Different Paths to Senior

3 min read

People in my network took different paths to become senior software engineers.


First: what is a senior?

Someone who can get it “done”, from a-z (sounds like full-stack, but it’s valid: do it all. testing, bit of devops)

Own the process. The whole process. Be the project manager you want to see in the world. https://swizec.com/blog/what-makes-you-a-senior-software-engineer-anyway/

  • Have some leadership skills, can mentor other people. “hat für mich vor allem etwas mit eigenständigkeit und problem-lösungs verständnis zu tun”

Times I’ve seen people level up to senior:

Nayan: Someone with 6+ years of experience in tech from writing code to deploying and maintaining it. Someone who can create architecture of system.

Common paths to get there

1 The career switcher (example from physics)

My experience: I’ve seen a guy coming to Germany with a electrical engineering degree, then learning ruby in 3 months. He passed as a senior right in month 4 after he debugged something deep in a package we were using.

People from an academic background:

  • they know how to learn.
  • And they usually know math.
  • And they are critical of what they see in front of them.

2 The generally smart guy who gets it right away

First dev at first company. Started computer science, started coding with us. Went into a client project right away. Time to senior: 2 years. Super smart guy.

Same with Max. He was good right off the bat. Same with Elvis. And Raphael, back then.

3 One long job, being promoted

Phuc Tran: My distinct moment was when I was promoted to senior at my job (without asking).

Seen many of them in my client’s companies.

They go with a slowly, steady progression. Takes them years to get really good. But eventually they are unstoppable.

Usually they always want to make side projects, but never get to it.

Flo: Ich find da gibt es mehrere Indikatoren:

Wenn man mir eine Aufgabe zuteilt und mir zutraut sie zu bewältigen, und ich es schaffe. Und zwar so, dass es von anderen Seniors als ein valider Weg die Aufgabe abzuschließen angesehen wird, und nicht nur auf den ersten Blick funktioniert. Und ich glaube das ist ein Prozess. Es wird immer noch was zu lernen geben und man ist nicht einfach eines Tages “Senior”.

Wenn ich besser und besser erkenne, was Fragen sind die sich aufs generelle entwickeln beziehen und was Fragen sind die sich aufs Projekt beziehen. Die “unknown unknowns” werden generell weniger. Und die generellen Implementationsfragen natürlich auch.

Ein Stück weit ist es auch eine Entscheidung im day-to-day Verhalten ein Senior zu sein. Aufmerksam in Meetings sein; Sich darauf einlassen present in technischen Diskussionen zu sein und in den Fragestellungen die diskutiert werden achtsam und aktiv mitzuwirken; (zb bei Refinements) -> Irgendwann merkt man, dass ab und an gute Ideen kommen.

4 The side project hustler

My Path: going through many side projects.

I really only became a senior in 2020 when I could build an app from a-z. what other people thought: I was one already in 2018, 6 months after re-starting my coding career.

Punch line

There’s success bias. All of these above have one thing in common: curiosity.

Opportunists, who just jump on the career because it makes money: hardly ever seen them. They do exist, but they almost never make it to senior stage.

Who should you hire?

It doesn’t matter. Hire the person a) who you get along with and who has good attitude. And b) who has done the same job before.

Till Carlos

I'm Till, a senior developer who started a software company. I explain software concepts for people in leading roles.