That "senior engineer" title.
But how do you get there? Technical skills are important, obviously, but senior engineers differentiate themselves by developing solid professional habits.
The best developers dedicate time outside of work to actively master new skills. They take online courses to stay on top of new languages and frameworks. They read widely - books, blogs, documentation - to understand classic and emerging concepts. They attend local meetups and conferences to learn from the community and stay inspired. And they experiment with side projects to apply their skills in new environments.
These self-driven investments in learning have the side-effect of keeping their skills sharp and resumes competitive. They build a breadth of knowledge across multiple languages, frameworks, and environments rather than specialize in just one. This flexibility allows them to deliver value across diverse projects in a wide array of industries. It also shows they are truly passionate about the craft of software development itself.
Strong developers don't just blindly copy and paste code from Stack Overflow. They take the time to deeply understand how and why the technologies they use actually work under the hood. They (rtfm) read the documentation rather than just skimming it to grab what they need. They leverage debugger tools to step through code. And they ask thoughtful questions of more experienced colleagues when they don't fully grasp a concept.
Knowing the why builds strong technical intuition in senior developers. It allows them to adapt coding patterns and architectures to new situations. It helps them debug tricky issues methodically. And it enables them to suggest appropriate technologies for new projects. Understanding fundamentals is far more valuable than memorizing syntax.
Excellent communication and collaboration skills set professional developers apart from the rest. They share their knowledge generously with colleagues to lift up the whole team. They listen attentively and think from teammates' perspectives when discussing solutions. And they provide constructive feedback respectfully, knowing that diverse insights build more creative solutions.
Senior developers also collaborate well with non-technical stakeholders and end users. They learn how to speak about technology clearly to build trust. They gather requirements collaboratively to build the right solutions for the business. And they know the value of developing software in the open with early and continuous end-user feedback.
Writing clean, maintainable, and scalable code is a hallmark of seasoned engineers. They don't take shortcuts to deliver features quickly at the cost of immense technical debt. Instead, they envision how business needs might change in the future and design adaptable systems that can evolve along with them.
Thinking long-term allows them to incorporate patterns like abstraction, loose coupling, and asynchronous processing that may not be needed now but will facilitate scaling over time while keeping an eye on YAGNI. And it saves future engineers from the headaches of reworking densely coupled or unstable code. Architecting with the future in mind demonstrates deep experience.
Standout developers take pride in their work and responsibility for code quality. They fix technical debt and optimize performance bottlenecks proactively rather than letting issues linger. They write comprehensive unit tests to catch bugs early. They continuously refactor code to simplify complex logic and improve readability. And they provide complete documentation to explain the how and why to future engineers.
Owning code means ensuring that other developers can easily build on top of it reliably. While messy code might "work" in the present, it creates headaches down the road. Senior developers know that putting in the effort to polish and maintain code saves time and money in the long run.
Veteran developers don’t rest on their laurels. They know that no matter how experienced they become, there is always room for improvement. They actively solicit peer feedback and code reviews to surface weaknesses and blindspots in their skills or approaches. And they provide coaching and mentoring to more junior engineers, which mutually benefits both!
They also make time for self-reflection after completing projects to identify what went well and what could be improved. They analyze their own code months later with fresh eyes to catch issues. And they participate in retrospectives to examine team processes and identify areas to optimize. This growth mindset of continuous improvement is critical to reach senior levels.
Finally, senior engineers stay excited by their work through career ups and downs. They approach problems with curiosity, passion, and diverse perspectives. Instead of seeing things one way, they draw wisdom from years of experience to examine problems through different lenses. And they aren’t afraid to kindly question the status quo or propose unconventional solutions.
This enthusiastic commitment to lifelong learning also keeps them engaged and motivated. They jump at opportunities to work on new challenges that force them to learn. And they inject this passion into their workplace by mentoring junior engineers, building communities of practice, and evolving practices and culture for the better.
The passion they worked so hard to develop is infectious.
Leveling up as an engineer takes dedication across technical, collaborative, mindset, and professional skills. Developing these habits now can accelerate your progress from coder to leader.
That "senior" badge is in reach!