How to Become a Senior Software Engineer

If you are a junior developer or a mid-level professional, your goals likely include a higher salary, greater autonomy, and more input into application design.

A software engineer typically progresses to increasing degrees of compensation, authority, and responsibility. Agile’s past article on choosing the best IT career path can offer good advice about the roles that lead there.

New job titles alone aren’t enough, however. It’s also important to understand the requirements of leadership and what you can do to advance your career. Justin Ellis, recruiting manager for Agile, provides guidance on how to become a senior software engineer.

Leveling Up Your Skills

Level 1

Start by mastering the syntax and nuances of your programming languages. While formal education, attending conferences, and reading literature from known industry experts can help, mastering development typically comes from hours spent completing development tasks.

Take the time to make notes as you code and as you learn what works and what doesn’t. When you begin to see patterns in your mistakes, you can become better at avoiding them.

Level 2

Eventually, your code needs to do more than “work.” It also has to serve the greater purpose of the application and the company. To become a senior software engineer, you’ll want to improve your skills in a way that supports the broader mission:

  • Learn about advanced concepts like design patterns, architecture, automated testing, performance, and security.
  • Focus on writing team-readable code. Avoid falling into the trap of creating complex code that serves its purpose but that isn’t easy for others to understand.
  • Be open to constructive criticism and ask for it frequently. This will help you program more effectively and allow you to gain trust among your teammates.

Level 3

When you are a junior developer, you may do things in a certain way because it’s how you were taught. Senior software engineers understand the “why” behind the things they do. They know the use cases for their applications, and they ask the right questions during the design phase.

As you progress in your career, learn the purpose behind your coding choices. If the approach you are using isn’t optimal for the application, you may need to change your technique.

To get to this stage, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Pay close attention to how other software engineers complete tasks. By asking someone about their choices in coding, you can start to see completely new strategies for your own work.

Level 4

Advice on “how to become a senior software engineer” often boils down to “being ready for the role.” With more seniority comes more freedom and trust, but it also brings more responsibility.

As a senior engineer, you might have a more flexible schedule, but you may also need to put in additional hours of work at home or on weekends.

You may not be handling labor-intensive coding assignments all day, but when you’re good at your job, you’ll be the one people turn to for problems no one else can fix.

You may be the person in charge, but you’ll also need to guide and teach your team members.

In other words, being the face of the team’s success also means having to address the problems. The good news is that, by the time you get there, you’ll be prepared. As you become more proficient as a developer, complete more projects, and gain more trust with your colleagues, you’ll be ready to lead.

Advance By Staying at Your Company or By Moving to a New One?

There are several options for how to become a senior software engineer, and moving to a new employer isn’t always necessary. If you have doubts about your future with your current company, try to work with your supervisor to address the concerns you have.

If you do decide to leave your company so you can reach a senior-level position, here is some advice from our IT recruiters:

  • Learn which skills are most in need. If they differ from your areas of focus, build a small side project showing your capabilities in these technologies.
  • Office lingo may differ from one company to the next. Brush up on your computer science terminology so that you can communicate your experience in a way that a prospective employer understands.
  • Identify the opportunities you’d consider: direct-hire, contract, and so on. There are also contract-to-hire positions if you are open to these types of opportunities.
  • Prepare your resume and practice interviewing in a way that emphasizes the senior-level skills described above.

If you decide to seek advancement with a new company, consider partnering with a technical recruiting firm like Agile. We have extensive experience helping IT professionals achieve their career goals, and we’re here to help in any way we can.

Learn more about how to become a senior software engineer and about the opportunities available to you. Contact Agile by phone or online.

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