Seniority in tech is determined by more than just experience or mastery of a set of hard skills. Senior developers need to be masters of their technological domain, but need to apply their skills to business problems and have the soft skills to bring out the best in those around them. Here, we’ll look at what it takes to be a senior developer in Germany.
A developer’s seniority matters in the current job market
Developers require more complex skillsets associated with seniority
Tech is a fast-paced environment where frameworks, languages and tools regularly enter the market. On top of that, new software problems have increased the skills requirements for all developer roles.
Companies have vastly bigger scaling requirements than they did ten or twenty years ago. And, their systems require knowledge ranging from cloud technology and cybersecurity to mobile app design.
As traditional industries like retail and agriculture adopt more technology, they further increase the complexity of software problems. When new industries move into tech, they require expertise in problem-solving, software architecture, and product design, the combination of which are typically found among senior developers.
That gives seniors an edge in the current macroeconomic environment.
There’s less demand for inexperienced developers
The Covid-19 pandemic led to a boom period for the tech industry and led to many companies scaling rapidly. However, the market has cooled down from these historic highs.
Many businesses have seen their profitability fail to keep up with growth. This includes Big Tech companies like Meta, Twitter, and Amazon.
As a result, these companies are struggling to raise capital and some are even implementing layoffs. As a whole, the industry has shifted its focus from ‘growth at all costs’ to ‘capital-efficient growth’.
That’s led to fewer companies actively hiring for tech talent. And, while there’s still demand for software developers, most of this demand is for senior developers.
So, it’s clearly an advantage being a senior developer. By what exactly makes someone a senior? It’s tempting to think that more experience in an industry or tech stack means a higher seniority level, but the data suggests that it’s not that simple.
There’s more to seniority than raw experience
Seniors generally have more experience on average
Self-reported seniority by years of experience
Focussing on the averages, everything looks pretty straightforward: Self-reported junior developers have less than 2 years of experience coding professionally, intermediates reported 2 to 6 years and seniors more than 6.
A closer look at the data reveals something interesting:
Just over 1 in 5 German developers with less than six years of experience consider themselves seniors.
Some seniors are taking on the responsibility from an early age
Self-reported seniority by age
Unsurprisingly, senior developers are typically older than their junior and intermediate counterparts. More than 80% of senior developers are aged 30 or older, but this doesn’t tell the whole story:
15.9% of seniors are aged between 26 and 30, which is the typical age range for intermediate developers. A prodigious 2.3% are even younger, aged between 21 and 25.
That means experience and age are not enough to determine seniority alone.
So what else gives seniors an edge? Developers need more than experience if they want to take the step up to senior. They need soft skills and a deeper understanding of the business problems they’re trying to solve.
Seniors need to understand their industry and environment
While experience gives senior developers the time they need to become masters of their technological domain, they need to be able to apply their skills to business problems.
Sadhana Gopal explained that the signs of seniority are ownership, entrepreneurial spirit and “the wisdom to not get taken in by ‘new and sexy’” while still putting a foot down if they really see business value:
“Essentially, technical jobs consist of 3 paradigms – people, process and technology. Most people are stronger in one. The key is to realize where your natural strengths lie and try to amplify it. However, it is important to have strong foundations in all 3 so that you are the T-shaped professional who can add value to your team and your organization. In each of the 3 arms, you can find interesting and challenging roles should you seek to create impact.”
To be able to do that, seniors need to have a deep understanding of the broader environment their code lives in. Branko Djurkovic, a senior developer based in Berlin, says:
“On top of a solid engineering approach to creating clean and reusable code, a senior dev should understand the environment where their code will live. That requires understanding the limits and possibilities of the infrastructure that runs your code. This is crucial for monitoring your code in production and creating alerts when something goes wrong.”
This allows them to tackle complex technical and business problems because they know what potential solutions might look like. More importantly, they’ll know how to ensure these solutions also work in production.
Soft skills are the key to success at a senior level
It’s not enough to just create value or demonstrate your technical skills, succeeding as a senior means mastering soft skills like teamwork and mentoring.
Software development is a team sport. As software problems become more complex, more people will be involved in these projects. Branko explains that “taking the step up to senior requires becoming involved with people inside and outside of your team.”
Senior developers will need to be effective communicators to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to a project’s requirements and deadlines. They’ll also need to make sure they can communicate their understanding of their company’s production environment to make sure that all solutions are technically feasible.
Given tech’s fast paced nature, senior developers need to stay on the cutting edge of the latest developments. They need to be proactive in their career development and constantly put in the work to grow throughout their careers.
On top of that, seniors will also need to help new team members get up to speed when they join a project or company. Success at this level according to Branko “… requires that you improve your technical skills, always cover the basics, ask the right questions, and learn from team members who are more experienced than you.
It’s also important to help the newbies when needed. Remember that everyone was a junior at some point. So, be the type of senior you needed when you first started in your career, and help others grow.”
Keep in mind
The insights of this article are based on our 2023 Europe Report: State of the Software Developer Nation, and represent the 120 German developers who participated in the survey, not the entire industry.
Surveyed developers were asked to select the level of seniority that best describes their role. Some participants may inflate their self-reported seniority. No assumptions are made about differences in skill level between the seniority levels. Additional factors beyond those considered here may also impact self-reported seniority in tech.
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