Don’t Be Afraid to Promote Young Developers to Senior Level

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6 min
Young Senior Developers
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Table of Contents
  • 1. Impossible is nothing and a can-do attitude is everything
  • 2. Great communication skills and working well with others
  • 3. Caring about building the product and going the extra mile
  • 4. True commitment and doing whatever it takes to prove themselves
  • Final thoughts

There’s an ongoing debate about seniority in software development. For years now, people from all over our industry have been asking questions like:

  • What does it mean to be a senior developer?
  • Should age be a factor in determining seniority?
  • Can a 21-year-old software engineer be a senior?

As VP of Engineering at the largest Python software house in Europe with a decade of experience in the field, my position on this issue is clear.

Read on to learn why I believe young software engineers absolutely can be seniors and age isn’t something you should be considering when building or expanding your development team.

1. Impossible is nothing and a can-do attitude is everything

My favorite thing about young people is that they (still) want to change the world.

It’s more than simply being open and communicative or doing their job right; it’s a whole mindset, a different approach to solving problems, a real can-do attitude. To a young developer, impossible is nothing, or it’s only impossible until they get it done.

That’s the reason why many team leads at our company like to have “juniors” from a strictly technical standpoint on their teams: they know those inexperienced newcomers have a lot to prove and will stop at nothing to meet the project’s needs.

This fire, this eagerness to help doesn’t come with age—if anything, it fades with it. Young developers can’t wait to get started, to get their hands dirty, to move mountains and show their worth in the process.

When you come to your team with ideas on how to further develop your product, you want them to be willing and able to find ways of implementing them, even if it’s hard, instead of shooting them down. The passion and enthusiasm of young developers is a great way to achieve that.

2. Great communication skills and working well with others

A common misconception in software engineering is that a development team can only be strong if all of its members are experienced seniors who have incredible technical competencies.

That’s wrong on both counts. First of all, a really strong team should be cross-functional and balanced, with juniors, regulars, and seniors on board. Secondly, hard skills aren’t the be-all and end-all of seniority.

Developers who are world-class at writing code often lack in soft skills, which are just as essential as hard skills. Getting a lot of work done fast is great, but it doesn’t amount to much if you don’t keep track of what you’re doing or whether you’re going in the right direction.

In case problems arise, you need people on your team who can communicate well with you, listen to your needs, and answer your questions. Knowing how to work well with others is a true mark of a senior developer. In my experience, it’s usually the younger team members who bring those key communication competencies to the table.

3. Caring about building the product and going the extra mile

One question we often hear from our prospects is, “How much experience do your developers have?”

I think that’s the wrong approach when you’re looking to build a web app, which is what most of our clients are after. Your business goals become much more important if that’s the extent of the technical challenge—and your team should be on the same page as you there.

That involves speaking the same language (both literally and figuratively), asking questions, and being curious about your product. The willingness to build a relationship with you is key to being a senior developer, and young people have that.

They wish to be on calls with clients and are proactive during those meetings. They care about understanding your specific needs and ask the right questions: why you want to create something, not just what it should be. They aren’t afraid to become actively involved and build your product like it was their own.

This is closely connected to young people’s readiness to go the extra mile and what I’ve found to be their strong sense of responsibility. If there are issues or blockers, they will communicate them to you and be open to feedback, both positive and negative, because they want to be better and constantly improve their skills.

Which brings me to yet another benefit of their age: young people simply have more time on their hands, often since they don’t have children. If they want to, there’s nothing stopping them from going beyond expectations and putting in the extra hours to learn new things really quickly.

Working with such a team is a completely different experience, and having such senior team members boosts the performance of the whole group.

4. True commitment and doing whatever it takes to prove themselves

There are a lot of stereotypes and prejudice surrounding the younger generation that in my opinion are largely unfounded.

From time to time, we’ll start a new cooperation with a client who is only interested in developers with over five years of project experience at first. However, whenever we manage to convince them to give younger developers a try, those clients usually want to keep the younger developers on their teams for good.

The thing is, young people generally realize they’re often being looked down on because of their age and lack of experience. But if you give them a chance to prove their merit, they will do everything in their power not to let you down. Genuine determination like that is truly hard to find.

The same can be said about hiring new people to join your in-house team or a software vendor like STX Next. Sure, they’ll be making mistakes the first couple of months, but it’s clear they can’t wait to already master the things they’re learning even more than you do. You can just see it in their eyes.

Putting your faith in the young is the best investment into your future. When you think about the big picture and play the long game, three months fly by like three days—and what comes after they’re broken in is the real deal.

Also, they’ll never forget that you believed they could do it, and that trust is bound to pay off down the line. This is the kind of people you want to keep around.

Final thoughts

These are my reflections on what really matters in software developers—and what you should pay attention to or look out for in yours—based on working closely with a number of development teams over the years.

I’ll say it one more time for good measure: hire young and hungry up-and-comers with enthusiasm and ambition who are eager to prove themselves. Trust me, you won’t regret it. I haven’t so far and I doubt I ever will.

And if you don’t feel like hiring people yourself or building your product in-house, we'd be more than happy to help you out with that. We have 17+ years of market experience and 400+ software engineers ready to meet all of your development needs.

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