What makes a senior?

I’ve been wanting to write a post about what it means to be a senior for quite sometime. I’m not even particular about senior developer or senior ScrumMaster.  Just what does it mean to be a “senior” within a company.

Than a friend pointed me to an article that did a great job highlighting most of my exact thoughts: http://www.kitchensoap.com/2012/10/25/on-being-a-senior-engineer/

What struck me most was this was written three years ago.  Yet, I recently walked into a company that couldn’t articulate what was different about being a senior.  If you create a senior title, many people will want to obtain that level of mastery.  So you have to be clear on what it means and how someone is or is not a senior yet… or you will experience what a frustrated person looks like.

Personally, it’s not about number of years.  However, you can’t gain maturity without experience which takes time, hence years.  I think all too often we give a senior title for a specific mastery of technology vs maturity.  However, what happens if that technology is now obsolete, do they loose the title?

I’ve seen people excel in one team only to go onto another team and flounder.  Often this is not about technical skill.  It’s about maturity and experience to know how to build a team and collaborate with many different types of people.  I’m not saying any senior will never struggle.  I’m saying they will take accountability for the struggle and not just indicate that the problem is with others.  That’s maturity.  That’s a senior in a company, the one who feels a sense of ownership for results and for others.

For me, seniors go beyond their role.  They help with their team.  They help with their discipline.  They help with their organization.  They can adapt.  And maybe most importantly, it is not about gaining a title with authority over others.

What do you believe makes a senior?

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  4 comments for “What makes a senior?

  1. August 24, 2015 at 1:22 am

    Interesting question… I also find that sometimes it has to do with the passage of time and actually has nothing to do with maturity or experience. People are given the title of “senior” because they have to in order to fit in the standards of what they are being paid after being there for xx years.

    The reality that I have seen is that it is created for the pay grades. The same is true for a level I, II, III for various titles.

    I like the idea of basing it on maturity as a leader (not a manager of course) and collaborator — as you note. Your technical skill may play into that, since that may help you lead… but if you are simply the lone wolf expert, you would likely never be considered “senior” in that case. That might be fine? I still think the labels setup a situation for confusion, rank, and privilege.

    • Tricia
      August 24, 2015 at 4:12 pm

      I agree it happens at companies that way for “seniors” but I really dislike it! So you create title for the pay bands you created?!? Seems like a ton of overhead to me.

  2. August 24, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    I recently pondered a similar question and arrived at some similar answers: http://www.schmonz.com/2015/03/13/when-is-being-technical-lead-a-good-decision/

    • Tricia
      August 24, 2015 at 4:09 pm

      Thank you for sharing!

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