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  • Lokajit Tikayatray

9 Must-Have Skills to Call Yourself a Senior Developer

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

When looking for a new software job, the term 'senior developer' is thrown around often. You may feel that it's yet another word for 'experienced,' but there is more to it than that.

There are specific skills and traits that define senior developers. In other words, every senior developer must have essential skills to increase the team's effectiveness.

These skills are not just about the roles and responsibilities of a senior developer. It is also about understanding the nuances between a senior and a junior developer.

If you aspire to be a successful senior developer, you must focus on acquiring these must-have skills. These traits can help you highlight your unique brand as a software engineer and can enable you to generate maximum impact.

Let's detail the top nine must-have skills every senior developer should strive to master.

1. Knows How to Write Maintainable Code

It is a no-brainer that every good programmer must know how to produce quality code. During the initial days of their career, programmers tend to focus only on finishing the code by any means.

They don't have the experience yet to structure their code to produce the most efficient program.

As you progress in your career, you must learn how to write maintainable code. Your code should do the expected task by meeting both functional and non-functional requirements. At the same time, it should be simple enough for others to read and maintain.

Often, developers feel a hyper-complex code is a good code. But that's a myth. Every code needs to evolve throughout its life to meet the latest business reality in its operating domain. And, if no one can understand the code, it will soon become a nightmare for the team to maintain.

Hence, senior developers must learn to produce structured code that others can maintain.

2. Knows How to Anticipate Failures

Unforeseen failures are inevitable for any product. So many factors impact an application that developers will find it hard to avoid them, no matter how careful they are.

This is why the team needs to put their best effort into anticipating failures and planning for them in advance during the execution phase.

A vector image of a developer navigating a boat

While working on an assignment, a senior developer must focus on the system's response to different possible scenarios. They must learn to identify edge cases and build safeguards to protect the customer experience.

Simultaneously, they should make the system fail to test its limit and ensure the app can handle extreme scenarios.

The failure anticipation skill improves from participating in the real-world apps' end-to-end development cycle.

3. Knows How to Prioritize Their Work

A senior developer must know how to prioritize their work for maximum efficiency. They cannot complete every task with the same time and effort. Hence, a must-have skill for senior developers is to assign priority and work on the ones that give the most value for their energy spent.

Simultaneously, senior developers need to learn the skill to say no. They should only pick up tasks that add value to their experience. If junior developers can do the same job, it should be assigned to them.

Effective delegation can help the junior developers gain experience and spare time for senior developers to focus on jobs that need their expertise.

Junior developers hesitate to say no, assuming it will make them look bad. But, accepting every task assigned to them can soon become counterproductive. It can overwhelm them and hurt their performance.

Hence, programmers should focus on quality over quantity to grow and achieve recognition as senior developers.

4. Knows How to Handle Escalations

Like failures, escalations are common in the software development process. I don't see escalation as a nuisance as long as it is raised for a valid reason. When used correctly, escalations help align priorities and bring proper attention to an important job.

Yet, many software engineers consider escalation as noise. They view it as a complaint rather than a critical request for help from the proper authority. I can understand why escalations have such bad reputations among the developer community.

Senior developers recognize the importance of escalations. They know how to handle them efficiently. Instead of panicking during the crisis, they keep calm and focus on resolving the issue. Their focus remains on dousing the fire and moving on without worsening the matter.

Hence, to become a senior developer, you must learn to maintain composure during a crisis. Take part in escalations and MIMs (Major Incident Management) to gain first-hand experience. Watch and learn from your seniors to see how they manage the situation.

And, a little secret - managing escalations well can fetch excellent visibility at the leadership level. That's going to boost your career growth as a senior developer.

5. Knows How to Negotiate

You might wonder why a software developer needs to know how to negotiate. What can a senior developer negotiate? You are not alone in having these questions.

Focusing on coding and delivering their assignment is enough for junior software engineers. But, as you advance in your career, you must work with clients and interlocks daily to find amicable solutions.

Two people negotiating

Clients will have varying opinions about the need and what the application can do. Simultaneously, there may be significant differences between your and the interlock applications' designs. As a senior developer, you are responsible for reaching a fair consensus that works for everyone.

