Wondering how to assess Seniority Levels in Product Development Teams for your company? This is not as intuitive as it should. Being a junior, mid, or senior level engineer doesn’t solely have to do with years of programming experience. It’s a long and complicated process. Probably involves a lot of people, one or more interviews, but it all comes down to skill. This doesn’t mean that a senior has to be a coding expert in everything, but it’s safe to say that seniors are far more skilled than junior and mid-level engineers. The problem is that kind of candidate is not easy to find in the tech market.

But more than just coding skills differentiate the senior from the mid-level and junior engineers. So what exactly are the differences? Let’s get started with how senior, mid, and junior level engineers differ from each other in the eyes of Ubiminds.

What classifies someone as a Senior Level Engineer?

If you’re looking for higher seniority levels in product development teams, you will see that Senior engineers often possess (but are not limited to) the following common characteristics:

  • Have 5-8+ years of experience.
  • Are technology enthusiasts: an intrinsic passion for learning and self-development.
  • Have no issues solving problems and tasks of different complexity.
  • Can work as a scientist to experiment/test, validate assumptions, and connect the dots to reach a conclusion.
  • Carry the ability to develop and mentor other engineers of the team.
  • Can manage the understanding of the full scope of the project required that his team is responsible for and can delegate tasks in an effective manner.
  • Bring a profound view of product development and suggest the best ways to develop, having in mind the final market goal.
  • Offer strong troubleshooting, analytical, and problem-solving skills.
  • Draw from experience to identify risks and propose solutions.

So what can be accomplished by a Senior Engineer?

Among the seniority levels in product development teams, you can trust a senior-level engineer to:

  • Take on a full ‘development-deployment-launch’ workflow process.
  • Be clear and up to speed on the most recent best practices and technologies.
  • Compose and implement technical designs.
  • Define initial risks in working on large complex initiatives.
  • Can mentor junior and mid-level team members.
  • Do regular code reviews for less experienced colleagues.
  • Independently solve different problems and take on problems without a defined approach.
  • Distill complex problems through the application of design patterns.
  • Justify business value using data and convince others to join in.
  • Raise the software bar across multiple teams.
  • Share knowledge and experience in all aspects of software engineering: requirements acquisition, validation, and management; architecture/design; code and other artifact development; integration; and testing/QA.
  • Adapt design patterns to fit the needs at hand through thoughtful analysis of the problem space.
  • Deal with architectural problems involving many systems, not just coding problems.
  • Conduct technical interviews with candidates to make sure they have the technical skills to complete the job.
  • Generate ideas and software that provide quantifiable business value.
  • Think about the challenges the team will face in 6 months to 1 year and is already working with management to solve those problems now.
  • Build and implement a system from scratch.
  • Have good communication skills, because they must not only offer the right decision but also explain to their client and the team to agree with them.

Have in mind when hiring a Senior Level Engineer:

A Senior-Level Engineer needs alignment with business strategy in order to optimize development cost and drive technical decisions

What classifies someone as a Mid-level Engineer?

If you’re looking for a mid-level engineer, you will realize that different from other seniority levels in product development teams, s/he will probably:

  • Have between 2 to 5 years of experience.
  • Has a sense of code ownership.
  • Believes that shipping code is just one step in the process.
  • Is self-motivated, organized, and driven.
  • Knows how to monitor applications in production.
  • Has an intrinsic passion for learning.
  • Has experience in several projects.
  • Can work alone and in a team.
  • Is competent in at least a couple of areas of the SE lifecycle.
  • Can set up the dev environment on their own.
  • Can mentor junior engineers.
  • Demonstrates initiative and ways of solving different tasks.
  • Has a deeper understanding of the task, therefore, more accurately evaluate it and implement it more effectively.
  • Is familiar with standard templates and solutions when building an application in their field understands why they are needed, and knows how to apply them.
  • Has solid communication skills. A mid-level engineer knows how to interact with the team members, e.g. discuss a difficult moment with a designer, clarify the incomplete requirements with the business analyst, agree upon some important technical solution with the project’s architect (if there is one), and, of course, own the appropriate tools for collective development.

So what can be accomplished by a Mid-level Engineer?

As you may guess, mid-level engineers have a good level of autonomy. They can:

  • Take on troubleshooting, mixing analytical and problem-solving skills.
  • Code in such a way that other people can easily manage it.
  • Change code to make it more efficient.
  • Break major tasks down into smaller sub-tasks.
  • Review the code in close detail.
  • Work on bigger chunks of code at once.
  • Work on multiple projects (time management).

Have in mind when hiring a Mid-level Engineer:

A mid-level engineer still may need the support of the mentor as he or she may not have experience in solving tasks of all levels of complexity independently. So you have to get ready to help them if any questions occur.

What classifies someone as a Junior Level Engineer?

At the base of the seniority levels in product development teams, you will find the junior-level engineers. A junior will be recognized, mostly, for:

  • Between 1 to 3+ years of experience.
  • Curiosity is one of the most important motivators (learn constantly, both on the job and outside).
  • Good basic knowledge about IT (both software and hardware).
  • The ability to learn how to use the tools.
  • Knowledge of at least one programming language with the ability to write basic code.
  • Ability to take criticism as a path for continuous improvement.
  • Ability to work closely with people and collaborate.

So what can be accomplished by a Junior Engineer?

Junior Engineers are of great assistancce when empowered to:

  • Fix defects and work on tasks with some guidance.
  • Work on internal or “admin-side” tools/features
  • Work on defined features – i.e., those previously delineated with clear documentation that drives implementation.
  • Get comfortable with the codebase without doing anything too crucial (avoid hotfixes and critical features).

It is important to highlight that the challenge for a junior is to find balance as to when to try to solve a task by oneself and when to ask for help.

When hiring a Junior Software Engineer, have in mind s/he:

  • Is likely to produce code with bugs (might require more code reviews).
  • Is not aware of or has no experience in the best practices and latest technology concepts.
  • Should be supervised/might require pair programming depending on task complexity.
  • Is not in a position to liaise with customers, gather requirements nor provide estimates.

Beyond seniority levels in product development teams

If you’ve read this far, chances are there is plenty more you’d like to learn. Check out these top contents:

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  3. How tech leadership should build, manage and scale digital product teams