Junior Vs Senior Developers?

December 28th, 2008

Chris Brandsma recently wrote an insightful post about how we shouldn’t coddle junior developers. It’s a good post and i can definitely understand Chris’ frustrations on the matter. There’s just one thing i don’t understand though: why do we even differentiate between junior and senior developers?

First of all, what’s the difference between a senior developer and a junior developer? Is it merely the number of years of experience? In previous client engagements, i’ve seen more than my share of bad developers who’ve had years and years of experience. Would i trust those developers more simply because they have the experience required to be called ‘seniors’? Hell no. Trust has to be earned, i don’t care if you just graduated or if you’ve been writing code for 5 years or more.

When i have to work with someone i’ve never worked before, i assess this person’s qualities and capabilities on two things: how he thinks about writing code (in general), and how easy he can pick up new concepts/practices/principles. That’s it. A junior developer with little to no experience can often be a lot more valuable than a developer who has 5 years of experience under his belt and just assumes that he knows it all.

With a senior developer, you have to be lucky that he’s learned from his previous mistakes (and every developer makes mistakes, no matter how good he is or how much experience he has), that he hasn’t picked up too many bad habits and that he is open minded. If you can get a senior developer like that, consider yourself very, very lucky because there really aren’t that many of them.

With a junior developer, you can easily mold them into the kind of developer you want them to be. They haven’t really had a lot of time to pick up bad habits, and they are eager to prove that they belong at your company so they will be very eager to learn and improve. All you need is a couple of people who are willing and capable of teaching these young developers.

Of course, with junior developers you do have to live with the fact that they will make rookie mistakes. You have to review their work a bit more, and make sure that they learn from their mistakes. If you do this from the beginning, you’ll quickly notice that the extra reviewing tasks will soon take up less and less work.

At my company, we don’t really differentiate between juniors and seniors. The last couple of years, we’ve pretty much only hired young developers who just graduated. And so far, it’s worked out great. They never get assigned easier tasks or anything like that, and they have to do the same kind of stuff that people with more experience need to do. The result is that we have a bunch of young developers (i think the average age of our developers is 24 or something) who already do a great job, and they’re constantly getting better.

  • http://blog.webdistortion.com Paul Anthony

    I’m somewhere between a junior dev and middleweight dev.

    In my mind you do need to separate the terms, simply because this terming – puts you in a particular mindset. Juniors need a goal to reach, they need to be able to comfortably ask questions of more senior members of staff – if everyone appears equal who are they going to turn to?

    When is someone going to take on someone’s advice when they don’t know how good that advice potentially is?

    A healthy organisation in my mind is one which drops people’s titles at the door when performing code reviews. Everyone walks into a meeting without prejudice, to allow creative solutions. Decisions are based on find the best possible solutions, not who bangs the drums the loudest., or the one who slams his fist with a simple “…but I’m the senior developer I know best” attitude.

    Arrogance is inversely proportional to ability in my book.

  • j3h

    The classification is pretty simple, junior developers don’t know what they don’t know, which explains some of the comments.

    When evaluating senior v junior developers you have to consider the context. I would hazard a guess that if you are working on yet another, dead on arrival, social networking start up, the developers that claim to be senior are anything but.

    %Pr

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