The Elusive Senior Software Developer

dariusx profile image Darius Updated on ・2 min read

Where does one find great Senior Software Developers?

The biggest problem: they’re not looking!

It’s easier to find programmers fresh from college, through events like job fairs. And in the early years of their careers, many are still looking for a better fit in a job, or looking for experience that can help them deepen their portfolio. So, they occasionally network or check job sites.

The elusive beast is the person who is not looking. Most companies try to hold on to competent employees. A good senior programmer is probably comfortable in their current job. They’re already doing interesting work. People respect them. They’re a “go to person” for colleagues and managers. They’re paid well. And, more often than not they’ve figured out a work-life balance that meshes their private schedules with the needs of their job.

They’re not necessarily in their perfect job. Maybe they would rather work on newer technology; maybe they’d rather not be the “go to person” on some subject because it’s old hat; maybe they would like a little more flexibility in managing their work-life balance; maybe they know they could earn a little more elsewhere. No, it isn’t necessarily the perfect job; but, it’s a good job. And, so, they’re not looking.

If they do not check job boards or otherwise look actively, how do we find them? Most do not make enough post-work time to attend networking events.One might find them on a site like LinkedIn and reach out to them. Chances are, though, that they are inactive on LinkedIn, with outdated profiles. Even if one finds them, the challenge is that they treat recruiter-emails as spam. One can try to break through to the few one can find: get them to click on that email! What about the others?

Finding them, when they aren’t looking, is the challenge. Thoughts and ideas?

Posted on by:


markdown guide

As a senior software engineer, I would read a recruiter email if it didn't look like a form letter that came from somebody that has not even bothered to look at my resume.

If you include information in the recruitment email that shows you read my resume, SO or LinkedIn profile, etc. and that the job is actually a reasonable fit and sounds interesting to me, I would likely reply. If I'm not personally interested in it, I might be willing to forward it to a friend that might have similar skills and is looking.

Also, consider offering a remote option. This provides a nice work/life balance that a lot of senior devs might appreciate. And don't be stingy with PTO, telling a senior dev that has 5 weeks of PTO at their current job that they will only have a couple weeks PTO if they change jobs could be a major problem.


Same, I read and respond to all recruiter messages that don't look automated.

Remote options without a cost of living skewed wage is important too. It doesn't matter if I live in a high cost city or not, my work product costs what I and the market consider fair.


Honest question - are there any companies that don't skew wages for cost of living? I haven't actively looked for remote positions but from what I saw it seemed to be a standard, even at respected places like Github and Mozilla.

I'm curious if this is perceived as a red flag for remote employees or a standard best practice that you disagree with.


Most of the recruiter emails usually go like this.


Hope this email finds you well.

Followed by a contract job description that doesn't fit your skills well and/or pays really low.

I agree remote options and PTO are big selling points.


"... I would read a recruiter email if it didn't look like a form letter that came from somebody that has not even bothered to look at my resume..."

This, all this all day every day.

Send me a form letter, your address goes on the block list.
Send me an ACTUAL letter, I'll give you the respect of actually reading it.

"...telling a senior dev that has 5 weeks of PTO at their current job that they will only have a couple weeks PTO if they change jobs could be a major problem...."

This is also an immediate deal breaker as well. Why should I leave where I am with 6+ weeks vaca a year for a new place with 2 to 4 weeks? No, not a chance. BTW: in the EU employees START with 4 weeks.


Yeah, sometimes recruiters reach out with some weird jobs (offering me a position as a warehouse supervisor) because somewhere I'd done inventory control software, lol.

We're considering reaching out without a particular position. The truth is that the place I work at will generally find a place within the organization for great person who is in the ballpark of our technologies. Candidly,even if the person is not looking now but might be doing so in a year or two, we'd like to chat with them and see whether to tell them to call us in a year, or not.

We're thinking about:

  • figuring out who these elusive people are (emails etc.)
  • how best to reach out via email

I totally agree with this... I'll reply when they actually show me jobs that match my skill set or offer work life balance... Otherwise my good job is good enough...


Some places to look

Companies that are going through some kind of upheaval. For example, a company that's loosing funding, having a "reduction in force", being acquired, shifted corporate focus or has had changes in upper management. Usually these things will have made current employees nervous and looking for a new opportunity.

Unexpected connections from college friends, former co-workers, church or social club acquaintances and so forth. They may know if someone is looking to make a change.

Consider older people who are still coding and staying up-to-date on technology and not into managing (like me). These are people in their late 40's to early 60's. Most have fewer family obligations since their children are grown and out of college. The problem is we often get overlooked in the recruiting process, especially if our age is apparent.


Yup, personal contacts are a good way. Would love to be able to "scale" that, somehow. Maybe some way ask personal contacts for their personal contacts.

Older folk do get overlooked, and if they do come through the pipeline, there's sometimes an age bias. From the hiring company's perspective, I feel confident we can deal with bias... there are few enough great folk coming in through the door that nobody can afford to let a bias reject good person.

