What you need to know to get a job: Software Developer Levels [Part 1]

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On a professional level, a software developer has basically three levels: junior, mid-level, and senior. In the industry, this terminology is applied to better understand the role of candidates to determine both wage level and responsibilities.

In the first instance, knowing the levels of the developers will help us establish more precise expectations. Also, keep in mind that many companies establish their own categories to classify their developers. Although the distinctions vary between companies, there are general characteristics that distinguish junior, mid-level, and senior software developers.

In this article, we will discuss the different levels of software developers for those who want to focus their efforts to advance their careers.

Engineer/Software Developer

Before you begin a detailed description of the various steps of this professional ladder pattern in the IT industry, it’s worth mentioning a few words about a job as a software engineer.

Engineer/Software Developer is responsible for the analysis, design, implementation, testing, and development of the latest generation of tools and software systems.

The functions of a Software Engineer include, but are not limited to:

  • code creation,
  • design of database construction,
  • development of software for the internal design of the company,
  • ensure the quality of the solutions delivered,
  • design and implement your own solutions,
  • manage and resolve information system issues.

In addition, it is worth mentioning some features that the Software Engineer should have, such as:

  • programming skills,
  • very good communication skills in English,
  • very good interpersonal skills,
  • ease of problem-solving,
  • ability to anticipate the needs of users.

Approaches to evaluating software development expertise

As part of tier analysis, we will describe several existing approaches to evaluating a programmer’s experience. By applying these approaches we will provide a broader perspective of the levels in software development.

The Dreyfus skill acquisition model

This model identifies 5 stages to achieve and master skills. This model is used to structure fundamental changes that occur throughout the learning process. This allows you to expose how programmers at different stages perceive the development process and address problems, as well as how they form mental models.

The five stages of the Dreyfus model illustrate the most important changes in the journey from beginner to expert.

Source: Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactoring Your Wetware by Andy HuntHunt

Programmer’s Competency Matrix

This matrix has a three-tier structure that correlates with the distribution of Junior-Middle-Senior roles. The matrix also includes Level 0 which, in our opinion, is equal to an Apprentice-level Software Engineer.

This matrix of the programmers’ skill set was developed by Sijin Joseph, a technology leader with more than 15 years of experience in the design and construction of software products.

Let’s refer to this source as we describe the expectations of technological knowledge for each level.

It’s all about skills and knowledge

Since we have some knowledge about who the Software Engineer is and what the Software Engineer does and how it is identified it is worth emphasizing a little in the evolution of software developers.

Years of experience are important, but the keys to success in the IT industry are skills and knowledge. Therefore, you will often meet with junior developers older or younger than you, as well as senior developers from different age groups.

🚀 Consider: What counts in the IT industry is what you can do and not exactly how many years you’ve been in the market.

Level 0 – Apprentice: Fresh out of school

Some companies have internship programs where they take basic level engineers who basically only have theoretical knowledge and no work experience. In this case, a work degree for beginners will be an apprentice.

Applying the experience stages of the matrix shown above, we divide this period early in the developer’s career into three stages:  Innocent,  Exposed, and Apprentice.

At this stage, you may be able to do something with some IDE, but you’re not very familiar with frameworks and you only have a very limited idea of all the operations in your work environment.

This is understandable, the beginning is difficult and still a long way ahead, so it’s time to learn. Learning constantly and after 3 months working for a corporation or participating in projects with experienced developers, you will probably become a junior.

🚀 Tip: Practice makes the teacher and the IT industry, due to its continuous development, also needs to educate you and develop you continuously.

Level 1 – Junior: through trial and error

For a junior developer, it is difficult initial in the world of work, however, a junior’s trump cards are the motivation and energy that many older people no longer have. Juniors know that the effort they put on will pay off by allowing them to move to the next level first.

The problem at this stage is that even though you really want to, you probably won’t be able to complete most projects on your own, and in case it’s assigned only to you on many occasions you’ll be cornered without being able to move forward.

