The One Quality That Sets Senior Engineers Apart From Everyone Else

Photo by Ibrahima Toure on Unsplash

Most developers are letting this quality stagnate their careers and keep themselves stuck on the lower end of the software development totem pole.

I know I had been.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of developers, leads, engineering managers, and so forth in my career. Throughout my time there’s been one quality that I always see in senior engineers, which mid-level and junior developers tend to lack.

That quality is confidence.

I’ve split this article into two parts:

  • Part one looks at the different ways confidence materializes in the workplace and the impacts it has on the way Senior engineers communicate and work with their teams.
  • Part two contains a series of suggestions I have for juniors and mid-levelers who are looking to grow their career. These suggestions will challenge your perspective and provide you with actionable takeaways that will help you grow your confidence and realize your potential.

1) You ask a lot more questions

When you’re confident in what you have to give, you don’t worry about how you’re perceived. You let your work do the talking for you.

We feel self-conscious early on in our careers. We work hard to break out of the “Junior” title and become an independent member of the team that everyone can depend on.

So we avoid situations that shine a light on our lack of experience and we don’t ask questions in case they’re silly or naive.

Ironically, while junior developers tend to stay quiet in meetings and discussions, seniors are the ones with all the questions.

Senior developers know that asking questions is a quick way for them to close gaps in their knowledge and move ahead with their tasks or decisions.

They know that their seniority is defined by their ability to deliver, and asking questions helps them do just that.

Junior and mid-level developers think that asking questions shows that they lack skills and knowledge.

Senior know that asking questions has no pertinence on what they’re engineers capable of.

2) Your perseverance is increased

When you know you have what it takes to deliver on a task, you’re much more inclined to persevere. You work through blockers and curveballs with a lot more tenacity.

Although you may not have all the answers ahead of time, you’re confident you know where you can access them.

I often see junior engineers give up too easily when the solution they were looking for was within their reach. You’ll be surprised how often juniors and even mid-levelers pick things up on their own after gaining just a little bit of confidence.

3) You become independent

With perseverance comes independence.

Where Seniors stick to a problem, Juniors give up and ask for help. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help especially when it means keeping roadmaps and timelines from blowing out, but one thing managers look for when promoting Juniors is independence.

I should highlight that my suggestion is not to stop asking for help, but rather time-box your problems, stick to it and ask for help when solving it really is taking too long.

The best companies know that the outcome of you learning something new and becoming independent is a lot more beneficial than delivering in a short timeframe.

4) Challenges no longer scare you — you welcome them

Because senior engineers are confident in their ability to yield results, their eyes only see one outcome of taking on new challenges: growth.

On the flip side, those who lack confidence see challenges as potential situations to fail.

Taking on new challenge tasks or features is a great way to showcase what you have to offer.

Your higher-ups will notice your capabilities and you’ll be moving out of that “Junior” title in no time.

Additionally, for senior positions within a company you want people who don’t shy away from challenges. So if you can develop yourself to be this person, it’ll be you managers think of for promotions.

5) You become eager to help others, even if you don’t have the answers

To help others in your team, you don’t always have to have the knowledge or answers to solve problems. Often, all you need is the ability to figure things out, and show others how they can do the same.

This is a distinction that senior engineers are acutely aware of.

They don’t let dealing with something they’re not sure about or gaps in their knowledge get in the way of lending a hand.

Mentoring the junior engineers in a team is part of a senior developer’s job description. So if you’re already giving others a hand and your manager notices, then you’ll be at the forefront of mind when a Senior position opens up.

Image representing perspective
Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

1) Everyone else is just like you — still trying to figure it out

When you shift your focus away from what you’re lacking you’ll see that even the most senior engineer in your tribe doesn’t have everything figured out.

Never in your career will be a time when you’re not learning something new.

Once you come to realize that, you will stop allowing gaps in your knowledge or skills to define your worth.

Action items:

  • Have frequent discussions with your higher-ups. You will gain a lot of knowledge from them. Additionally, you will realize that they’re just like you — an individual looking to learn and grow their career.

2) Wins reflect your potential, mishaps reflect your gaps

Superheros are born not developed.

This is utterly wrong.

It takes time to go from zero to hero.

Any gaps we have right now do not mean we don’t have what it takes to become a superstar.

Many developers make the mistake of viewing failures and mishaps as a reflection of their ability.

We will always have gaps in our knowledge and skills that need finessing over our careers. Even well after becoming a senior engineer.

Mishaps occur when those gaps rise to the surface. They’re not a reflection of your capabilities or lack of potential.

Action items:

  • Celebrate your wins and acknowledge them as proof of your potential and ability to grow.
  • Don’t focus on mishaps — they don’t reflect your true capabilities, they only emerge as a consequence of gaps you may have at that point in time.

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