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Paul Jackowski 28 May 2019 13 min to read
7 Steps to Become a Senior Software Developer
Who is a Senior Software Developer?
A typical software developer career path consists of three stages: junior, middle, and senior. The way of assessing the seniority level varies between the companies, and may depend on the tech stack, organization, project, and other factors (e.g. region – Senior Software Developers in Poland need to meet exacting requirements, as the software companies from the region position themselves as top-notch providers, and so their tech teams need to live up to the higher standards). There are; however, some prerequisites and characteristics that are common for most of the developers with a senior title.
Experience and expertise are the first qualities associated with any senior position. In the software developer career, seniority also comes with exceptional knowledge and a few years of experience gained in different types of IT projects. But does it mean that a Senior Software Developer is the most experienced or knowledgeable member of a team?
While it’s vital to be high-skilled and have gained some battle scars already, it isn’t enough without a good understanding of the business side of things and (ironically) solid soft skills. Senior Software Developers are expected to be able to handle the entire software development cycle, mentor other team members, and communicate efficiently with both tech and business stakeholders.
They often need to manage projects independently, so they are involved in the decision-making about the design and implementation, as well as in communication with clients (external in case of custom software providers or internal in case of a product company).
Senior Developers are PROBLEM-SOLVERS. They must foresee any issues and vulnerabilities of the systems and make sure implementation methods prevent them.
So how to become a Senior Software Developer? What can a Junior or Middle Developer do to become a Senior one day?
Step #1: Meat and Potatoes
To take full responsibility for a software development process, you need to have a holistic understanding of how it works. The expertise of a Senior Software Developer doesn’t limit to the programming language or framework used on a daily basis. (S)he is required to comprehend the mechanisms behind the IT environment in general, the data structure and algorithms, and other elements that transform business ideas into a working software product.
It’s relatively easy to launch a career in the IT sector without a relevant academic degree. Actually, programming beginners are frequently advised not to invest in higher education. While it’s true, you can code without an academic background, it’s worthwhile to get to know the basics, understand how the world of computer science works. Academic science of advanced mathematics has not made anyone a worse programmer.
It’s also worth mentioning that growing a software developer career is not about learning all the programming languages, frameworks, or libraries out there. While it’s important to understand the advantages and disadvantages, together with the logic behind and use cases of different technologies, they all share similar principles. A thorough understanding of the IT basics will allow you to get a good grasp of any novelties quickly.
Step #2: Never Stop Learning
Learning is a constant in any job, but especially in the world of programming, where the technology is continuously changing, it’s crucial to keep up with the innovations. A good senior understands the importance of being up-to-date and approaches new things smartly. (S)he understands the why and how of the changes in the development affairs. At the same time (s)he wisely picks the topics worth more in-depth exploration. That decision depends mostly on their role specifics or individual interests.
Nursing a growth mindset requires extra effort, but in return, makes us enjoy our jobs in the long term. Learning can take different forms, from online courses (e.g. Codecourse), blogs (e.g. Hackernoon, freeCodeCamp, codeburst), podcasts (e.g. Full Stack Radio, Developer Tea) and videos (e.g. PHP Academy), through conferences and meetups, to attending workshops, hackathons or pair programming. The programming ecosystem is strongly focused on skills development, so there are a lot of options one can explore during their career.
Most Seniors don’t limit their learning efforts to the coding itself. They explore multiple fields, like productivity, working methodologies, team management, and all the other aspects that constitute parts of the product development process.
Step #3: Become an Expert in the Company
To become a Senior Software Developer, you need to be recognized as an outstanding team member. Think about what it means in your organization.
Seniors are usually responsible for key projects. They get there by gradually improving the way they do their job. By optimizing the velocity and quality of their performance, they are able to deliver more in less time (and with fewer bugs). They know smart ways to do things better.
Step #4: Be a Team Player
Any software developer career paths involve collaboration with humans. As already mentioned above, seniors are usually required to manage (at least partially) the projects, and so also other people. This is where social skills and emotional intelligence come in.
Senior Developers need to be cooperative, encouraging, and emphatic. They are the problem-solvers, and their role is to facilitate the problem-solving efforts of others as well. The team should feel comfortable approaching a Senior to discuss their doubts and challenges with him or her.
To become a Senior Software Developer, one should realize the importance of these values and play in a team. People’s trust and interpersonal skills are not gained overnight. At the same time, it’s something you can incorporate in your attitude from the very beginning of your software developer career.
Step #5: Share Your Knowledge
Seniors are active members of the programming community, and an engaged community is a huge asset of a technology. Senior software developers in Poland are usually well recognized by their peers, as they get involved in contributing to the community in many different ways, e.g. speaking at or co-organizing meetups, giving talks at conferences, contributing to open source, writing articles, or taking part in mentoring programs.
But it’s not only about the community around a programming language or a framework. The internal community is a vital part of any IT organization. Seniors are the ones to promote good programming practices across the teams. They also initiate discussions about how the work is going, what can be improved, and how.
Seniors realize the value of knowledge sharing and they make it a habit. They understand that, as Robert Noyce said, Knowledge is power. Knowledge shared is power multiplied. They are eager to share their achievements and observations, and so become go-to people to less experienced team members.
Step #6: Get Your Hands Dirty in the Business
There are various Senior Software Developer career paths and no matter which one you choose, at some point you will end up taking over communication with a client (or another business stakeholder). The previous points already proved that seniority doesn’t come only from the coding knowledge, but also soft skills, severely neglected in some tech job skill development plans. Well, apart from communicating with other programmers, software developers interact with the business world as well.
As you get closer to the business side of creating products, your role shifts towards connecting and balancing it with the technical aspect.
Most importantly, you need to be able to communicate a client, and by that, I mean:
- Listen and understand their needs
- Explain complex programming concepts to a non-technical person
- Lead a well-organized conversation
- Negotiate when needed
- Build lasting relationships
Step #7: Trust Your Gut
If you enjoy what you do, and apart from the code you develop some social skills, the steps described above will come naturally. Trust your intuition and observe the Senior Developers around you. Learn from them, and if you think they could do things better, make a note to self. Things may seem different once you become one of them, and some of these observations may help you get one step further.
Sometimes the gut may not want to talk. Remember what you’ve just read, Seniors are there to support those at the early stages of their careers and contribute to the community that once helped them too.
Although software developer career paths vary from each other, there is a set of common skills. On a side note, if you ever decide to pursue your IT career in a non-traditional role, most of these steps will help you advance as well.
Enjoy your journey, and stay curious, but remember that passion and coaching slogans may be overrated. You also won’t move forward by obsessively thinking how to become senior software developer. The success and passion come from the small steps you diligently take every day.
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