Being overlooked is the big issue, but I think it's because the older programmers are not "out there" and looking actively the way younger ones do. That's what makes them so elusive. With personal obligations, they're slightly less likely to go to local meet-ups and clubs.

Part of this might be that older programmers are a bit jaded by recruiters who're seem to be all the same.So, the paradox is that many of them would like to switch to something more interesting and more lucrative, but might ignore recruiters, or not search as actively... and, meanwhile, there are companies that would like to hire them, but don't know who they are or how to find them.


Age boss is a thing. I've got way more experience than I show on LinkedIn so I can appear younger.

You might consider looking at recommendations. Most people don't write them but when they usually do so for the people who made a difference. Ymmv.


Hi all, I'm a senior developer and I have not found the elusive work life balance because I am working on a project I enjoy, where deadlines are aggressive and I can obsess. ;-) just like any other senior dev I get a ton of requests - so many emails it's hard to ignore them. I get at least one phone call a day although I have not posted my number out there. To keep my productivity high I respond with a single question: "What is the salary range?" I do this because if the recruiter is for real they will understand and respond. Then I ask a more important question: "is this your client exclusively". I haven't needed to take an interview in 3 years and I don't expect to any time soon although one of my colleagues recently accepted a job at a start-up for two reasons: 1) my company hired him as a contract-to-perm but did not keep their end of the bargain with him and 2) he was offered a title of 'architect' at the new role on a project 'adjacent' to an AI project.

I am intrigued by his situation enough to answer some emails and take some calls but it is unlikely that I would switch as I can walk to work, take a 20 minute Subway ride home, watch the boats on the Hudson River through 12 foot windows, eat lunch with colleagues on the lawns of the river or the Highline during good weather, play pool, giant chess, arcade games on various different floors of my building when I need to stretch my legs and best of all - I am respected at my workplace as the go to person for new projects as I regularly give lunch lectures to the tech leads.

Emails are the best way to reach me. I do not take calls and if by chance a call gets thru I will immediately request an email with the details. I do not post on boards or Stackoverflow although I am a voracious reader and I do not network anymore at meetups. I suppose I would start doing all these things if I was looking. I do not add anyone on LinkedIn as a rule of thumb and I would not change that but I have interviewed once in the past as a result of an excellent article by someone working at a big name company offering an awesome outlook on his philosophy. He and I had an excellent conversation as a result and then he asked me to interview and I was tempted. So I guess I would say get someone to write an interesting article as a draw and then talk to the people who are interested and ask them to interview if they are a good fit. Let me know if this works for you. Sorry for the run-ons; I am running to the gym. ;-)

Salary level, project type, title, PTO, benefits are imprtant to me in that order. Work from home is strangely not important as a really nice office space, easy commute, beautiful location, good colleagues are more important. I think I am also attracted by better weather now that it's getting colder in NYC ;-)

Darius thanks for an interesting post. I read voraciously but I don't usually reply to posts or even post on Stackoverflow due to the lack of time. I took time out to respond as it was helpful to think thru this interesting
and challenging problem you face.


By networking mostly and recommendations but ... there are many caveats.

For example most of the companies that searches for seniors they do not actually want seniors, they just want more experienced developers in X technology.

As you will read more topics on seniority (here on dev.to) you will see what I mean. It is a lot more then what HR think it means. If you do not have a good culture, with juniors to be mentored, fluid workflows and others most likely a senior will stay in the company's way and viceversa. You do not get a senior for its coding skills, you get one to empower other devs.


I always respond to recruiters on LinkedIn. Here are the reasons I turn down jobs: pay is lower than what I make now, PTO is less than I have now, they don't allow remote work, the culture is horrible, the work is fixing other people's mistakes not writing good software.

You mention mostly what is going on, so I think you just have to keep looking.

As for me, I've decided my next move will only be temp to hire, and I'm thinking of going independent again, I'm tired of being lured by the advertising nature of recruiting.


Thanks for the reply. Most developers seem to ignore contacts from recruiters, but that could be because they realize they're not being targeted narrowly, but just got picked up by some mailing tool.

We've been considering reaching out to people in a more generic way: because finally the specifics of technology and role matter less than getting people who have the right mix of tech depth, pragmatism, and end-user focus.


because finally the specifics of technology and role matter less than getting people who have the right mix of tech depth, pragmatism, and end-user focus.

Only if you actually hiring accordingly. I've had a number of experiences where supposedly the specifics didn't matter, go through interviews, and then get turned down on the basis of things that supposedly "weren't required."

Yes, a lot of technical interviewers take a narrow view of what they need for the next 12 months on their project. That may be okay when hiring temp folk, but for employees one ought to step back and consider what the company needs.


Two ideas. One might be to engage with them on Stack overflow or here in Dev.to

The second is attending Meetups, conferences and hackatons. I visit those regularly and I often find myself among great developers.


Those are good ideas.