Here’s a basic knowledge of IT, software, and hardware, even though you know the basics of computer programming and its tools. You probably know a programming language and have basic code writing skills. Gradually you will learn how to fix minor, less significant errors or errors in the software.

🚀 Tip: How quickly you jump to the next professional level depends only on your commitment and the number of people you can learn from.

We can refer to a junior as a Practitioner. That’s when developer productivity increases enough as they begin to adopt new techniques through testing and errors and apply them to corporate projects.

Alternative approaches. Referring to the Dreyfus Model, we can divide the junior level into two phases:

Novice Beginner

Novice developers work many times without having a clear context of how things work. They’re impatient, and they want immediate results. At the same time, mistakes can paralyze them because they don’t know how to handle them.

Advanced Beginner.

Advanced beginners begin to depart from following fixed rules and formulate general principles based on similar situations they have dealt with. The main issue is that they ignore the broader context, perhaps considering it irrelevant.

  • Experience – 0 to 2 years.
  • Knowledge – basic IT knowledge from software to hardware context, computer programming, programming languages, codes, and IDEs.
  • Independence – low level of independence, requires verification and guidance but can perform certain tasks.

Junior technical skills and duties

  • IDE. Juniors navigate the interface and operate efficiently using the taskbar.
  • API. They know how to handle the most commonly used APIs.
  • Framework. Junior developers have worked with some frameworks and know about the popular ones that are worth using within their language stack.
  • Database development. A junior knows the basic database design techniques, ACID properties, and transactions. In addition, a junior can write simple and select instructions to retrieve information from the database.
  • Programming languages. Junior developers are often familiar with a programming language. They will choose it immediately and implement a semi-stable solution that solves most problems in certain use cases.
  • Platforms and tools. Juniors have professional experience with about three platforms. Your knowledge of the inmates of the platform is only deep in the skin. They are aware of alternatives to popular and standard tools.
  • Everyday duties. Juniors usually have the least complex tasks, those with little impact on the final product.

Junior teamwork and perspective

  • Independent work. Certainly, young people need close supervision. They need strong mentoring to develop their skills. Working as a team, a junior must remain engaged and absorb as much knowledge from the team as possible.
  • The vision. The problem with young people is that they are code-centric, rather than focusing on development. This prevents them from getting the big picture.

Level 2 – Mid-level: a warrior in the world of programming

Junior developers with more than three years of experience can leverage their skills to become mid-level specialists. Mid-level developers, sometimes known as “the workhorses of the programming world,” offer the greatest impact with routine code.

Being average is probably the most dangerous part of your career path. It mainly refers to the fact that you already know enough and this feeling puts you in the position that you feel ‘like a boss’ or as if you know all that is not entirely true.

The IT industry requires constant learning and cannot rest on its laurels. We know you feel like a master of analysis, design, development, and testing, implementation, documentation, and evaluation. But can you really analyze a problem and not only focus on how to use a particular technology but also look for details, try to understand how to improve the solutions created?

⚠ Note: Not everyone has to be a Senior and it’s worth considering whether your goal is to fight for development or just climb the ladder of a career.

Alternative approaches. The Dreyfus model describes the mid-level developer as Competent. At this stage, they can also do decent troubleshooting and debugging work.

Competent programmers are of great initiative and ingenious. They pursue leadership roles in the team and can mentor newbies. However, competent developers still lack the experience to prioritize the focus of their attention while working on the project and are barely able to reflect on their mistakes.

In terms of experience, we can consider the average developer as a person working on honing their skills and improving productivity.

  • Experience – 2 to 4 years.
  • Knowledge – he thinks he knows more than he really knows, which means he has an average level of IT knowledge from software to hardware context, computer programming, programming languages, codes, frameworks, IDEs, and APIs.
  • Independence – the average level of independence, still requires some advice and guidance, but you can do most of the task alone.

