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Does a genuine "full-stack" developer truly exist ?

  • Publish Date: Posted over 3 years ago
  • Author: Jonathan Moran

Day-in, day-out, developers label themselves as junior, mid-level or senior to indicate their level of experience. Classifying experience, either self-qualifying or by employers’ without an agreed industry standard means that job title and experience don’t always line-up with our interpretation of their skills and project exposure compared to others in the job market. What we would consider being the most widely-accepted benchmarks for a junior developer, a mid-level developer, or a senior developer is often very different from what we see on applications. 

We posit the benchmarks vital for developers to have exceeded, to categorise experience as junior, mid or senior. Why? This style of classifying job experience is relatively unique to software developers and not something we see in many other industries. Our insights aim to assist developers in realising their potential by providing developers with a realistic view of how they could be perceived when applying and interviewing for jobs. Understanding perceptions around job titles can help developers address the issues capping their potential to achieve the job roles they strive for.

Correctly categorising your level of experience in-line with industry expectations is a great way to overcome concerns surrounding impostor syndrome, for those who are excelling or are anxious about progression. Understanding how your experience compares may help you to pick-out and highlight your most sought-after experiences and skills on your next application, and ensure you are applying at the right level to achieve success in your next job search.

Junior or graduate developer

Junior-level developers failing to realise their potential and worth is a vital issue at this level. Opportunities to progress in tech are in abundance, so swiftly climbing the career ladder to mid-level shouldn’t be an issue if you are progression oriented. After a year of experience in industry, with the right interpersonal skills and an eagerness for responsibility at all stages of development, from front to end – you could be ready for a mid-level role. In many cases, we see junior developers who could already be operating at mid-level without the title or pay.  

Office politics stemming from promotions based on age and time in the role, rather than investment, eagerness and skill can be a considerable setback and often a reason that junior developers don’t progress as quickly as their experience deserves them. Queued progression behind colleagues means that if you’re one of the most recent starters, you can fall victim to the lack of ambition and drive of others, or a poor workplace for professional development. Be aware not all firms operate this way, and someone will be seeking your skills and be able to offer a hand-up to progress if you find the right opportunity.

It’s not uncommon for self-taught developers to be viewed as junior based on their lack of experience in a commercial setting, despite being just as good as people who have worked in the industry for years. If you’re applying to software development roles from a self-taught background, be aware that you may be boxed into the junior category initially but shouldn’t be held back from progressing quickly once you have got to grips with the guidelines and procedures surrounding professional development.

Junior developers tend to take a different approach to writing code than their seniors. Junior developers are renowned for exhibiting their ambition and interest in code with detailed and fanciful strings. This approach is often great for impressive high impact but makes projects less scalable, widely understandable and open to troubleshooting issues.

Mid-level developer

Experience of projects at all stages from start to finish is a sign that you’re at least mid-developer rather than junior.

Mid-level developers tend to have had a wealth of experience debugging issues and a familiarity with best practices, which in-turn learns them to write simpler, more straightforward code that can be passed from developer to developer with relative ease.

Not only this, mid-level developers can be delegated tasks which don’t require the same hand-holding as junior developers, which makes them some of the most sought-after developers in the market with salaries in the range of £30,000-£55,000 per annum. A quick search on Indeed of mid-level developers in Manchester will soon show you the abundance of opportunities out there at this level, which supports this is one of the most candidate-short levels of developers.

Mid and junior-level developers will typically be supported by a seniors and there will be an err of allowance for mistakes, something that is less acceptable for the more seasoned mid-to-senior level developers.

Senior developer

At this level, you would be expected to possess; a growth mindset towards problem-solving, a client-facing manner to communicate feedback between themselves and the end-user, leadership skills to encourage junior and mid-level developers and of course, fluency in writing simple code to a high standard.

The role of the senior developer is one that is open to deliberation and often follows two routes- or a tug-of-war between the two. Typically, to become senior, you will be required to have at least five years’ experience under your belt. However, this is not always the case. Senior developers focus on those hard-to-solve and impossible coding issues and lead by example, whilst mentoring the development of a team of junior-mid developers.

Ability to manage projects from inception to completion relatively autonomously sets seniors apart from mid-level developers, even if due to other responsibilities or delegation they aren’t actively required to use these skills in their role. This is where the ‘growth mindset’ becomes so crucial at senior level. Seniors will have a general understanding at all stages of managing a project but are aware that they may need to; adapt, hire specialists into their team, master new skills, or re-master redundant skills to overcome hurdles and ensure that projects stick to schedule and budget.

Because the expectations of a senior do vary and can be different between firms, it is possible to notice a gap in leadership skills at senior level. In some cases, seniors shun the responsibility of leadership to focus on coding issues without the distraction of managing a team, which can make it difficult to progress further or to consider all senior opportunities in the market, albeit not impossible. Developers who see themselves in this category should look to focus on developing their management and leadership skills in order to progress, or should actively seek the niche opportunities that do not require leadership responsibility.

If you’re having difficulty understanding where to categorise your experience or want to know about the opportunities you may be well-suited to, get in touch with specialist consultant Jonathan Moran - Director of Better Placed Tech, and discuss the next steps in your career.