You don't want to squabble with your customers or interlock teams. But you cannot always do what they ask of you either. That's where your negotiation skills will be handy as a senior developer. You must determine whether you can resolve the issue without delivery or product quality impact.

6. Knows When and How to Help Others

I always recommend that to grow in their profession, developers should ask for help and help others. Yet, a senior developer must know when and how to help.

If the team members do not support each other, that team is bound to fail.

But it also does not mean you work on others' assignments. There must be a balance between helping others and letting them do their job to learn from their mistakes.

For example, if your teammates struggle with a particular issue you have already experienced, nudge them toward the solution. It will save your team countless hours and frustration. But, if someone is making the same mistakes even after your help, it is better to let them fail so they can learn from it.

Continual handholding of developers to prevent delivery impact creates more problems for the team. Hence, a senior developer must understand when and how to provide their help to be most effective.

7. Knows How to Empathize With the User’s Requirement

Often, I see developers primarily focus on the technical aspect of the delivery. Sometimes, they want users to change their ways based on the application's behavior. Instead of creating a product that works for the users, they expect the users to act according to the implementation.

A program is only useful when it fulfills a user's need. If the application cannot help the customer solve their intended problem, it is of no real value, no matter how elegant the code is.

Hence, the development team must empathize with the user's requirements. This is where a senior developer's role is most important.

A senior developer must have the skills to get into the shoes of their users. They must understand what problem the user is trying to solve and discover the root cause. They must also explain it to the rest of the team to match the implementation with the customer-expected outcome.

8. Knows How to Do Accurate Estimation

Estimation is a critical process in software development. A good estimation considers all aspects of the project while evaluating the effort required for delivering the work. Hence, estimation skills need theoretical knowledge and practical experience to maintain accuracy.

Edge cases, worst-case scenarios, trade-offs, team capability variations, environmental constraints, etc., can impact the software estimation. Identifying and understanding these factors is vital in providing estimates for an ask.

There is no magic formula for getting perfect sizing. To gain the right expertise in estimation, a developer must go through these processes many times during their career.

Hence, a senior developer must get involved in all phases of software development. They need to gain experience on how various factors impact the delivery timeline. They must learn from their past mistakes to improvise their future estimations.

9. Knows How to Be Consistent

Consistency is a much more desirable attribute in senior developers than sporadic brilliance.

For a senior developer, building trust is highly crucial. Your team needs to be confident of your abilities. They must believe you can consistently deliver value, not just when the mood strikes.

Consistency is one of the best ways to prove that your team can depend on you as a senior developer.

Simultaneously, the manager needs to be 100% sure that the developer can deliver. Otherwise, they will never trust them with high-visibility assignments. Thus, the developer will lose opportunities to highlight their capabilities.

And, without visibility, no software engineer can grow to become a senior developer.

A senior developer must display mastery of all the above essential skills. They must prove themselves as Mr. Dependable to become an influential senior developer.

The Significance of Being a Senior Developer

Being a senior developer is more than just a title. It signifies time spent gaining experience, expertise, and leadership in the software development field. As a senior developer, you have reached a level where your skills are highly valued and sought after by organizations.

You are not only proficient in programming languages but also possess the ability to mentor and guide junior developers. Your role goes beyond writing code; you are responsible for shaping the direction of projects and ensuring their success.

A vector image of a developer with his laptop

Being a senior developer in today's competitive job market can open up new career growth and advancement opportunities. With your experience, you can work on challenging projects that push your boundaries and allow you to learn and improve continuously.

As organizations increasingly recognize the importance of strong technical leadership, senior developers are often given more autonomy and decision-making power.

If you aspire to become a senior developer or already hold this position, continue honing your skills. Share your knowledge with others through mentoring or blogging to establish yourself as an authority in your field.

Remember that being a senior developer is not just about personal achievements; it's about contributing to the growth of your team and company. It is also about making a lasting impact on the industry.

Difference Between Senior Developer and Lead Developer

Both senior developers and lead developers are experienced professionals in the field of software development. However, there are distinct differences between their roles and responsibilities. Understanding these disparities is crucial when considering career progression or team dynamics.

