Under Skilled Seniors

We’ve all met that dude (with dude understood to be a fully gender neutral term). It seems like there is always one developer, usually with at least 5 years of experience (and sometimes much more) who is alleged to be a “senior” developer, but whose presence on a team is often negative. The “expert beginner” has always been with us, and is the reason so many industries require extensive certifications before considering someone “senior enough” to be in charge of anything. However, in software development, we have a long and proud tradition of being resistant (if not outright hostile) to certifications. While this has allowed our industry to evolve rapidly, it has also meant that sometimes we end up with “senior” developers who aren’t completely prepared for their role.

In fact, even in industries where certifications are required to advance, it still requires a lot of experience and growth on the job for someone to truly be suited to a senior role. There are many factors that are hard to measure on a standardized test – those things are only truly tested by the crucible of real world experience. At the end of the day, you should generally only get into a senior position when you are seasoned enough that your mistakes aren’t terribly destructive. If you are expecting to be perfect by the time you are a senior, you are either in for a rude awakening, or for an eternal wait.

However, you really need to have a good way to know if a senior developer is a bit “soft” in regards to their skill level. This is especially critical when the senior developer is yourself. Besides the impact on productivity that imposter syndrome can cause, there are numerous risks to being an inadequate senior developer. And the costs of these risks can be extremely expensive. You should always be vigilant for places where your attitude, your lack of humility, or simply your tendency to settle into comfort, have made you less capable. You’ll want to fix these problems before they become obvious to everyone.

Being a senior developer has NEVER been about time in grade. You are getting paid more than a junior – in many cases a great deal more. This means that you have to provide value in excess of having had the same year of experience a dozen times. And as you continue in your career, you’ll notice a whole lot of people really don’t get the memo. And if you are at all introspective, you probably realize the extreme necessity of making sure that you aren’t one of the inadequate senior developers. Thankfully, there really aren’t that many things that you can screw up here – instead there are a few things you can screw up that will manifest themselves in a number of ways. Most of these issues really come down to humility and to remaining open-minded enough to learn from your experiences.

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