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Published: 17/01/2022

What makes a good senior developer?

What makes a good senior developer?

What does it mean to be a good senior software developer? Is it the oldest and most experienced person in the software house or a company? Or the one who writes the best code out of all programmers? 

You might be surprised, but being a senior developer doesn’t rely only on age or how long someone works in the industry. For some developers, it takes around 3 years or less to become a senior developer. For others, it might take 10 or more. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a senior developer who is younger than someone with a junior or mid-level position.

So what does exactly makes a senior developer? The skills. A senior developer is a jack of all trades. They can fix any problem that comes their way, and they are always up for a new challenge. And besides having extensive knowledge of everything related to programming, they also know how to share their knowledge and lead others to push a project forwards. But what makes them so good at their job? 

In this blog post, we will discuss the qualities that make up a great senior developer. So read on to find out more!

Contents

  1. Who is a senior developer?
  2. What does a senior developer do?
  3. What skills does a senior Java developer have?
  4. How can I be a good senior software developer?
  5. What are the top 3 things that make a successful developer?
  6. What is the best tech stack for a senior developer?
  7. Conclusion

Who is a senior developer?

It’s hard to precisely define a “senior developer” as the definition regularly varies from company to company. In some companies, a developer who has worked in the industry for five years is considered a senior developer. There are also those who require 10 years in the industry or a specific number of successful projects for the same position. Other employers meanwhile care more about the hard and soft skills a programmer has than how long they have worked in the industry.

The one thing that all those companies can agree on, though, is that all senior developers are capable of more than just writing clean code:

  • They focus more on the “full picture” of the project rather than just on the code
  • They are eager to learn and try out new things
  • Besides just the code, they can work with high-level architectures, design, and testing as well.
  • They are skilled problem-solvers
  • They can create the whole documentation for the project but also handle a conversation with the client about their needs
  • Are happy to give advice or mentor junior and mid-level developers to help them improve their skills.

So, in essence, a senior developer is someone who understands the full scope of the project that his team is responsible for. With his various skills, he’s capable not only of completing his part of the project but also giving support to the team when they need it. And those skills do come in handy, looking at how many tasks a senior developer has to handle during the day.

What does a senior developer do?

A senior developer’s day is filled with a variety of tasks. Along with the usual duties of a software developer, such as designing, testing, and debugging, they are also usually the ones to talk to clients and assist less-experienced developers. So what do software developers do during the day?

  • Talks with clients and companies about their needs and requirements
  • Creates new software applications and programs in collaboration with programmers, designers, and developers.
  • Tests and troubleshoots software bugs
  • Helps less-experienced team members, for example with code review
  • Creates reports and documentation for team leads and company managers
  • Delegate tasks to other team members and ensures the project goes smoothly.

What skills does a senior Java developer have?

As you can see, the responsibilities of a senior developer go far beyond just writing code. From the first contact with the client to the completion of the project, they are generally in charge of everything. So as a senior developer, it is crucial that you both have knowledge and skills related to developing a wide range of applications but also that you have a number of soft-skills as well related to working as a part of a team.

What software development skills and traits are most useful for senior developers?

Real-life experience

We did say earlier that the seniority rank isn’t determined by age. However, when it comes to senior responsibilities, the number of years they worked as software developers does matter. 

A developer who worked on 5,000 or 10,000 projects has seen many things happening during the project, and he knows (almost) every trick in the book. With so many projects and challenges handled, they can use the knowledge and experience they gained to solve the current problem or come up with the best approach for any given project. 

With several completed projects under their belt, senior developers can also predict what can go wrong during a project and prepare countermeasures before the problem even happens, making the whole project go much smoother as a result.

Since they used so many different tools and technologies during that time, they are also usually the most knowledgeable when it comes to matching the right tool with the right project. They might need to do some research to find out whether the tool is suitable for the job but they know what and where to look for.

Eagerness to learn more

Usually, senior developers do have one or more topics about which they know more than anyone else – whether it’s a language or a technology. But they aren’t just resting on the laurels here – quite the opposite. 

Whether it’s finding a new language to learn, taking part in a conference, or reading about novelties in the industry, senior developers are happy to learn more and keep their knowledge up-to-date. As a result, in addition to knowing a lot about their main expertise area, they also know plenty about just about anything to do with coding.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that they mastered every single language or tool perfectly – that would be hardly possible. However, they know enough to suggest which technology would be best for a given task or which tool could help them with speed up their work.

Ability to see client’s needs through the project

You can often hear that what separates junior developers from their senior coworkers is that the latter don’t only see the project as a list of tasks to do. 

Rather, they can see what the client expects from the outline and figure out the best way to meet those expectations. “How is this going to help the client meet their goals?” is the main question they are asking. 

In other words, rather than trying to impress the client with their ideas, they try to put themselves in the client’s shoes and ask if what they are doing will help the client achieve their goals. By doing so, they don’t waste their time designing or coding things that probably won’t matter to the business but instead focus on giving as much value to the client as possible.

