Planning horizons and seniority

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Recently I started one more time thinking about what makes senior engineer a senior engineer, what differ junior engineer from principle one. Internet is full of one-sentence answers – they differ by how much value they can produce in company measures, they differ how much influence they have on others, they differ by how much experience they can bring to the table.

Recently I watched a brilliant talk done by Titus Winters, that is based on this recent book “Software engineering at Google“.

One of the things from it that influenced me the most was how time is considered when decisions about software sustainability are made. It also made me think, what if unconsciously (or maybe some folks are doing this consciously) we are doing this all ranging game with levels of professionalism (junior, middle, senior, principal etc.) considering the same dimension, that Titus was talking about – time.

What if junior in our perception is junior because they are currently making the decisions with planning for a short period of time? For example, naturally due to their limited experience both with product and technology probability that they will act in the way that will bring positive influence in the company for a long period of time is smaller in comparison with ones, that has more experience and are willing to act accordingly with it and take responsibility for their actions.

You might also say, ok, but why we then so often include for anyone more advanced than middle engineer requirement to be able and willingly do mentor others? I think the answer to this is the same – time, but even more, it is the unpredictability of the time and future reality. By investing actions, energy and responsibilities in other we are making, not only stronger teams, but also provide the opportunity for it to react to upcoming events in the more varied ways. It might sounds too theoretical; however, there are undeniable examples of such thinking. For instance, when your most senior engineer is OOO, and production is down, the level of the team resilience to such event will depend on how many more engineers will be familiar in-depth with all systems that powers product. Such a situation might never happen, or it might, you never know. A less obvious example might be the case when knowledge is shared openly with diverse folks that form a team. As any of them might also have other experiences that are quite different from others, it might potentially lead to breakthrough ideas/features/products. Would it be possible without this first folk having to share all the information and actively mentor others? Who knows. Probability always exists, but with folks who act in a way that will positively influence the long-term future of the team/company/industry, such probabilities are higher.

This is my mental experiment to think about seniorities of folks today. It is no finite, no exhaustive, though I think it is an interesting beam of light that can bring for us more clarity around why we feel/think that some folks are perceived as more senior, and other are currently only on the road to it.

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Olena Sovyn
Staff Software Engineer (London, UK). I ❤ React, Redux, lodash, React Storybook, and functional programming overall. Always open to learning something new

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