The folks with a mutual interest are probably on StackOverflow. It's too bad that SO doesn't encourage social interactions. The topic has been discussed a few time on Meta, and they're very explicit about it. They might even be right that it will alter who they are, but I wish they could find a way to add some such element.


SO made a specific portal, probably it is used by those who hate Linkedin stackoverflow.com/jobs


Last thing we (the devs) want are lurking recruiters at meetups and stack overflow, do not give them more ideas :)) they already started to approach people on Facebook ...


You can't ... the best case for you it the developer needs to be either losing their gig or not happy with their current situation. If they are currently "happy" with their gig you will really need to wow them with an offer or something significant. Frankly most developers need to be intrigued. They are NOT going to just quit their gig just to write your code you've already done all the designs and picked the tools. Its going to take a lot of time and effort on the hiring companies part to make the developer feel great about the opportunity. Do they get to hire their supporting cast? Do they get a say in whats happening with the project?


This is me in a nutshell. I was very happy as a senior Solaris developer [curmudgeon: "full stack, eh? Does that start at the firmware and go up to the browser, or did you forget something?"], until suddenly I wasn't and have been actively looking for work for 4 months now.

While I had some talks with other companies prior to getting retrenched, I didn't make any moves because I was committed to what I was doing, was the "go to" person for several teams in disparate areas, and had significant responsibilities and influence.

Now, though, while I'm upskilling on a heap of technologies that I never needed to know beforehand, I'm paying careful attention to how ads are written and noticing what @DerekD mentioned about frameworks vs languages.

Another thing about resumes / linkedin - my experience is that while it's easy to add a new position, writing a blurb which advertises you sufficiently (let alone well!) is difficult - or is that just because I'm hesitant to blow my own trumpet?


In today's world, I think it makes sense for software folk to switch companies every 5 or 6 years. I think the exception would be when one is shifting technologies and keeping up with new stuff within the same company (which is rare outside of consulting).

If Australian companies are anything like the U.S., I would think that some knowledge about micro-services, Kubernetes and related products, and cloud platforms like Azure/AWS are hot now.

Indeed, those parts of tech are really hot right now. I'm behind the curve on my adoption because I was really happy in my ivory tower.

Having started my career in universities (where tenure is still a thing), moving to Sun (for my dream job with my dream company) I fully expected to be with that company until I retired. Now that that ride has ended, I reckon I've got 20 years worth of fulltime work left in me and I have to rejig my mindset to expect that I might work for 5-10 companies in that time.


All-but-one of the positions I have held along my career have been through word of mouth.

I think the best place to find senior software developers is to ask other developers. And if there is a little financial incentive, that would be nice too... and it would be a lot cheaper than using a recruitment firm.

One of the other possibilities is to make it an easy option for developers to move around within the company. Several places I have worked it was far easier to take a new job at a different company — often involving a promotion in the process — than to try to transfer within the company. (And an "in place" promotion? Few and far between.) And that's unfortunate.


With most of the jobs I'm contacted for, I just get a general intro of, "Hi, I was looking through your profile and thought you'd be a great fit for a role I'm hiring for..." Then they send the job description and half the requirements list technologies I have no experience in. This isn't necessarily a big deal, but I'm a front end developer and, while I have back end experience, I wouldn't consider myself senior-level for full stack developement, too.

Usually, I reply to all recruiters (not necessarily in a timely fashion though, if I'm not too interested), but the recruiters I usually respond best to are ones that actually seem like they've spent time reading my profile and actually tailored a personalized message. The ones that seem canned get a canned, "No Thanks" response from me.

The best recruiters I've worked with were actually ones not specifically trying to fill a role they thought I'd be good for, but ones that wanted to meet for coffee, learn more about me and create a relationship that might eventually turn into a placement. I realize that jobs come in that need to be filled quickly, but if the recruiter already has a pool of good talent to pull from, that they have a relationship with on some sort of personal level, it's far easier to find a good fit, not only for the candidate, but for the company hiring, as well.

As far as the job description is concerned, the things that stand out most to me is HOW it's written, not necessarily what's on it. If they want an expert in Framework A with several years of experience in it, I probably won't be excited to apply. Not because I'm not excited to use that technology, but because that to me says that the company is too locked into their framework to care about whether the person is actually proficient in the underlying language. Yes - I want to know what tech stack you use, but if you say I need 4+ years with React and then don't even mention a measure for JavaScript itself, no thanks. Hire people based off their skills in the language they program in, not whatever framework is "in" at the time. The only exception to this I can think of is with C#/.NET and Ruby/Rails, which are fairly synonymous in their industries.


Because they dont want to be found by some mediocre Recruiters with under market value salary. Its a waste of time and effort.

Tell you what, just for a test, offer any "unreachable senior dev" 20% higher salary and great technology stack, enough flexibility and timeoff and see what happens.

Old cvs, inactive ln etc, its because they use friends and colleagues as refferals, because it works better and they get better offers (probably have some jobs as backup option as well).


Yes, I think most would be open to good offers. The problem is that these people are very hard to find.