How Do I Get There?

The Path from Junior Developer to Senior Developer
By William “Jim” Evans, Software Development Manager, Cognizant Softvision

Software Developer. It’s a title that we all share in some form or fashion, but how do we get that coveted title of “Senior Developer”? The short answer is Time. With time comes experience. Well, you have to walk before you can run!

Who is the guy writing this, you ask? My name is William Evans, but I have been going by “Jim” since I turned 18. I wrote my first video game in 1982 on a Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer since my Dad refused to buy games. I have worked as a developer ever since completing my military service in 1993. I got a Microsoft Certified Application Developer certification in 2004 and have worked for the US Government, banks, credit card companies, energy providers, healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, and am now a Softvisioner. Other than that, I haven’t done much.

This article is more about my experiences getting the title of Senior Developer. If you’re looking for career advice, this article is not going to do that. What worked for me may or may not work for you!

With that said, let’s see where we all had to start.

Junior Developer

So, you’ve downloaded Visual Studio Community Edition and played around with it for a little while. Perhaps you’ve even made your own website. “This is pretty cool,” you think. “How can I get paid for this?”

As a Junior Developer, you don’t have much industry experience. You’ve just heard about “Scrum,” “Story Sizing,” something called “Git,” and maybe even “CI/CD.” What in the world is all of that? You just want to make web pages!

We all had to start at the bottom. The Junior Developer, or Jr. Dev, is looking to get into the field and start learning. But, be prepared– it’s a lot like taking a sip from a fire hose. There is so much to learn, so you have to be ready to learn anything and everything.

It’s at this point in your career path that you should start thinking about the specific area you’d like to focus on. Do you want to create websites? How about mobile applications? Are you happy writing stuff for the customer to interact with or do you like implementing the logic behind the scenes?

Keep your head up and your ears open. Find a friendly Senior Developer, or Sr. Dev, and ask them questions!

Mid Developer (or just Developer)

At this point, you’ve had some experience and cashed a few paychecks. Pretty nice, isn’t it? You’ve probably started thinking about being the big developer on campus at this stage. You’ve got the basics down and are pretty good at what you do. So, how do you get that “Sr. Dev” title?

The Mid-Level Developer, or just plain “Developer,” is a good heads-down coder who can crank out most of the code needed for a customer. As a Developer, you start learning the edge case development stuff in this stage (multi-threading, caching, Object Relational Models or ORMs, etc). You should be pretty good with SQL and you’re becoming more confident and independent as the weeks go by. By this point, you should be able to find the answer to your questions rather than asking the Sr. Dev. In fact, you find that other developers are asking for your help or insight on things that they’re working on.

As a Mid-Level Dev, your input is requested more often in meetings. People want to know what you think. Time to start polishing those soft skills!

Senior Developer

You have been writing code for a couple of years. You are good with more than one database and ORM. You’re following best practices from memory and can put out some great code. Few bugs are returned on the code that you write, and you’ve even been asked to fix someone else’s code. You’ve made it… or so you think.

Many people think that a Sr. Dev should be a master at code and can crank out the software quickly and efficiently. That’s what makes them “senior.” However, this is just not true. At this stage of the game, more soft skills start coming into play. You may even be asked to join interviews for new developers.

More often than not, people earn the title of Sr. Dev based on how long they’ve been writing code. But there’s more to it than that (or, rather, there should be). Realistically, Sr. Developers should be able to mentor new Jr. Devs and help the developers with the tough stuff.

As a Sr. Dev, you find you are sitting in meetings and talking about more development and future plans than you ever did before. You’re rapidly approaching the proverbial “fork in the road.” “Do I keep going with development and point my career to Architecture? Do I head down the Dev Manager path and take on a team of developers to work for me?” You can also choose to remain a Sr. Dev for a very long time.

I stood and stared at that fork in the road for almost 10 years before I took the leap and became a Senior Development Manager. When you’re weighing out your options, just remember that staying a Sr. Developer means that you also have to stay relevant and up to date.

Onward and Upward (or, now what do I do? )

Congrats, Sr. Developer. You’ve made it. People look up to you and lean on you for just about everything. You are the top of the heap and should have a real sense of pride in yourself. So, now what?

Taking your skills to the next level is completely up to you! You can head down the path of running a development team or multiple development teams. You could go into the Architecture side and start thinking about more than classes, exception handling and deployments. When someone comes up with the next great application, they come to you to design it. It’s all about where your interests lay.

The path from Jr. Dev to Sr. Dev is an exciting one. It’s one that many have made before you and that many will make afterwards. Your career is much like life — it’s not about the end but about the journey. Take the opportunity to learn something new and stop and smell the code once and a while.

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