The middle developer plateau

The Middle Developer Plateau.

Why is it so difficult to become a senior developer?

So, you are a middle developer. Moving from the status of a junior developer to the middle was not difficult. However, it doesn't matter how much you try, you cannot become a senior developer. Moreover, you frequently feel that the projects aren’t as attractive as they used to be, and the joy from completing even the most challenging task has gone.

Why so?

Do you remember the time when you worked as a junior developer? Your more experienced colleagues used to load you with thousands of small tasks. After completing each task, you used to feel as if you were a hero changing the world’s destiny. 

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The reason for this joy is dopamine - a hormone that affects many parts of our behaviour and physical functions. Motivation and joy are among them. So, when you complete a task, your brain produces dopamine. It makes you feel happy and proud. 

When you are working as a junior developer, you can complete many tasks per day. So, you will feel the euphoria from every achievement at least several times a day. 

However, with time, the same actions don’t bring the same feelings anymore. Our body gets used to dopamine. It becomes dopamine-resistant over time. To feel the same joy, you need to do more. So, you need to work on more complicated tasks. 

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Finally, you have moved to the status of a middle developer because you have acquired more experience, you have learned more things, and you can work independently on the assigned tasks. Initially, it makes you happy. You are completing more complex tasks, and you feel euphoria again when you achieve the desired results. But do you remember how it all ended when you were a junior developer? At some point, your body gets resistant to the dopamine produced, and the feeling of joy goes. 

At this stage, many middle developers feel that they aren’t moving anywhere. To feel happy with work, they need to complete more complex tasks. These tasks take more time, so the feeling of happiness becomes rare. With time, you might feel disappointed and depressed. 

It looks like we already know the solution: you need to move to a higher seniority level to be satisfied with your work. However, time goes by, and this move is still not made. You feel as if you are stuck at the same level. 

You're not alone, though. We even have a special term for this condition - we call it the middle plateau. Some specialists stay at this level. Others advance to the level of a senior developer. 

However, to advance to the level of a senior developer, it is not enough to learn new technologies and master your skills.

To become a senior developer, you need to change your approach to work. 

The transition from a middle developer status to the status of a senior developer requires something beyond skills and experience. It requires the ability to take responsibility and to show initiative.

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 As long as you are just working on the tasks somebody gave you, you will not reach the seniority level higher than a middle developer. You might be performing your tasks excellently, but to move to a higher seniority level, you need to learn to: 

  • Translate ideas into technical objectives;
  • Work to bring value, not just to complete tasks; 
  • Calculate the approximate costs of the project and ensure the money is spent appropriately;
  • Assess the potential value of a feature or project;
  • Take responsibilities. 

In other words, you have to learn not to wait for tasks but to come with ideas and take the initiative. Even if, from the beginning, you may fail, such an approach will bring results eventually. 

It looks like the level of a senior developer requires so much from you; however, you would like to know what you get in return.

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In return, you get freedom: to decide, to plan your time, to choose your tasks, technologies, and people to work with. You aren’t given tasks, but instead, you are free to take those projects where you would like to be and where you feel challenged. So, you are free to control how much dopamine you want to get and when it shall happen. In other words, a senior developer knows how to create the environment to feel motivated and have that feeling of joy we all aim for. 

You might feel now that the level of a senior developer allows a specialist to be totally happy with what he is doing. You should know, though, that every medal has its reverse. However, it is an entirely different story.

Oleg Puzanov.

Oleg Puzanov

Chief Strategy Officer
Software Development.
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