About Seniors

Kyoto-Ryoan-Ji_MG_4512

If you’ve been in the software business for some time you may have heard things along these lines:
– We need a senior* developer/QA/manager for this project otherwise we are ******
– A senior developer’s output is 4-10 times better than a newbie’s
– We don’t have enough seniors on this team; we need more

So what traits make these people so valuable to teams/managers/organisations? Is it the deep domain knowledge? Is it the professional and life experience? Is it the day in, day out high quality work they perform? Is it the higher productivity?

Of course any item from the list above makes them a good hire. But at the end of the day I think that this list is just the “natural” outcome of something that these people have achieved. In other words there is more than higher productivity or being reliable all year long. Interestingly enough it is not age related – you can have senior developers who are 25 old and vice-versa, 35 old engineers who are not seniors.

I think what makes a senior special is his attitude to life, work, and people. If this is starting to sound like psuedo-philosophical, pseudo-mistical article please bear with me because it isn’t. What I mean is actually quite simple: he knows and accepts his strengths and weaknesses, he doesn’t have delusions of grandeur, he’s pretty sure about what he likes and dislikes (at work or in life) and acts upon these beliefs.

If I had to choose one world to describe this person, it would be wise. He may not be the smartest person nor the most educated or with the biggest life experience but he’s definitely wise. And when you are wise you are in a league of your own already. You know what is important and what’s not, when to let it go and when to fight for it …

Simple isn’t it? And quite unspectacular I may add. So where is the amazing productivity coming from then? Well if you know what your strengths are and what you love to do, then it’s only natural that you’re going to excel at what you do much faster than someone who doesn’t like what he does or he’s not a fit.

My last point is about the synergy multiplier many managers look for when putting together a team. When you look at a team you can have three situations:
– Neutral state – members perform at the same level as if they were working alone
– Leakage state – members perform at a lower level than what they could achieve in isolation
– Synergy state – members constantly overachieved compared to what they could deliver in isolation. The team looks like a tank rolling over paper houses – nothing can stop it**

I think that people who have a higher degree of insecurity about who they are and where they are:
– Tend to be more aggressive in behaviour
– Less inclined to trust others and truly collaborated
– Constantly underachive – the lack of self-trust drags them down

Seniors are almost the opposite: they are enablers, they can literally multiply team-mates’ output. They not only deliver more and better work, they also help others to do the same. I think that this is actually the golden nugget hiring managers are looking for when they say “I need a senior for this project”.

Notes:
* I use the term senior as many people use the very same word. But you may have heard seasoned developer or experienced developer and so forth
** I’ve seen a team like this. The rhythm, the speed they were moving at, and the quality of their work was just amazing
***Image by Cquest

3 thoughts on “About Seniors

  1. Completely agree Mihai. Nothing to add except one thing: I’ve seen a company that wanted/needed to grow very fast very quickly – and they had money to burn. So they hired only the most senior people they could get. The short term result was exceptional. They were all super productive and the company grew. But some time into it, all the seniors realized there’s no way to go from there. When everybody’s senior, nobody is anymore. So all the seniors started to leave the company like rats fleeing from a sinking ship. Left behind were pretty much the low performers who didn’t care enough to move.

  2. Alex, this is an excellent point. And I don’t know how to say it other than this: I’m writing a follow up that tackles the motivation. Stay with me!

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with Alex, have been in such a company myself. It takes the right amount of seniors (we called them principals) and young blood (less experinced teammates) to build the highly productive team Mihai talks about.
    Seniors described by Mihai know how to nurture growth of their colleagues, thus bonding the team not only around the product they build, but also around the learning process.

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