Average set of technical skills and duties

  • IDE. After using FDI for quite some time, a mid-level development has memorized the shortcut keys for the most frequent operations, actually speeding up the work.
  • API. mid-level tiers have a deep and solid understanding of the core APIs.
  • Framework. Media is technology experts with frameworks that help them write clearer and shorter code.
  • Database development. Average tiers are good at database management. They can design standardized database schemas based on the queries to be issued. Mid-level developers are well versed in using database views, stored procedures, triggers, and user-defined data types (UDTs). They are experts in the Object Relational Mapping (ORM) technique used to convert data between incompatible type systems. To speed up the query process, they apply knowledge of index syntax to create custom clustered and nonclustered indexes.
  • Programming languages. A mid-level developer understands functional programming and knows when and how to apply functional concepts in any language.
  • Platforms and tools. The media has already worked with more than four platforms and has a deep understanding of how the platform works, including code execution. They are very comfortable with their package manager tools.
  • Everyday duties. Mid-level software engineers often don’t have highly complicated tasks that may require a deep level of engineering knowledge. In the meantime, they can be commissioned to design a piece of the application that will prepare for the post-transition to a senior developer. They are already able to turn banknotes into solutions, provide estimates of tasks and help break down larger sections of work.

Medium teamwork and perspective

  • Independent work. Average tiers can provide less-monitored work while assigned to relatively routine tasks.
  • Teamwork. The media actively collaborates with team members, including designers, business analysts, and architects.
  • The vision. mid-level developers have deepened their understanding of development cycle scenarios that allow them to practice Agile methods more accurately. They see the results of problems that occur and learn to avoid them in the future.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

When discussing the average level of initiation it is worth mentioning the Dunning-Kruger effect, which occurs in the field of psychology and is associated with cognitive prejudices, in which people mistakenly evaluate their cognitive abilities giving it greater value than they really should.

This is a big trap in a medium developer because it seems to them that they already know everything, that they are the champions of the world, but in fact, they know very little and you are still far from achieving full knowledge.

💡 Keep in mind that: It is said that what distinguishes a Middle from a Senior is that the Middle thinks it knows everything and the Senior is aware that he knows nothing because there is still so much to learn.

This is perfectly illustrated by the graphics below, which you will surely remember and make you think about where you really are.

Graphic illustration of the Dunning-Kruger effect on developers depending on their experience and knowledge.

Image source: Junior developers: you are no longer junior, Amando Abreu

To reduce the impact of inaccurate self-assessment on skills acquisition and overall career growth, developers must constantly work on improving their level of competition by expanding their professed knowledge and gathering feedback from different parts of a business. They should always find time to reflect on their progress and draw the right conclusions.

Level 3 – Senior: troubleshooter

Developers with deep specialized knowledge and extensive experience that allow them to guide their peers are titled, Seniors. In addition, senior developers are also experts in the enterprise domain they support. Your competition can even expand to help with marketing and overall business development. Senior developers will always think about what they’re doing in terms of how much profit it brings to the business.

As a senior, you’ve learned a lot from your mistakes and know exactly what you can and shouldn’t do, what code you can change, and what to leave unchanged. You’re no longer interested in basic tasks, you perform tasks that no one else would do, and you manage to solve them.

Mention that a senior while leading a project makes well-reasoned decisions about software design and implementation based on knowledge of best practices in the field.

Alternative approaches. Depending on the Dreyfus model, the experience can be divided into two stages:

Competent (junior expert)

Competent programmers make a breakthrough: they are able to reflect on their job performance, analyze mistakes and learn from them to draw the right conclusions. By leveraging reflection and feedback, competent developers significantly improve their performance.

Now developers know that context is the key to becoming an expert. Therefore, instead of sticking to rules, they implement several methods that conform to a particular context.

  • Experience – 5 to 8 years
  • Knowledge – a high level of IT knowledge from software to hardware context, computer programming, programming languages, codes, frameworks, IDE, API, knows how to use it all, is also willing to help others
  • Independence – a high level of independence, you can easily start and finish any project

Expert

This is the highest rank in the Dreyfus model. According to Andy Hunt, one can come through more than 10 years of hard-to-tell practice. Therefore, experts are a rare species. These senior developers have transformed their expertise into intuition.

