Getting to the Next Level as a Mid-Level Developer
Knowing what it takes to get to the next level
Being a mid-level developer can be quite a grey area. What is it that makes you a mid-level developer but not yet a senior developer? And how do you determine what level of developer you are?
Luckily, the level of seniority isn’t solely based on the years of programming experience that you have. Or else it would mean that every developer could become a senior developer, regardless of their skills.
You can have over 10 years of programming experience, but if you only did some shallow programming tasks in those years, most developers wouldn’t consider you as a senior developer. The quality of the experience that you have should be taken into consideration.
This is great news if you’re a mid-level developer since it means that you could become a senior developer on your own timeline instead of having to wait X amount of years because you lack programming experience. This means that you’re in the driver’s seat of your own success — which is great!
With that being said, we know that it’s more than just experience that differentiates the senior developer from the mid-level developer. So what exactly are the differences? And what can you do as a mid-level developer to get to the next level?
This might come as a surprise to you, but the biggest difference between the mid-level and the senior developer isn’t their actual coding skills. Of course, a senior developer has more knowledge of all the things that are involved in software projects. Think about architecture, security, and performance.
However, mid-level and senior developers can both build software that does the job. The biggest difference based on programming skills is in the fact that the senior developer’s code is much more readable. Writing code that is readable is a very hard skill to develop. Way harder than most developers realize.
The reason why being able to write readable code is such a big thing is because the code has to make sense for other developers who work with it in the future. A new team that has never seen the code before should be able to open the code and start working on new features or bug fixes.
When you read code that’s written by a senior developer, you can see what the intent of that piece of code is. This is partly because of well-named variables, methods, and classes.
Well-executed implementations of the separation of concerns principle make what could easily be a tangled-up and difficult-to-follow solution into something that is manageable and almost simple.
When looking at a senior developer’s code, you might think, is this all there is? Where’s the rest of the code? The senior developer’s code is straightforward and maybe even dumb. It follows the KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid.
More Than Just Coding
Writing readable code requires that you’re already a good developer. But on top of that, if you want to be a senior developer you need to have the added skill of being an excellent communicator and teacher — which is one of the things that really make you a senior developer.
While the mid-level developer actively collaborates with team members, including designers and business analysts, the senior developer takes it a little bit further. The senior developer is capable of mentoring mid-level and junior developers.
Being the go-to person for other developers is a big responsibility. Mentorship is becoming a more and more valuable part of software development, where things tend to evolve quickly. Knowledge-sharing and education are critical for all of us to keep up with all the changes.
When it comes to doing independent work, a mid-level developer can work on relatively routine tasks. A mid-level developer has deepened their understanding of development cycle scenarios, which allows them to perform tasks more accurately. A mid-level developer sees the results of the occurring problems and learns how to avoid them in the future. Most likely, a mid-level developer isn’t working on designing solutions.
A senior developer is capable of handling the entire development cycle, including designing an entire application. A senior developer tries to foresee issues and resolve them before they happen. As a problem-solver, a senior developer must think in advance about the system bottlenecks and keep in mind vulnerabilities and problems.
When facing difficulties, senior developers know how to ask the right questions and how these questions get handled. Mid-level developers can ask the right questions when it comes to their relatively routine tasks, but they need help on more complex tasks.
Getting to the Next Level
Getting from mid-level to senior can be quite hard. Since experience isn’t the only thing that gets you from the mid-level to the senior level, some developers will stay mid-level for the entire length of their career.
Senior developers know what corners can be cut and what corners should never be cut. These are lessons they’ve learned by making mistakes in the past. As a mid-level developer, you should try to get involved in the things that senior developers do. Try to get involved in the process of designing an application, for example.
You don’t have to be the person that comes up with all the great solutions, but you should just try to get a feel for how the process works and what it takes to design that application. Get to know the thought process of the senior developer. Take note of everything that the senior developers takes into account when making decisions. That’s valuable information that you’ll need in order to grow.
If you want to get to the senior level, you should know more than just how to get the job done. You have to be prepared to take the tasks that no one knows how to fix — regardless of how complex the task is.
As a senior developer, your job is also to help the less experienced developers. You’re the fallback for other developers when they don’t know how to do something. So if you’re a mid-level developer looking to take the next step, you should really try to mentor at least one developer.
Becoming a senior developer has to do with more than just the years of programming experience that you have. Sure, it’s safe to say that senior developers are more skilled, but programming skills are not the most important factor.
A senior developer is someone who’s an excellent communicator and teacher. They’re the go-to person in a team for the less experienced developers. Senior developers have the capability to help other developers because they are masters of their tech stack.
Another thing that distinguishes the senior from the mid-level developer is the way they handle difficulties. Mid-level developers can ask the right questions when it comes to most regular tasks. Senior developers know what questions to ask in all situations and are capable of handling the entire development cycle.
Sometimes, a fresh punk out of college can run circles around veterans who have 20+ years of “experience.” Programming is a bizarre world where code is king.
Some developers achieve the above in a couple of years or less, and others take ten years.