​Senior Developer

Lead Developer

Experienced software engineer with advanced technical skills

A seasoned professional with strong technical expertise and leadership abilities

Focuses on coding, debugging, and implementing complex solutions

Oversees a team of developers, assigning tasks and ensuring effective collaboration

Collaborates closely with other developers to ensure efficient code integration

Sets project goals, defines timelines and ensures successful delivery

Provides mentorship and guidance to junior team members

Acts as a point of contact between the development team and stakeholders

Responsible for meeting project deadlines and delivering high-quality code

Makes critical decisions regarding technology stack, architecture, and development processes

May contribute to architectural decisions but typically follow established guidelines

Mentors junior developers while also managing their performance evaluations

Primarily focused on individual contributions rather than managerial tasks

Balances technical responsibilities with managerial duties

Take Away

If you have questions like 'What makes a good senior developer?' or 'How do you know if you are a senior developer?', you have your answers now.

The list contains the must-have skills to help you become a senior developer. It is not an all-inclusive list. But, if you can showcase them in your daily work, I can assure you of exceptional growth in your software career.

Do you know of other must-have skills for senior developers? Are you already getting the benefit of possessing them?

If yes, feel free to share those skills with us in the comment section for others to read and learn from.


What is the role of a senior developer?

A senior developer is a highly experienced professional whose primary responsibilities include leading and guiding the development team and ensuring that projects are completed efficiently and effectively. Senior developers are also responsible for learning about the latest tools and technologies to help their team deliver the requirements optimally.

Apart from coding, they are also expected to create designs, talk to clients, develop coding standards, support managers in making project decisions, handle technology challenges, and find an efficient way to solve problems. Senior developers should also have good communication and interpersonal skills besides technical skills.

What is a senior developer level?

A senior developer level refers to a high-ranking individual contributor position within the field of programming and software development. It is a level that a person can achieve after spending a significant amount of time gaining expertise in various programming languages and design patterns. They have the ability to design and develop complex software solutions.

At this level, a senior developer is proficient in coding and programming and possesses strong people-handling and communication skills. They are often responsible for leading a team of developers, understanding client requirements, and overseeing the development process from start to finish.

What skills do senior developers need?

Senior developers need technical and soft skills to excel in their roles. They should have a deep understanding of programming languages and be able to develop high-quality code efficiently.

Time management is crucial as they often work on multiple projects simultaneously. Senior developers should also possess strong communication skills to collaborate effectively with clients and team members. They must be expert problem solvers, constantly seeking new challenges to grow and improve.

Design patterns and the ability to design scalable and robust systems are essential. Senior developers should have a desire to mentor and guide junior developers as part of their journey toward a technology leadership position. A senior developer should have a goal-oriented mindset, always striving to deliver the best results and exceed client expectations.

What qualifications do I need to become a senior developer?

To become a senior developer, you typically need several years of professional experience in software development. Employers often look for candidates with strong programming skills, knowledge of multiple programming languages, familiarity with various frameworks and tools, problem-solving abilities, and excellent communication skills.

Who is called a senior developer?

A senior developer is an experienced professional who has reached a high level of expertise in programming and software development. They are responsible for designing and developing complex software solutions for their client. These software engineers have a deep understanding of various programming languages, design patterns, and development frameworks.

They are experts in their field and have a strong desire to learn and improve their skills continuously.

In addition to technical skills, these software engineers also possess excellent communication and problem-solving abilities. They are driven by their passion for knowledge, streamlining operations, and helping their client and company to thrive in their business. These software engineers are also known for their ability to overcome challenges and strive for the best in their work.

What qualifies as a senior developer?

A senior developer is an experienced professional who has reached a high level of expertise in programming and software design. They deeply understand various programming languages, design patterns, and development methodologies.

Their responsibilities go beyond writing code; they also mentor and guide junior programmers, collaborate with other teams and stakeholders, and contribute to the overall design and architecture of projects.

Senior developers have excellent communication skills, as they often interact with clients and communicate complex technical ideas clearly and concisely. They also have a passion for continuous learning and staying updated with the latest industry trends. Overall, a senior developer has the desire and ability to take on complex challenges, lead people, and drive the success of projects within a company.


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