Experts intuitive best practices from their wide range of experience with different roles, technologies, and situations.

As for the seven stages of software engineering experience, this level has two of them:

  • Master: This is an expert technician and a good instructor who has a deep methodological basis. More importantly, this developer understands the business value behind the product.
  • Researcher: The researcher is a senior developer who is moving from a specific project to general methodological research. Researchers track defects in software engineering techniques to improve them. They are also looking for new problems to find the technique that is useful for solving them.

Superior technical skills and duties

With high technical skills, a senior developer is comfortable with multiple technologies. Seniors should aim to acquire transferable knowledge that allows them to recognize and write good code in any programming language. This knowledge also helps to adapt to constant technological changes.

  • IDE. A senior’s experience allows them to write custom macros to optimize the workflow.
  • API. A senior has written libraries to add more functionality or to automate the most frequent processes without having to write code for them.
  • Framework. Seniors have enough knowledge to build their own custom framework.
  • Database development. A senior is well versed in database management, performance, and index optimization. They usually do the delicate work of composing advanced select queries. Because older people know a particular database structure from within, they are familiar with database maintenance features, in particular, database mirroring and database replication.

    These are the methods of transferring data from a primary database to a secondary database. Seniors understand the two-phase commit algorithm (2PC) applied to coordinate a distributed transaction (confirmation/cancellation). They can replace slow cursor-based operations with much more efficient JOIN statements, whenever possible.
  • Programming languages. In addition to functional and OOP programming, they work with concurrent and logical languages, for example, Erlang and Prolog respectively.
  • Platforms and tools. Older people have had professional experience with more than 6 platforms. They are already creating debuggers or other tools needed to improve the platform. Seniors are the source of advice on the inside of the platform.
  • Everyday duties. Multifaceted responsibilities expand far beyond coding. Seniors devise the right technological solutions to complex problems. They take over the team, coordinating their workflow to constantly produce business value.

Teamwork and senior perspective

  • Independent work. A senior is the one who provides guidance. Seniors put the team first and are always trying to figure out what they can do to help members.

    They have good soft skills while balancing between the customer and the team.
  • The vision. Older people see the ultimate goal: the issues that the finished application needs to solve. A long-term vision is a crucial point in providing value to the end-user.

Developer Level Charts

Developer Experience Levels Competencies

It is also worth mentioning that being a senior is not the end of the path that can be followed. The next steps may be to become an architect, product manager, or senior leader. There are a lot of interesting possibilities and a lot to learn.

What’s next?

A senior developer is a good jumping point for another rung on the ladder. Some seniors want to move on to more technical roles, others prefer management roles. Here are some options a senior may consider transferring to.

Architect

This is the highest rank on the technical career scale. An architect’s job is to design complex systems that will be implemented by senior and junior developer teams. Depending on the approach to the business problem, there are a business, technical and solution architects.

Product Manager

A product manager with coding experience will feel more comfortable leading the delivery of the product. Knowing the development process from the inside, they will be able to manage the work in the product much more efficiently.

Top Leader

The work of a high-ranking leader has little to do with programming and has to do with people’s skills: inspiring, motivating, leaders, and strategists. By making high-level decisions that determine a company’s direction, a senior leader ensures that all employees follow these decisions and believe in the mission.

Conclusion

It’s worth knowing that you can always climb higher and that only continuous development and learning will make you a master in your area of expertise, so it’s worth focusing on knowledge and never s stop looking to be someone even better than you are right now.

Sources:


I hope this article will be of use to you, and for any comments leave it in the box below. Follow me on the networks to find out when I publish Part 2.

With nothing else to add, see you next time!

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Luis Matos

Luis Matos

I help professionals and companies to create value solutions. I am a Systems Engineer, blockchain executive, and international mobile application speaker. Founder of the Malla Consulting Agency and several international technology communities.
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