One of the most common questions I hear is “How do I become a Senior Engineer?” In my experience, the best thing you can do is to continue building your technical skill set and seek ways to be recognized within your organization and industry. How do you do that? I’m glad you asked.
Use Google & Stack Overflow. It’s true. Senior Engineers use these sites too. Imposter Syndrome be damned. There are over 9 million registered users on Stack Overflow; we’re all imposters! But what distinguishes Senior Engineers is their ability to quickly determine what to search for, and how to efficiently search for that. Pair with one and notice how they look beyond the first page of Google search results. They scroll past the first/accepted answer to a question on Stackoverflow. They do this because they know there are nuances and edge cases that must be accounted for. Senior Engineers are thorough and don’t copy/paste the first answer that looks like it might solve their immediate issue.
Take Action. Senior Engineers are “people of action”. They focus on accomplishing goals, not necessarily following procedures. Sure, they end up in more meetings and you’ll notice they are part of many conversations, but most importantly they do a lot of listening. They read requirements and listen to stakeholders. They listen in order to more deeply understand the complexity, boundaries, and expectations their peers are facing. This gives Senior Engineers the confidence to take action. These actions can range from starting a new repository for shared code to laying out new systems or architectures. One thing many Senior Engineers have in common is that they will take action without feeling the need to ask for permission. They are confident in what they want to accomplish and garner support from their peers and teammates. Take action and build up your accomplishments!
Contribute to Open Source. A great way to increase your recognition in the industry is to contribute to Open Source projects. Notice I didn’t just say “write code.” Have you ever complained about how bad the docs are for something you’re using? Exactly. Many of our favorite applications, frameworks and utilities are looking for help with documentation. Remember, we were all beginners at one point. Documentation is a great way for a newcomer to get involved with a project. You’ll learn a lot about the community when you make your first pull request and get lots of feedback. This is a good learning step that will help you make more complicated changes in the future. Don’t forget to make a Good Pull Request! Want to get into some code? Lots of bigger projects are targeting first time contributors. Go find one and give back to the community that has helped you get to where you are today!
Mentor. Being a Senior Engineer means sharing your knowledge and experiences. Work hard to become a strong source of knowledge in multiple areas, be an expert in others, but always share that information openly. You don’t need to know everything, but it’s important that you can offer useful advice on how to research a particular topic. Be a connector. Maybe you don’t know the answer to a question, but you should be able to point to a person who does. Learn who is holding on to useful knowledgeable and put their expertise to use. Mentoring takes time and effort from both sides but is the most effective way to have a lasting impact.
Move around. Most Senior Engineers have worked in various roles which gives them a unique perspective when solving problems. While learning how different companies develop and deliver software is a great way to get this experience, why not look for opportunities within your current team/department/organization? Work more closely with UX on a case study or some designs. Pair with QA to get a better understanding of the systems responsible for ensuring the code you write is working correctly. Talk to your manager about swapping positions with someone on another team. Moving within your organization is a safe way to gain different perspectives and knowledge without needing to start over at a new company.
There are many things you can do to start or continue your journey to becoming a Senior Engineer. Hopefully this list gives you a taste of the types of things you can start doing now. What’s worked for you? Leave a comment below or hit us up @GetInRhythm on Twitter.