What does it take to make Senior Developer? Today we’re breaking it down so you can take your career to the next level.
Everybody wants to be a senior developer, and it’s no wonder why: senior devs can command double or even triple the salary of junior devs, and earn money competitive with prestigious professions like medicine and law. Senior devs also get crucial say in high-level project decisions, and a lot of new developers wish they had that: wish they could be writing in another framework or language, wish they had more control over the big-picture elements rather than just stewardship over individual pieces of code.
Today we’re breaking down what sets junior and senior developers apart. There’s really two important strands to understand here: how the jobs of junior and senior developers are different, and what skills separate a junior developer and their seniors. These things can often seem similar, but if you don’t practice certain skills then you can get stuck as a midlevel dev for the rest of your career. Being a senior developer is a function of time, but it’s also a function of practice, hard work, and a real desire to improve.
I’ve never been a fan of guides that say “a senior developer has x years’ experience” because there’s so much elasticity in it—I’ve seen developers jump to senior in 2 years and I’ve seen developers who never make it. There’s definitely a floor (you’re extremely unlikely to jump into a senior development role as a new graduate) but whenever you see a guide prescribing a certain number of years for a certain role, it’s important to understand that those numbers are a good baseline but definitely not set in stone. For what it’s worth, most job ads seem to set experience at the following levels:
- Junior: 1–3 years
- Mid-level: 2–7 years
- Senior: 6–10 years
You’ll notice some overlap there and that’s intentional, because these are pretty hazy definitions that will change from place to place.
Responsibilities of a Junior Developer
You write code. That’s a bit reductive, but it’s really the heart of it: your primary responsibility as a junior developer is to write code, and ideally write code that works. You’re often charged with smaller bugfixes and with writing simpler code, but don’t mistake that for being less important—if it didn’t need doing, it wouldn’t need anybody to do it. If there’s one major nontechnical responsibility you hold, it’s this: improve.
We’ll go into the qualities that requires later, but I can’t undersell how much of being a junior developer is about paying attention to what’s going on around you, and learning from your mistakes.
Responsibilities of a Senior Developer
There’s a running joke in some offices that developers who get good enough graduate out of writing code. It’s … sort of true. You’re probably always going to be writing code from time to time, but a senior developer definitely moves away from that and more onto the organisational side of things. You make macro decisions: which languages or frameworks to use, which features to implement, whether or not a project needs to be redirected. You are a team leader, and need to organise a team of developers and help them organise themselves.
Qualities of a (Good) Junior Developer
Here’s where things get interesting. It’s obviously important to write good code, but I think a lot of developers fall down because they think that’s the only thing that matters. What really sets a junior developer apart is that they’re diligent and they’re curious—they’re always interested in learning more and they’re willing to put in the hours to make it happen. That doesn’t mean working a hundred hours’ overtime a week (look after yourself, please) but it means if you have a spare minute, use it—if your code’s compiling and you’ve got nothing else to do, use that time to learn.
Be humble, as well. Maybe you think you’ve written a genius solution to a problem, but unless you comment it, it’s going to be a landmine for the developers who follow you. Nobody likes a cowboy coder who runs off on their own and tries to save the day without telling anybody why or how; good developers work on their soft skills, and a big part of that is knowing how to collaborate. You have a lot to learn, and that’s fine—all of the best developers in the world had to learn the same things, and they’d probably tell you they’re still learning all the time.
Qualities of a Senior Developer
Soft skills matter for any developer, but once you start reaching higher levels, your ability to lead effectively becomes paramount. You need to be able to get people to do what you want, in the way you want, but in a way that is compassionate and empathetic. You need to be able to back up your decisions in a way that makes the team believe that your way is the right way, rather than just trudging along doing what the boss says.
A senior developer also needs to have a broader eye than just their specialisation. We talk about T-shaped skillsets a lot, but a senior developer really needs to take that to heart: whatever you’re developing, it exists in an ecosystem of other systems. You don’t need to be a senior developer at everything, but you probably do want to stay up to date on the OWASP Top Ten, and on developments in cloud computing and deployment, on the changing face of APIs and headless systems. Use that curiosity you learned as a junior developer to keep yourself up-to-date on changes in the industry, so you can better-understand how to manage your own projects.
I don’t like reducing developer roadmaps down to “work hard”, because it doesn’t matter how hard you’re working if you’re doing the wrong work. The trick to becoming a real asset to the team is to create good code that has less bugs and creates more value. To get there, you need to be attentive to changing technology, to understand your own strengths and limitations, and to learn to work with other people. If there are two qualities that mark great developers, they are curiosity and kindness—the need to always know more, and the ability to empathise and work well with those around you.
If you’re a software developer looking for work, please check out our careers page: we have software developer jobs in Kolkata, and are always looking for new staff, especially those who are kind, curious, and clever. If you’re a developer who wants to stick around and keep reading before you make up your mind, I’d recommend our recent GoLang analysis to get you started.