Decision-making skills

Since senior developers are responsible for the entire project from start to finish, they usually have to make major decisions regarding the project’s progress. Apart from determining which technologies and tools should be used or who should be on the team, senior developers need to estimate the available resources, assign tasks to each member, and react quickly to unexpected situations.

Decision-making skills are essential here.

Developers who are good at this aren’t just making decisions based on trends or their opinions on how something should be done. Instead, they will make sure that they talked with the right people and have reviewed all the advantages and disadvantages of the decisions before making the final choice. That doesn’t mean that senior developers are following the guidelines to the letter though. If they know something can be done with some changes in the standard procedure, they are usually the ones who will suggest the changes and how they should be added. 

Leadership 

Senior developers are typically in charge of project teams, so leadership abilities and motivational skills are critical. It is not enough for senior developers to just focus on their own work, they must ensure that everyone in their team is focused on the goal ahead. It is also important that they encourage the team to reach out to them if they have any problems or want to share their ideas with the team.

Managing a team made out of developers with different skills and experience levels is no easy task, though. To lead their teams to success, senior developers must both be strategic thinkers who have a clear vision of the end goal and have exceptional communication skills to clearly convey the vision and goals to their team members. It is also essential to have a keen eye for matching people to tasks they could excel at, and to be open to suggestions or criticism from both team members and superiors.

Taking Initiative

Senior developers are known for taking the initiative rather than just focusing on their already have to do. Whether it’s about speaking up during a meeting, asking for new responsibilities, or helping out a coworker because they finished their work early, senior developers keep looking for other tasks they could do. 

And they aren’t only taking on the tasks they know they have the skills and experience, though. They are as eager (if not more) to take part in a project where they have something new to learn or something they have never done (or rarely done before) – simply to learn something new.

Communication skills

Communication skills are as necessary for developers as technical skills – especially for senior developers. As they aren’t only working on their own but also often as a part of a team, they must be good at explaining what they are doing and how they are doing things to other coworkers, especially those less-experienced. 

As well as meeting with clients and discussing project requirements, they may be asked to write technical documents for the entire team to use – so having excellent communication skills is an absolute must for the senior position.

The first place where their communication skills are visible is in the code they write. Their code is simple and easy to manage, so anyone who will be working on it later knows straight away how everything works. They also provide straightforward instructions, manuals, or guidelines that are easy to understand, even for less experienced developers. 

When communicating with other developers, senior developers also make it a point to be as clear as possible. Whenever they explain the goals and requirements of a project to their team members, they ensure that everyone is aware of their role and what they need to do. Providing feedback to team members is an essential part of the job, so senior developers know when to let their team members know where they can improve, and when to praise them.

Problem-solving skills

Problem-solving skills are one of the most important aspects of a great software engineer and one that should be developed early in your career to set you up for success in your career. This will be especially important if you’re hired for a senior role, as you can expect to deal with an issue virtually every day – and some of them may be complex.

Fortunately, this one skill is pretty easy to develop with enough training. By practicing more, you’ll be able to find a solution to a problem more quickly and easily. Making yourself familiar with the standard problem-solving approach is a good way to get started.

  • Your first step should be to identify and clarify the main issue, to avoid spending time fixing the causes rather than the real issue. Have a look at whether there are any additional things you might need to solve together with the main one too.
  • Once you know where the main problem lies and what exactly you want to achieve, research and note down available solutions. An excellent option to consider here is to ask your team for any ideas or suggestions because they might suggest a way you didn’t think about. 
  • Once you’ve compiled a list of possible ways to fix the issue, weigh the pros and cons of each one. For maximum objectivity, it would be good if you discussed the options with other developers as well. 

Once you have found the best solution to the issue, all that is left is to implement it and see if it works as expected. 

To ensure that other team members understand why you selected those options, you should always keep a record of what you do to solve a given matter. Then, if other developers encounter a similar case in the future, they could easily refer to your file for instructions.

Mentorship skills

Senior developers are regularly seen mentoring and coaching less-experienced or new team members to help them improve their skills. 

One common type of mentoring is when a more experienced developer is assigned to help a new here who has just joined the company and needs to get used to the new place. As the “onboarding buddy”, the employee can explain to the new worker how the various tools and technologies in the company work, share their coding tips or assist them with daily tasks. 

Essentially, they are the main person to whom an inexperienced hire can turn whenever they encounter an issue they cannot resolve for themselves or a question about a particular project’s code or technology.

A very popular method to lend a hand to less experienced developers is also by  doing a code review. Whenever one of the developers finishes his part of the code, a senior developer can review you to ensure there are no errors inside it that could cause an issue later on. He can also later point out things the other developer should work on while writing their code, helping them build their skills and improve the quality of the code – while also ensuring that the produced code is of good quality.  

How can I be a good senior software developer?

