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Levels of Seniority

I have been working on redoing the roadmaps – splitting the skillset based on the seniority levels to make them easier to follow and not scare the new developers away. Since the roadmaps are going to be just about the technical knowledge, I thought it would be a good idea to reiterate and have an article on what I think of different seniority roles.

I have seen many organizations decide the seniority of developers by giving more significance to the years of experience than they should. I have seen developers labeled "Junior" doing the work of Senior Developers and I have seen "Lead" developers who weren't even qualified to be called "Senior". The seniority of a developer cannot just be decided by their age, years of experience or technical knowledge that they have got. There are other factors in play here -- their perception of work, how they interact with their peers and how they approach problems. We discuss these three key factors in detail for each of the seniority levels below.

Different Seniority Titles

Different organizations might have different seniority titles but they mainly fall into three categories:

Junior Developer

Junior developers are normally fresh graduates and it's either they don't have or they have minimal industry experience. Not only they have weak coding skills but there are also a few other things that give Junior developers away:

Being a Junior developer in the team is not necessarily a bad thing; since you are just starting out, you are not expected to be a know-it-all person. However, it is your responsibility to learn, gain experience, not get stuck with the "Junior" title and improve yourself. Here are a few tips for Junior developers to help move up the ladder of seniority:

Mid Level Developers

The next level after the Junior developers is Mid Level developers. They are technically stronger than the Junior developers and can work with minimal supervision. They still have some issues to address in order to jump to Senior level.

Intermediate developers are more competent than the Junior developer. They start to see the flaws in their old codebase. They gain the knowledge but they get trapped into the next chain i.e. messing things up while trying to do them "the right way" e.g. hasty abstractions, overuse or unnecessary usage of Design Patterns -- they may be able to provide solution faster than the Junior developers but the solution might put you into another rabbit-hole in the long run. Without supervision, they might delay the execution while trying to "do things properly". They don't know when to make tradeoffs and they still don't know when to be dogmatic and when to be pragmatic. They can easily become attached to their solution, become myopic, and be unable to take feedback.

Mid-level developers are quite common. Most of the organizations wrongly label them as "Senior Developers". However, they need further mentoring in order to become Senior Developers. The next section describes the responsibilities of a senior developer and how you can become one.

Senior Developers

Senior developers are the next level after the Mid-level developers. They are the people who can get things done on their own without any supervision and without creating any issues down the road. They are more mature, have gained experience by delivering both good and bad software in the past and have learned from it — they know how to be pragmatic. Here is the list of things that are normally expected of a Senior Developer:

Conclusion

All teams are made up of a mix of all these seniority roles. Being content with your role is a bad thing and you should always strive to improve yourself for the next step. This article is based on my beliefs and observations in the industry. Lots of companies care more for the years of experience to decide the seniority which is a crappy metric -- you don't gain experience just by spending years. You gain it by continuously solving different sorts of problems, irrespective of the number of years you spend in the industry. I have seen fresh graduates having no industry experience get up to speed quickly and producing work of a Senior Engineer and I have seen Senior developers labeled "senior" merely because of their age and "years of experience".

The most important traits that you need to have in order to step up in your career are: not settling with mediocrity, having an open mindset, being humble, learning from your mistakes, working on the challenging problems and having an opportunity mindset rather than a complaining one.

With that said, this post comes to an end. What are your thoughts on the levels of seniority of developers? Feel free to send improvements to this guide. Until next time, stay tuned!

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