You're a senior developer – now what?
There is often a slight pause after you reach your goal. Especially if it’s something you worked on for a long time. You feel the joy of the accomplishment but after a moment it’s accompanied by a puzzled reflection. You did what you wanted to do, you reached the goal - now what? Where do you go from here?
source: The Graduate (1967)
It might sound like a first world problem but the struggle is real. Becoming a senior in a software development organisation is usually a goal to achieve. There is advice all over the internet on how to move from junior to senior, however there’s much less support for those who already reached that goal. What do you do, when you are finally a senior? One of the questions that people seem to ask me very frequently is about self-development when you reach that level. You probably should still learn, but how? Where? When?
At Bright Inventions we define a senior developer as someone who is obviously highly knowledgeable, independent and responsible but also good at soft skills and active in knowledge sharing. Someone who supports others with the expertise they have. I think in many organisations a senior is someone who’s expected to support other people’s development while taking care of their own goals at the same time.
This is always tricky. Our whole education system is based on the idea of others telling us what to learn next. It often stretches to our adult work life - our company, our mentors, team leaders show the direction and set the goals. What to do when this ends, usually at the senior level? Or when you become a mentor or a team leader yourself?
- look for mentors. Mentors can still have mentors. Yup, it’s asking others for directions, but with more awareness. They can be public figures, celebrity developers or your colleagues that you look up to in a particular domain. Whoever makes sense and you find them wise. It’s good to take inspiration and check other’s experiences
- do not be afraid. Go down the research rabbit hole, sign up for the workshop, discuss with others even if you'll be proved wrong (then admit it). Honestly, just do it. I know, you’ve seen this advice everywhere, from shoe advertisements to an inspirational meme sent by your mother (accompanied by an image of a mountain or a vast sea, like this:
If you choose an e-course that ends up being a waste of time - oh well, you will know better next time. You are a master in the making, so mistakes will be made and let’s just call them experiences to learn from, ok?
Books are great. Period. They are especially great when you want to focus on more abstract and complex issues, which you are probably after at the senior level. At early stages you might have been mostly drawn to the internet resources, because they are more up to date and contain how-to’s, which are important when you learn technologies. However, some ideas need more pages and focus than the internet form would comfortably accommodate.
Also, check conferences in your domain, both online and offline. They are great places for sharing knowledge and exchanging ideas. If you don’t use such meetings just for self-promotion but to really connect with others and learn from each other, the wisdom you can get is priceless.
Blogs are not entirely dead and those who stayed in the blogging arena do it to share the experiences that cannot fit into a twitter thread. Search for people from the industry that have the wisdom and experience. They might also have a newsletter (newsletters are back, yay) or a podcast (because who doesn’t these days). Some are even writing books as they go along. It’s good to start with who you want to follow and then check their platform of choice, rather than the other way around.
If you were proactive about broadening your knowledge before becoming a senior, you probably know the drill already. If, however, you relied on others to motivate you, it may be difficult at first to prioritise learning, especially when your responsibilities changed. A good way to keep at self-development is to plan time specifically for it. How many times you thought you would read that interesting post later, maybe in the evening, but ended up watching another trending Netflix show? Putting off something that requires concentration and will power to the unspecified evening after work is a recipe for failure. At Bright Inventions we have something called “Bright Day” - a day off from your everyday project tasks that you can take each month to learn and broaden your horizons. Check if that’s an option in your company or do your own special mornings for self development.
These days there’s a tendency to become a senior at a much younger age than it used to be, when this term was coined. Some people get their “senior” titles in their twenties - hardly a senior age (I’d be on my deathbed already, muttering my last words following this logic. Drink to me!). It would be beyond tragic to reach your peak at work so early in your career, right? So it’s no wonder that people begin to ask themselves, where do you go from here, with 30 working years ahead? In my opinion, it’s best to detach yourself from the corporate definitions. In some organisations you have levels of seniority, in others you get “chief” in front of your title. Regardless of the corporate ladder, reaching the senior level means that you are expected to take responsibility for your development and the directions in which you evolve. In IT it’s usually a moment to ask yourself if you’d like to go in the leadership direction or not, if you’d like to move to management or more technical expertise etc. These directions will require different focus and actions, so make sure to check with yourself which path seems more suitable for you specifically. Again, regardless of the corporate vision of employees’ development.
All in all, my general advice would be not to treat a senior title as a goal in itself. After all, it’s just a title. Think about who you want to become in your career and start doing what you need to become that person. If you get a senior position along the way, then great, what a nice acknowledgement of your work. But afterwards, just check with yourself if you’re still on the path you want, adjust the course and keep going. Let me find an appropriate inspirational image with a mountain or a sea for you.
Now go and be a senior that you needed when you were a junior. And I mean it, not in a quote-against-the-sea-image kind of way. If there is one thing that should come with a senior title, it’s being a support. Now that you are fully capable of standing on your own feet it’s time to lift others. That’s a difference you find in a true seniorship.
And while you will be sharing your expertise with others, you might find that this will allow you to evolve as well.