After learning what it takes to become a senior developer (and that coding skills are just one of the requirements), you might be wondering how you can be promoted to a senior position. A good start here will be to ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • What could I improve in my work to become a good senior software developer?
  • What do I want to get out of being a senior software developer? 
  • What skills should I work a bit more on?
  • What is my best contribution to the organization so far, and how did I achieve it?

As the senior developer is fully responsible for the software development project, he needs to understand how things function from the start to the end. This is why it’s not enough for you to know just one programming language or framework if you want to work as a senior. Rather, you know how the entire IT environment works, together with data structures, algorithms, design processes, and all other things that allow software development teams to create working products. 

Also, simply create quality code. One of the things by which you can recognize a senior developer is that they aren’t spending time on “showing off” their coding skills to others and make the code hard to use. No, their code is simple and easy to understand as that way, it’s easier for all team members to work on it. 

Besides becoming a better developer, you should also work on becoming a better team member as a senior, you’ll often be asked to manage both the project and other people. That’s where teamwork, emotional intelligence, and communication skills will be key. To become a good senior developer, you simply need to work on soft and social skills. 

Don’t worry about how long it will take you to become promoted. It might look worrying that other developers get promoted to the senior position faster than you, but you’ll get there if you just keep doing your own thing. Learn from others but always look at situations critically and try not to second-guess yourself too much. Set expectations upfront with everyone you work with because there should never be any confusion about what’s going on or who is responsible for what when projects can miss their deadlines.

What are the top 3 things that make a successful developer?

Being able to write clean code, having strong problem-solving abilities, good and the ability to work well within a team are all important traits for developers. But that’s not all that you need to become successful in this industry. 

Without excellent communication skills, keeping an eye on the current industry trends, and simply being there to lend a hand to other developers, you might find it much harder to gain the promotion. 

By being able to explain your ideas or expectations in clear words, it will be far easier both for you and the people working with you to stay on track and share the knowledge between you and others. But as much as you need to talk to them regularly, you should also listen actively to your coworkers and clients and act on their advice. Knowing and understanding the newest trends in the field is also essential, especially considering how rapidly things are changing in the world today.

But most importantly – share what you know with others. 

Senior software developers are usually active members of their local communities. They might be speaking at or organizing meetups, giving talks at conferences, taking part in open-source projects, or writing articles. They are also the ones who promote best practices across teams, initiate discussions about project challenges, perform code reviews, and communicate to others what could be improved and how. That’s how they become the people to who other developers can always reach out for help and rely on.

What is the best tech stack for a senior developer?

There is no definitive answer to this question, as it depends on the specific industry and project requirements. However, in general, a senior developer should be familiar with a variety of programming languages and software development frameworks, as well as various database technologies. Additionally, experience with test-driven development and automated deployment processes would be beneficial.

It also depends on the team that they are a part of. For example, senior developers should know more about architecture and design than junior developers because they will be leading by example. They should also know more about performance optimization techniques to help make their code faster for customers who use it in the software development process. However, if someone is new to programming altogether then it’s best that they learn all aspects so they can grow with the company and contribute effectively over time rather than becoming overwhelmed by information overload.

For remote Java developers, there is a couple of programming languages that build a competitive advantage. Apart from the obvious choice of Java, it is beneficial to know Git, Rest, and Docker.

There is also a list of frameworks and programming languages that are often not officially required, yet their knowledge and expertise with them can be extremely helpful throughout the Java developer career. What are we having in mind? Just a few examples are Kubernetes, Kafka, AWS, or Angular.

Being familiar with cloud-scale microservices environments is also seen as a plus, and, on top of that, fluent English can help you land a dream job.

In the case of a remote Kotlin developer, for example, the leading programming language to know is Kotlin yet SQL, Rest, Git, and Docker should act as complimentary languages to familiarize with. Additionally, aspiring Kotlin developers should put focus on various frameworks, libraries and connection pools to be fully equipped for the job. It goes without saying that knowing English on a high level is another advantage for a senior dev, as there are various projects running in an international environment.

And, in terms of fullstack developers, the name of this position is almost self-explanatory. Knowing Java, Git, JavaScript, and ReactNative is an integral part of requirements. In addition, Kotlin, Angular, or Flutter should be also on your shortlist of skills and experience. Full-stack developers are usually on the frontline for building bespoke IoT applications, web and mobile solutions, and microservices – just to write a few use cases.

Long story short: while a perfect tech stack probably doesn’t exist or would have to include all programming languages in the world, it’s always good to familiarize yourself with new technologies and build your portfolio of skills.

Conclusion

As you see, becoming a senior developer isn’t something that happens with age – though the job experience certainly helps. You can become a senior developer at any time just by understanding how your work impacts the rest of the team and building up your “tool stack” of skills.

You might be promoted to a senior position even if you don’t work on the skills we mentioned above, but lacking in those can make your work so much harder. Remember – a senior position isn’t only about being great at coding. It’s equally about knowing the technical stuff and also knowing when your team members need a helping hand and when your clients need you to listen to their needs. 

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