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Senior vs. Junior Software Engineer: What’s the Difference?

The difference between a senior vs. a junior software engineer is more than you’d think. Read to find out!

By Alexandria Hewko  •   November 8, 2022  •   8 min read

With the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) market expected to climb to a whopping $716.52 billion in size by 2028, it begs the question of who is going to build all of those applications? Software engineers, that’s who! So, if you’re looking to get into the field of software engineering, there is no better time than the present. We’ve made it even easier to get into the field by putting together a guide on what to expect as a senior vs. junior software engineer so you can start preparing for this exciting, rising role!

What is a mid-level software engineer? 

A mid-level software engineer is someone who has a bit of work experience in building applications already, but doesn’t yet have the experience or skills to lead an engineering team. As such, this is considered more of an intermediate level than an entry-level or senior position. Many software engineers reach this mid-level position within about 3-5 years, but some companies might recognize this level at 2 years of experience.

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The difference between junior engineers vs. senior engineers

 A day in the life of a junior engineer and a senior engineer looks very different. Since a junior engineer is someone who is quite new to the development scene, a lot of their day-to-day work will involve completing training, being mentored, getting thorough code review sessions from leaders, and of course, getting lots of practice writing code (though likely for more basic features). On the other hand, a senior engineer may be trusted to lead some of these training or mentorship initiatives for a junior and they are likely responsible for writing more complex code features or conducting code reviews. Senior engineers might also be responsible for some decisions around security, design, tooling, and process. 

Junior software engineer job description 

  1. Write and test code for bugs. In the early stages of your career, you’ll spend more time doing brunt work on writing code to help you get deep experience in the field. You’ll also work with other engineers and software tools to help you identify and patch bugs in your code.
  2. Develop applications. As you work on segments of code, this will eventually all come together in a larger application and you’ll see how different feature sets come together in the larger app design. Ideally, you’ll also get experience on a broad set of web or mobile applications until you find where you want to specialize.
  3. Troubleshoot software. When your applications are down, you’ll be responsible for helping the team identify the bug and then patching it back up quickly. Being solution-oriented and agile will help you react quickly and efficiently in these situations.
  4. Collaborate with the tech team. As you build out new features, you’ll need to work closely with the other members of the tech team who have control over other elements of the system, as well as product managers who can convey requirements from the customer. 
  5. Generate reports. At the junior level, you’ll also be tasked with running reports around sending code to production, verifying quality assurance (QA), and making remediation efforts. This all helps your senior engineers and managers know how efficient the project is functioning and if additional support is needed.

Senior software engineer job description 

  1. Develop software systems. With more experience, you’ll have control and onus over larger systems. Multiple applications may fit within each system, so senior engineers will need deep knowledge on how each system operates and affects the others within it.
  2. Train junior programmers. As new developers get onboarded, you will likely be recruited to provide some training and mentorship to junior engineers. Training is a great way to pass on tips that are specific to the industry or organization to the new engineer.
  3. Function as a technical lead. With deeper knowledge of the systems (often from years of coding or building them), senior engineers can begin to function on a more strategic level within the team. This will include some administration and project management work. 
  4. Update software. Senior engineers help connect strategic goals to tactical efforts. As bugs are fixed or large updates need to be rolled out, senior engineers can support by deploying this code to production. Monitoring the process and supporting the resolution of any outages are also part of this role. 
  5. Foster cross-functional team collaboration. You’ll begin working more closely with product managers, the marketing team, and possibly even the finance or accounting teams. As a team lead, you’ll need more context for projects, which can be provided from these other departments.

Senior vs. junior software engineer salaries

When they’re just starting out, a junior engineer can expect to make between $70-900K annually. Remember that this salary varies greatly. The biggest factors that impact salary are the size of the company (how much it can afford), the location, and the level of experience that the developer brings to the table. The more experience the engineer has and the larger the company, the more pay the developer will get—though competition also rises to get a job opportunity with a larger company. Larger city centers will also pay significantly more (this is especially true in cities like San Francisco and New York where the pay is skewed much higher than most other cities in Canada and the United States). 

For senior engineers, the pay can go way up. Again, depending on the experience that is brought to the table, a senior engineer could bring in a salary in the $200-300K range if they are located in a large city center. Though this luxury salary isn’t for everyone, most areas will pay a senior engineer between $110-$130K annually

How long does it take to become a junior engineer? 

The most common way junior engineers get their first job is through earning a bachelor’s degree. Often, junior developers even secure jobs before they’ve graduated as demand in the market is so high. If you want to be a bit more competitive and get a more thorough education on software development, this is the route for you.

With some experience, a university certification may not even be necessary. In fact, 30% of junior engineers don’t even have a bachelor’s degree. With many online courses available today on sites like Udemy and Coursera, wannabe developers can start practicing writing code on their own time to build a portfolio of work. So however long it takes you to build a sufficient portfolio will determine how quickly you can secure a job as a junior engineer.

How long does it take to become a senior software engineer?

Senior software engineers need significant experience and a comprehensive portfolio of work to prove it. As such, a lot of developers don’t make it to the senior level until they’re about five years into the profession. The faster you can learn and take on new experiences, the more your knowledge will grow and the faster you can move up in seniority. Other things that increase your likelihood of becoming a senior engineer include the ability to write in a wide variety of languages (or very deeply specialize in one), as well the possession of strong leadership traits like great communication, organization, efficiency, honesty, and collaboration with other teams.

Best practices to progress from a junior software engineer role to a senior software engineer role 

1Start by building a strong tech portfolio

No matter which route you take to get your software engineering training (that is, by taking a formal course or self-teaching), you’ll need to provide some proof that you know what you’re doing to your future employer. Aim to have a minimum of three projects in your portfolio. The depth and complexity of these projects are an important display of your experience level.

2Enter every conversation with a goal 

Planning long-term means you need to start right now. Talk to your manager about your career goals, determine what you need to learn, and be solution-oriented. 

3Be open to learning at all times 

People who adopt growth mindsets go the furthest in their careers. This type of mindset reminds you that you are on a journey of continued learning and you are never quite the master, as there is always another perspective or lesson to see. 

4Engage in code reviews 

Getting honest feedback is an important element of learning. Work with your manager and other engineers and have them help you identify bugs or system design issues in your code. Soak in this feedback to help you continuously do better!

5Embrace pair programming 

Similar to reviewing code together, you can conduct pair programming exercises where you work one-on-one with another member of your team to take turns writing sections of the code. This not only helps you catch bugs quicker by having a second set of eyes on the project, but also helps you improve your communication and feedback skills.

6Continuously upskill 

As your career advances, you still need training! Stay up to date on new tech, frameworks, languages, and systems. You might use this knowledge to help your organization improve efficiency and showcase your ability to step up in your career. 

Parting advice

Deciding to jump into development is an exciting decision! Knowing what your career may look like will help you make informed choices on the way. Hopefully, our breakdown on junior vs. senior engineering roles and best practices to advance your career will help you see more of what’s in store for this career path and help you get to a more senior level faster! And as with any career, it’s most important that you be transparent with your goals so your manager and colleagues can support you on your way to success as well!

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