backend looks like this:

Page showing complicated backend codes
Not exactly easy as A B C.

All the data and functions of your app, they’re there – but as code. 

And to access it, you need to type out requests – also as code.

That’s the backend! It’s just lines of logic talking to each other. 

And even if you showed this to a developer who wasn’t familiar with this specific stack, they’d struggle to understand it. 

To normal people, this looks like a cat just walked all over their keyboard.

That’s why we have a frontend.

The browser or interface translates all that mumbo jumbo into something visually understandable with normal human languages.

It turns the abstract art above into a clearly legible interface:

Instagram login page created from technology stack backend codes
And so you get this!

Anyone can glance at the screen above and understand what they’re looking at.

Developers build this user-friendly browser with programming languages and frameworks

We use them to organize sections of a page.

We use them to change the way sections look and interact with users.

The programming language is the actual code we write – the mumbo jumbo writing.  

A framework gives us sort of like a template of code, so we don’t have to start from scratch. Many interfaces start out the same, then developers customize them further with our own code. 

ALL this takes place on an operating system: Windows, IOS, Android, Linux etc. 

They’re like different countries, so a developer can use a native language that only works in one country, or we can use an international language that all countries understand fairly well, but not as well as their native tongue. 

From a business perspective, which countries do your users live in?

So that’s the frontend tech stack, and well, that’s a tech stack. 

  • Backend stores and manipulates data
  • Frontend makes it possible for anyone and everyone to understand and navigate that data (and have fun doing it)

Moving on to the third question:

Factors Developers Consider When Choosing a Tech Stack

There are a crap ton of tech stack options. 

Too many if you ask us. 

It definitely adds to the frustrations of a non-tech person. One function, but you have four or five options floating around?

Are they all special and different?

Answer: yes.

Honest answer: yes, but not different enough to matter most of the time. 

They’re tools at the end of the day.

The simpler the task, the more tools you can use.

If you wanted to hammer a nail into a plank of wood, you could use pretty much anything.

Factors to consider when choosing a tech stack
Even the power of your minnnddd!

On the other hand, if you wanted to put a nail through an inch of solid steel, you’d better have a big-ass hammer and forearms that look like Popeye.

These are the things that go through a developer’s mind when they choose a tech stack.

Speed of MVP/MLP production

Remember what we said about frameworks being like templates? 

Some templates lend themselves very well to creating a simple but functional prototype. 

If our priority is building something fast to test it out, there are certain stacks that work better for that.

Scalability

This has to do with how your server and database can grow bigger OR smaller depending on traffic, and what kind of data manipulation is needed later.


Some stacks limit this, some stacks allow you to expand forever just like the universe and yo momma’s waistline!

Sorry, it’s just that things were getting a little dry there.

As a general rule, development time and scalability always come at the price of the other. 

It all depends on what your project and your business need more right now. 

Security

Some tech stacks allow more robust and layered protection.

If your app is going to be handling sensitive data or belongs to highly regulated industries like insurance and banking, you legally need to meet pretty high-security standards. 

For others, take it on a case-by-case basis.

Remember: It is entirely possible to over-engineer your security protocol.

Multi-factor authentication and OTPs sent via email?

To access a bank account, sure.

To access the phone calculator?

We’d rather use a pen and paper.

See what your developer has to say.

Popularity

Developers like popular tech stacks. 

Not trendy – popular.

They have an active community, which means it’s easy for us to find support if we ever need to ask a question.

We’re a really fussy bunch, so if we all like something take it as a good sign. 

Also, as an app development agency, we need a tech stack that makes it easy to hire new developers as replacements or to grow our team.

If we chose a stack that only two people knew how to use, that’s exactly how big our team could ever be.

As the founder, you should be thinking the same way.

You want a tech stack that other developers are familiar with, so you’re not stuck with your current one if they turn out to be rubbish.

Budget

This is a minor detail compared to the others, but cost is something that we can never run away from.

Think of it this way, when you’re faced with options, look for quality first. 

If quality is equal or doesn’t matter, go with the cheaper option.

Can Non-Tech Founders Evaluate a Developer’s Stack?

Not directly, but first things first.

Before you hyper-focus on the tech stack, we’d advise you to make sure your developers are good at everything else.

You do this by asking them a short list of six questions in our free template:

App Developer Interview Questions Template

Download this template now so you know exactly what to ask App Development Agencies! Let us know where should we send it through the form below.

As for the tech stack itself, notice that throughout the entire article, we’ve not named a single programming language or database.

There’s no point.

You don’t need to know about any tech stack other than your developer’s.

Once you know what tech stacks they like using, you need a reliable third party.

Importance of having a reliable developer to fully utilize the tech stack
We said reliable!

If you have a friend with a software engineering degree, invite them to your house for a cup of coffee, then hit them on the head and lock them in your basement until they evaluate your developer’s stack.

If you don’t have a friend you trust (probably because you like to kidnap them), you can always ask Reddit – we’d recommend the web developer subreddit as a starting point.

Just be mindful that this is a subreddit of technical people, for technical people. 

So be very clear that you’re a non-techie, and just need help evaluating a developer’s tech stack.

Explain what you want your app to do, then share what your developer wants to use.

If Redditors think it’s bad, ask them to please explain in business terms – security, scalability, or speed, for example.

If it’s good, just say it’s good! 

And you can pretty comfortably go back to not caring.  

You see, with this, you now go from this reasonable position:

The state where we want to take non-technical founders to after they start reading this article about technology stack - they are aware of but don't understand it yet

To the sweet spot: 

The state where we want to take non-technical founders to after finish reading this article about technology stack - they are aware of and understand

You know just enough about the concept and components of a tech stack, and your developer’s specific stack, to make an informed decision.

It’s either yes, let’s go with it, or no, I want something that gives better XYZ.

It’s never a situation where you need to blindly trust.

This is ultimately one of those things where you want to stay out of the way as long as you know your developers are competent. 

After that, just go back to the only stack that matters: Butter, honey, cream and at least 10 inches of fluffy goodness.

A stack of pancakes to represent the technology stack
Aw hell yeah.

By the way: Like what you just read? Then read some more! Sign up for our newsletter and get tips, cheat sheets and easy-to-understand content on app development sent directly to your inbox.

App Developer Interview Questions Template

Download this template now so you know exactly what to ask App Development Agencies! Let us know where should we send it through the form below.


You might also like

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Don't Hire An App Developer Before Reading This

This FREE eBook reveals all the traps most App Development Agencies hope you will silently fall into…and how you can avoid these expensive pitfalls for your app project!