How to know you are a junior developer

two people in boots standing with sand suspended around their feet
Photo by Gili Benita on Unsplash

Today I heard a hilarious way of benchmarking one’s noob-ness in the tech industry as a developer. It was a passing comment by my friend Terence over a beer this lovely evening when we were talking about our fledgling careers in tech.

Terence said that one sure way to know that you’re a junior developer is if you’re learning 4-5 new things from each technical interview that you go for.

I was hysterical hearing this for the first time. The funniest jokes are the ones that are uncomfortably true. People like Russell Peters figured that out early and made a great career out of telling jokes that are almost too close to home.

I mean, come on, admit it. You learned a bunch of things about programming at your first technical interview when the hiring manager asked you, “why did you approach it this way instead of this other way?”

No? Oh… anyway, I definitely learned more than 5 new things during my technical interview with Altitude Labs. About scoping and variable naming and callback functions, among other things.

But past the humour that lingered long after, what Terence said also got me thinking about the need to put in the hours, days, weeks, months, and really the years in order to grow as a developer.

Developer hubris

In an incredible industry like tech where developers are in great demand and short supply, we can often get carried away with our expectations. A year into being a developer, we might think, is enough to warrant a promotion to senior developer.

That may be okay if you’re technical employee #2 or #3 in a very small company, and you have been contributing significantly to the core tech product. In a situation like that, you deserve the title of “senior developer” within the company by virtue of your contribution and knowledge of that company’s product.

But in any other situation, I think it is highly unlikely that a developer grows fast enough to be legitimately considered a senior developer within a year.

Since most of us spend about 50 years working, how ridiculously inflated would this person’s title be if she were a senior developer at the end of year 1?

The point is, even though we’re hot stuff in the eyes of tech companies, we need to get off our imaginary high horses and start putting in the hard work of learning by doing. Set aside the developer hubris. This humility is, I think, quite rare in our generation, and unfortunately so.

Getting good takes time, and getting recognised as being good in all the areas that matter (to actually being a respectable senior developer, for example) will probably take even more time. But there’s no escaping it. The only way is through.


Also published on Medium.