When Can You Call Yourself a Senior Developer?
Experience is a mandatory requirement for every senior developer job requirement. But experience alone doesn’t make you a senior developer.
So what’s the secret? It’s a complicated question and probably doesn’t have a real answer. Often, developers think of themselves as senior developers but lack some of the attributes.
Recently in an interview, I have met with a 22-year-old developer who claimed to be a senior developer. He was good but I don’t think he had all the attributes of a senior developer.
I wished him luck, but I couldn’t hire him as a senior developer.
But one question hit me. How do you define a senior or junior developer? When does a junior developer become a senior developer?
It’s not as though one morning a developer wakes up and just becomes senior. But everyone needs to know where they are and how they are developing.
There Is No Fine Line Between a Junior and Senior Developer
I’ve asked several developers who have been working in the industry for over 10 years. Many of them gave many answers. Isn’t that normal? Does it really have to be a single answer? I don’t think so.
Honestly, many companies have many definitions of senior programmers when hiring. Some companies think that after five years a developer becomes a senior. Some think it takes eight to ten years.
I believe that time is needed to develop from a junior to a senior. Still, we can’t give an exact time period in which junior developers automatically become senior developers.
After talking with some developers who have ten years or more experience, and googling for an hour, I have some common answers. Let’s talk about them.
What Are the Attributes? The Differences Between Junior and Senior Developers
Most senior developers have some attributes in common — but don’t take them too seriously. It’s not like if you miss one of these attributes, you are not in the league. But it’s important to have these qualities to become a senior developer.
See beyond the coding
Most programmers can’t tell or predict much about a project at the beginning of their careers. But senior programmers can tell many things about a project from the beginning. They will be able to say how hard it is, or which tech stack would be a good fit for a project, and so on.
Senior programmers can see the future and take action before any problems occur.
Taking important decisions
Taking important decisions in the beginning or middle of a project is an important attribute of a senior programmer.
Senior programmers can match the technical solutions to business needs. No companies pay that much just for coding. Senior programmers know the business and help companies grow it.
Experience, of course
When I was a junior programmer, I chose Firebase as the backend system for our startup. But with time, we understood that Firebase didn’t fit our project.
This is a difference between a senior and a junior programmer. Senior programmers know which technology stacks suit which projects.
Some qualities and attributes only come with experience that senior devs have. I am not saying that experience alone makes you a senior dev — but it’s necessary.
Leadership and communication skills
In my opinion, when a programmer starts mentoring and guiding junior programmers, they start the process of becoming one.
Communication skills are also an essential attribute here. Software development is a collaborative process. Senior developers manage to get everyone aligned on the same goal, which may also involve compromise.
They know office politics and they know how to act on it.
Senior programmers know what they don’t know
Junior programmers don’t know most things. Even senior devs don’t know all the things. But junior programmers don’t know what they don’t know. That’s a big difference between a junior and senior dev.
Senior programmers know what they don’t know and they know how to get a task done. Junior programmers don’t know their own weaknesses. This ability is what makes a senior programmer an effective solo programmer.
Knowledge vs. Deep knowledge
Knowledge is the first necessary quality to become a senior in any field, right? But knowledge alone won’t make you senior. Learning five new programming languages is not the quality.
Rather, knowing a technology deeply is the key. You can understand this easily with one simple technique: Try to teach it to someone else. Then you can identify the gap between the knowledge you have and what you should have.
Another great piece of advice comes from Mike Lewis, one of the many developers and programming experts who contributed to Kevlin Henney’s excellent
Don’t be afraid to break things
The idea of breaking something might sound impractical — no professional wants to end up making things worse, let alone a programmer. But if you’re willing to break things, you’ll end up with better code overall and learn more deeply.
So, if you want to become a senior developer sooner, you have to consume knowledge better than others.
If you are respected and paid well, titles are just words. Often, companies add titles unnecessarily to please employees. But it doesn’t help them in the long run and often creates unnecessary expectations.
Once I interviewed a wonderful young developer who wouldn’t join the company unless we gave him a senior developer designation because that’s what his previous job title was. But I couldn’t give him that because that would be unfair to my existing senior developers.
Whether we become a senior developer or not, whether we want the title or not, we should try to achieve the qualities of a senior developer. Shouldn’t we?