The Journey to Senior Level
Becoming a senior developer is not an overnight achievement. It takes time and effort, typically around five years for most individuals. However, exceptional hard-working individuals may reach that level faster, while those who prefer staying in their comfort zone may remain at lower levels for extended periods. But worry not! Becoming a great software developer doesn’t require innate talent or magic. It’s all about consistent practice and continuous learning.
You can’t become a senior developer overnight. It’s a gradual process that starts with being a junior developer, then progressing to mid-level, and finally reaching the senior level. While there may be career forks along the way, such as managerial positions, we’ll focus on the developer’s career path in this article.
Feel free to navigate through the sections that align with your current level and future promotion. If you’re a junior developer, a trainee, or just starting, we recommend reading the entire article to get a clear understanding of what lies ahead.
Choosing the Right Language
If you’re new to software engineering, you might be wondering which programming language to learn first. Learning a programming language is the initial step towards becoming a software developer. However, the choice of language depends on the type of software you aspire to build in the next few years.
Choosing Your Development Path
Front-end development is often considered the easier aspect of a project. It involves working with HTML/CSS, utilizing UI component libraries, and handling mostly repetitive and straightforward business logic. However, there are times when you’ll encounter complex tasks that require innovative user interactions, component development, or creative graphics. These tasks are usually assigned to skilled mid-level or senior engineers.
Unlike front-end development, back-end development requires deeper theoretical knowledge right from the start. While you may predominantly work on simple CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) APIs, you’ll also encounter projects that demand complex data structures, algorithms, and in-depth database knowledge. Back-end developers must prioritize security, scalability, code design, and software architecture.
Full-stack development is not recommended for beginners. It encompasses both front-end and back-end development, allowing you to build entire projects from scratch. Starting with either front-end or back-end development before venturing into full-stack development is generally more feasible. Inexperienced full-stack developers often possess surface-level knowledge across various technologies. To become a full-stack expert, you’ll need ample software development experience with different technologies. Many begin their full-stack journey by developing pet projects in their free time or assisting overwhelmed teams with their daily tasks.
To assist your understanding, take a look at the “Junior Front-end Skills” diagram below:
Junior developers are capable of completing basic tasks independently and intermediate tasks with some guidance. While they may not initiate new projects or participate extensively in architectural design, they contribute significantly to both simple and large-scale projects.
Autonomy is a vital trait for junior developers. The most valuable junior developers achieve outstanding results with minimal supervision. In addition to programming language knowledge, they should also possess the following skills for effective code design and development:
- Debugging, testing, and monitoring code
- Working with code repositories like Git
- Understanding essential data structures and algorithms
- Familiarity with basic design patterns
- Basic knowledge of IT and web application functioning
- Understanding of Object-oriented Programming (OOP) and familiarity with procedural and functional programming
Front-end developers should also excel in their chosen framework, understand best practices, and possess knowledge of HTML/CSS and a UI component library or CSS framework. Back-end developers, on the other hand, must be well-versed in Node.js, different databases, and deployment processes. Full-stack developers must have solid knowledge in both front-end and back-end domains, making them “jacks of all trades.”
You can refer to our competency matrix under the “Junior” section for a comprehensive list of required and recommended skills. It’s worth noting that while most junior developers may not possess all the listed skills, having a broad understanding would significantly increase your chances of landing your first software development job.
Now let’s take a look at the “Middle Front-end Skills” diagram to get an insight into middle developers’ skill set:
Middle developers are responsible for substantial portions of a project and can handle smaller projects independently. They possess a deeper understanding of the skills required by junior developers. Additionally, as they often manage small teams of junior developers, they must delve into refactoring, code design, and basic DevOps practices. Communication and soft skills are equally crucial, as they may interact with various stakeholders.
Middle back-end developers require a solid understanding of architectural considerations to integrate their code and modules into larger projects. Knowledge of cloud platforms, message brokers, back-end design, and software architecture is imperative.
To progress from a junior to a middle developer, you must actively pursue conscious learning steps, taking ownership and responsibility for your work. Refer to our competency matrix’s “Middle” section for guidance on the learning process.
Advancing to Senior Level
The key differentiator between middle developers and senior developers is experience – there are no shortcuts. However, experience limited to straightforward projects or a single technology is insufficient. Senior developers require extensive knowledge backed by practical experience to tackle complex problems effectively.
Senior developers often oversee mid-sized projects and provide technical guidance to small teams. They must become experts in all technologies familiar to middle developers. Furthermore, they should be capable of setting up projects from scratch and offering technical leadership to others. Tech leads, in larger teams, assume this role, although smaller teams are usually led by senior developers.
In certain cases, senior developers may also handle DevOps responsibilities in production and take charge of designing the system architecture or significant parts of it, especially in smaller teams.
For more information on becoming a senior developer, please refer to our recommendations.
Ideally, having a mentor to guide you and assist in creating a Personal Development Plan (PDP) would expedite your journey. At ProgramMatek, we provide mentorship to all our developers. However, we recognize that creating PDPs from scratch and finding the necessary learning materials consumes a significant amount of time. Hence, we have organized everything into an easily accessible competency matrix, which is public, free, and user-friendly.
While the competency matrix primarily serves as a tool to help developers with their PDPs, it offers much more. It provides a wealth of ideas for tech talks and sets clear level definitions for our team members and clients. We encourage our engineers to contribute to its development, fostering a collaborative engineering culture. Moreover, it serves as a simple guide for self-development. We do not enforce the matrix at ProgramMatek, allowing developers the freedom to focus on their current projects as long as they deliver satisfactory results and do not wish to switch projects.
The matrix covers three levels – junior, middle, and senior – across three competencies: front-end, back-end, and full-stack. Each position encompasses both must-know and recommended skills. Must-know skills are those frequently utilized or deemed essential for a particular developer position. For example, junior front-end developers work with Git, React, and state management daily. They must also possess the ability to debug and troubleshoot code in both local and production environments. Each position’s skill set builds upon skills from the previous level.
Refer to the matrix and take advantage of the required and recommended skills at your current level. Identify gaps in your knowledge and create a learning plan or PDP for yourself. Begin exploring the suggested learning resources or conducting targeted research on topics you need to deepen your understanding of. Before moving on to the next skill, ensure you grasp all the concepts covered in the current skill.
This iterative process is one of the most effective ways to advance your software development career. Even if you have a mentor, we recommend reviewing all the skills in the matrix together. This approach reduces the risk of overlooking crucial areas and provides you with a curated list of high-quality learning materials.
If you have any inquiries or suggestions relating to the matrix, don’t hesitate to contact us using the form below. We’re here to support your development journey!