How to Become a Senior Software Engineer

It is no secret that whenever someone starts to learn coding, their next goal is to become a senior software engineer.

This may seem a bit odd to many people. Why? Because they believe that every aspiring engineer’s first goal should be to get a job and then thing about getting a promotion.

Moreover, there is nothing wrong with having a mindset like this. And while there is nothing wrong with this point of view, people looking to climb high on their career ladder believe that becoming a senior engineer is much better than switching jobs on a frequent basis.

As you would expect, the software engineering field is incredibly competitive, so it only makes sense to become the best at what you do rather than look for other jobs for a higher paycheck.

What’ s more, becoming a senior engineer and getting a better paycheck goes hand in hand. The higher level of skill you acquire, the better you paycheck will become down the line – it just requires some patience.

Senior software engineers are considered as rock stars in the development field and are more than capable of writing code at incredibly high speeds.

Needless to say, everyone has to undergo years and years of learning and working to become a software engineer, let alone become a senior software engineer.

That said, a lot more goes into obtaining that coveted “senior” title than just hard work. However, very few people actually go into the details.

This article will attempt to address that vast gap, helping you understand what you need to do to become a senior software engineer.

Beyond Technical Skills

There is a lot that goes into becoming a senior engineer than acquiring technical skills.

You have to know where you are at skill wise, along with keeping an eye out for opportunities that could benefit you. So, the first place to start is knowing who and when to ask for the title.

Related: Software Engineer Resume Samples

Asking Often Does the Trick

As surprising as it may seem, sometimes the simple act of asking could put you in contention of landing a title of senior software engineer.

Once you know that you’ve been through the grind and acquired what it takes to handle a senior software engineer’s responsibilities, just go ahead and have a word with your manager.

Before doing so, however, it would be best to mentally recap your accomplishments, ensuring you can express them articulately, creating a persuasive argument.

If your manager asks you what you intend to do with that position, then you can proceed and explain your development plan and how you will implement it.

For this, you will need to create a well-thought out, detailed plan, ensuring it is free from loopholes before presenting it to your manager.

Of course, your boss or manager will make some tweaks and changes to it, but if your idea is ambitious enough, you will be just a few steps away from earning your promotion. Yes, it can be that simple at times.

People in the software engineering industry always fall into the trap of believing that working for hours on end will land them higher, better roles. While that is a major part of it, there is a lot more to it than that.

Once you prove you worth, be proactive, making sure you announce your intentions of becoming a senior software engineer to your higher ups.

When Is The Best Time To Ask?

This question is a bit subjective, as the ideal time to ask for a senior position depends upon a variety of factors. Every organization defines “senior engineers” in a different manner.

The last thing you should do to convince your manager is show him or her an article about what it takes to become a senior engineer – it will never work.

Fortunately, most companies these days offer detailed criteria regarding the senior software engineer role.

So, whenever you make a notable achievement like handling a tough incident, refactoring an old code, or implementing a new feature, consider maintaining a record.

After some time, your accomplishment will become to resemble those of a software engineer who knows the ins and outs of his craft. That is the best time when you should consider asking the question.

What if there isn’t any Clear Benchmark?

Unfortunately, some companies tend to keep things quite vague. Some do it intentionally, while others do it intentionally.

If the organization you are working in has vague benchmarks or doesn’t have them altogether, consider having a discussion with your colleagues.

You should especially ask the senior engineers about the projects they are working on and take a look at their coding contributions. You can also be bold and ask them about their journey to become senior software engineers.

In most cases, you will notice that people will waste no time in talking about their achievements, giving you a decent idea about what your next course of action should be.

Once again, speaking up yourself and soldiering through for your goals is vital. That said, you should be able to back up your values to create a compelling argument.

Become a Vital Contributor in Your Team

The senior engineer position had a stigma attached to it for quite a while. It was that they were the quickest to ship the highest number of features, writing and incredible amount of code, and finishing tickets on time.

However, things are quite different from what most people expect, as being a senior software engineer does not only require you to be a good coder, but it also needs you to be a highly efficient producer.

There is no denying that speed is crucial, but consistency is equally important, if not more.

In simple words, you need to become a reliable, valuable member of your team. That said, make sure you are honest about you skills, accomplishments, and most importantly, the things you are not good at.

Always try to be ahead in line when supporting your team, making your colleagues’ lives easier in the process, no matter how tough the situation is.

Take the Extra Steps and Be Proactive

Taking the extra steps that others would be hesitant to take can make you stand out. Small measures like these can make a massive difference and can put you in your manager’s good graces.

Reliability is a critical aspect of becoming a senior software engineer, and the sooner you realize it, the quicker you will progress.

Your team members will place more trust on you if you are a dependable employee, increasing your chances of becoming a senior software engineer.

The added responsibility and authority that comes with this title, is only possible to gain with trust, and you can only obtain it through patience and consistency.

Never Shy Away from Learning New Things

Software engineering is a vast, expansive, ever-evolving field. Therefore, it’s fair to assume that there is always something new to learn in this field.

The more you expand your mind by obtaining tools for thought, the better you will become at your job. Gaining tools for thought is a great way to think about particular engineering problems.

Whenever you find yourself stuck at a certain problem, take your time to look for these tools. Doing so will ensure that you can implement the right tools at the right time, ensuring you can work seamlessly.

Acquiring and learning different mental models can also prove to be a game changer. With the presence of internet, there are plenty of resources you can check to learn new, effective techniques to adapt in your software engineering practice.

Don’t be Afraid of Failure

Failure is a common part of any industry, let along the software engineering landscape. Even the most experience of software engineers suffer terrible defeats and failures in their side and main projects.

Taking failure to heart is a common cause of not being able to progress, and it is abundantly evident in the software engineering field.

What’s worse, people become afraid of making even the smallest decisions, which more often than not, contributes to their undoing.

If you want to progress, and become a senior software engineer, embrace the fear and apply your skill with confidence.

Sure, this is easier said than done, but with sufficient practice and consistency, you will eventually overcome your fears and approach any task with a clear, ambitious mindset.

Final Thoughts

Titles, as attractive as they may seem, often tend to have very little meaning. That said, they are still critical for professional growth.

Why? Because they signal progress and growth, two essential things that every software engineer seeks. Plus, the money is also great.

So, seeking the role of a senior software engineer should not only be for the sake of a fancy title.

As attractive as it seems, it really does not change much. Sure, you may get a load of responsibilities along with a higher number of emails, you will mostly remain the engineer you always have been.

The real goal should always be growth and mastery of your skills.

Marissa Letendre, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Marissa Letendre is a senior HR leader and resume expert with over 12 years of experience. She has worked for both startups and Fortune 50 corporations and has helped thousands land jobs at top companies. Marissa has written on a wide range of topics, including employee engagement, career development, resumes, job searching, recruiting, and organizational effectiveness and has been featured on sites such as Slack and The Undercover Recruiter.

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