Answered! What does it take to become a senior developer?

Who’s a senior developer? For some enterprises, it’s anybody who’s completed three years in the post of a developer. For others, a senior developer is the kind of person whom they can call upon to fix the nastiest of bugs, spearhead ambitious development projects, handle critical discussions with vendors and internal teams, and in general, get difficult work done without asking too many questions. If you’ve been stuck with the general designation of “developer” for some years now, and want to make a leap (in terms of skills, responsibilities, and, of course, salary), this guide is for you.

More on our definition of ‘senior developer’

Technology and software development, in particular, is a difficult world. The volume of information out in the public domain is massive. Software development paradigms are changing quickly. Colleges and specialized industry courses are churning out competent coders and programmers every few months. Developers are under pressure, and doing well to hold on to their roles, let along advance in their careers. And you want to become a senior developer? Good on you.

Well, learning a dozen programming languages won’t make you a senior developer. Knowing the latest from the world of software development and systems development life-cycles (SDLC) doesn’t make the cut, either, although that’s great for a developer. A senior developer is a person who can bring in 10 times value to the company. These are developers who know how “order of magnitude” works and can deliver value to the customer. Think of it as a lot more than a job title. Think of it as the honorary title of a tech wizard who can take the business (or a part of it) forward via technology.

Next up, let’s cover all the skills you need to acquire and hone to be a veritable senior developer.

Vision of a senior developer

senior developer

So many times, people come out of coding boot camps, burst upon the scene, but then get caught in the run of the mill. The reason — lack of understanding of core computers science concepts such as data structure and algorithms. Don’t be that guy (or gal). These concepts are the foundation of the entire branch of computer science.

The senior developer, of course, goes beyond tools. Once you achieve a certain level of expertise in a technology, the incremental benefit of knowing a bit more isn’t huge, particularly when your company can source the missing expertise at low cost. Your vision, however, will take you places. Whenever you face a choice if a tool, programming language, algorithm, the questions running in your mind should be on the lines of:

  • What’s the root cause of this problem?
  • Why is this library the best choice in this scenario?
  • Why this framework, and not the other one?
  • What’s the most critical problem we’re trying to solve?
  • What are the chances this choice will create problems when the solution scales up?

Connect the dots

Apart from the WHYs and WHATs, a potent weapon in the artillery of a senior developer is HOW. These people are able to fit disparate concepts into larger canvasses and create highly sophisticated “paintings.” Senior developers are often involved in solving technology puzzles with a large number of tools, technologies, systems, processes, and people. They need to be able to connect the dots and look beyond the immediate tasks at hand. This is necessary to make the right choices that could have invisible though far-reaching consequences. That’s why CTO’s don’t mind paying cool salaries to people who can chew large pieces of information about technology setup, ask the right questions (although not that many), and create great results by the dint of their vision.

Immaculate emotional intelligence

senior developer

Anybody who’s worked in the capacity of a senior developer will tell you — coding is the simplest of tasks when compared to people management. However, senior developers need to work with large teams, and hence, can’t expect to thrive if their egos are also senior!

Consideration, cooperation, and encouragement — these are the essentials of how senior developers work with fellow teammates. Learn to love without the incredulity and admiration that egged you on in your early days, as “extraordinary” becomes the expectation from you.

Remember this — the ability to strike a good rapport with people will get you further in your career. Talk to known and revered people’s managers in your organization, and refresh the basics of social psychology. These skills will help you, and quickly catch the eyes of leaders. CTOs want people with good emotional intelligence quotient to be taking senior roles, even if it’s that of a senior developer.

Skill of a masterful instructor

The leaders of tech-heavy organizations know that their senior developers should be able to interact masterfully with internal and external customers and stakeholders. Tech jargon won’t take you anywhere when you interact with people from non-technical backgrounds. That’s why the best senior developers are the ones who don’t get wowed by technology.

Instead, you will need to cultivate the skill of explaining complex technical concepts in simple language, using real-life examples, and by quickly gauging the level of comfort the listener has with the jargon. Also, client interaction demands that you be a good negotiator, and must steadfastly put your points, and patiently listen to the other party.

Build a growth mechanism

You know it already — what got you here won’t get you there. As you move higher on the enterprise ladder, the mechanism of your growth hacking must mature and get better. Getting the mentorship of a senior developer can be invaluable in your early days. Apart from that, you need to innovate and be in the thick of things. The idea is to learn smart and fail quickly and cheaply. Podcasts, crash course, socialization with industry experts, Q&A sessions, coding challenges — there’s no dearth of platforms to learn quickly. Build a mix that works for you.

The next level awaits

You’ve learned to code. The hard bit is done. Now’s the time to truly understand what you need to do to take things to the next level.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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