Why is a senior engineer… senior?

What makes one become a senior engineer?


Although you might think that it depends on your technical skills, let me tell you that you couldn’t be farther from reality.


Senior engineers are already expected to be technically deep and to deliver on time. Thus, being a “technically deep” engineer is merely a tiny drop in the ocean for a promotion.


Therefore, I invested some time to write down the traits that will support you the most in climbing the software engineering career ladder.

  • Impact — The number #1 word expressing seniority. You should be focusing on delivering impactful results. Not necessarily executing the most demanding tasks, but instead going for the ones that would ultimately support the team and the product’s needs the most. You should raise self-awareness of the product and teams’ needs to prioritize your work efficiently.


  • Perception — Be reliable. If you say you’ll do something, do it and do it well, with care. That way, people will look up to you and ensure that their perception of you comes across everywhere they go. Being reliable is particularly significant when collaborating with your manager. They know that you’re trustworthy and you’ll be committed to delivering what you said you would and therefore assign you the most impactful OKRs (objective key results).


  • Visibility —Joel A. Garfinkle said, “Without visibility, you won’t be noticed, and your career progression will come to an abrasive halt”. The importance of visibility may not seem obvious. You may have received past promotions based solely on merit and hard work. Perhaps working hard and producing results have been enough during your early career experiences for others to notice and compensate for your excellent work, until suddenly—bam—it comes to a standstill. You should ensure that your work is visible to everyone on your team, folks who interact with the team, business, and management.


  • Influence —Persuasive communication at all levels of the organization and making sure your message comes clear regardless of the audience may single-handedly dictate your career progression. Neither power, authority, nor a title is necessary. Rely on data, and prepare your speech. This way, you’ll be driving decisions and leading initiatives anywhere you go within the company.


  • Mentoring — Senior engineers understand that they’re not scalable. Thus, they become expert time managers. They invent time. The most dopey way to create time would be by putting in more hours. However, the most intelligent way is by growing others around them to take over their existing responsibilities. Growing others demonstrates that everyone will get better with whomever you work with, and it is an investment for the future where the result is more bandwidth to do bigger things. Everybody does better when everybody does better.


A senior engineer is farther more than “technically deep”.