Even though it could be, this is not an article about the elderly. If you are here by accident, click here. If not, let’s dive in.
I have wanted to write about the topic of being a senior engineer for some time, because I think a lot of people don’t have a clear understanding of it. For simplicity I ignore any other levels of seniority, in the sense that beginner–senior is a spectrum and when I talk about being senior, I am talking about being on the right edge.
In Product design it is important to specify what the product is not the same way you specify what the product is. I like this approach so let’s also begin with what I think senior developers are not:
Senior developers are not necessarily old. Technically speaking the meaning of the word is correct, but in business speak I doubt that any of the thousands of companies in their ads look for an old person. Age can play its role in how people look at the world, but it is not a requirement nor a decisive factor for determining seniority of tech workers.
Senior engineers are not automatically the ones with 5, 10 or 20 years of experience. Even if it is often the case, just because someone is programming or developing software for extended period of time, that doesn’t make him or her senior in my opinion. And I think it is a common mistake, especially often committed in management and recruitment. Job classifieds full of “5 years of Java” are definitely one of the proofs…
Having “senior” in the job title is often misleading. Even though it is very tempting to assume people’s seniority based on their current or previous job titles, it is misleading. Why? Simply because every company is different and positions and the level of experience required or acquired don’t match each other.
Not everyone who is asking for a lot of money is senior. Senior people typically have a high salary, but a lot of other people might too. Perhaps they just know the market well, are good negotiators or possibly – they don’t know what they are doing. See HiPPO for further study.
And there are of course other similar criteria, but I wanted to point you to my personal favorites. In the next article On being a senior developer I write about the characteristics I think senior developers and engineers should have.
Note: I updated the article to also include money, as it is important as well.