What’s in a Name? Understanding Junior, Mid-Level, and Senior Developers

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I have been working in recruitment for over 14 years, four of which I have spent running my own IT recruitment agency. Clients regularly contact us for help building candidate profiles. Our key task at this stage is to help the company construct a portrait of the candidate they need. A big part of that entails determining the level of tech talent they need.

Is a junior-level developer someone who can’t solve even a simple task? What is the difference between a confident junior specialist and a beginner mid-level professional? When does a specialist become a senior-level one?

To help you better understand the kind of tech talent you need for your next open role, let’s take a closer look at what it means to be a junior, mid-level, and senior developer:

What Is a Junior Developer?

Many employers are wary of hiring budding IT specialists because they assume junior developers can’t do much, if anything.

That’s not the case. A good junior developer is a specialist who has completed courses or an internship. They have learned the ropes, but they lack a little experience. Most junior developers have portfolios to show off their skills. That may include pet projects, repositories on GitHub, and participation in hackathons.

Some junior developers do expect the company to do the heavy lifting when it comes to their training, but most junior developers are eager to grow and invest in their own careers. Finding a good junior-level specialist is not an easy task, but if you do, you have a chance to cultivate a loyal employee tailored to the needs of the company.

Key Characteristics of Junior Developers

  1. High motivation and the notorious “fiery eyes”
  2. A relatively minimal portfolio
  3. Basic knowledge of the profession
  4. The ability to solve simple tasks, but with support
  5. Slightly longer work time (I’d estimate that, on average, a junior developer takes 1.5-2 times longer to complete a task than a mid-level specialist would.)
  6. Inability to do complex tasks, like code reviews

If you are hiring junior-level specialists for your team, I recommend focusing on candidates’ soft skills. A specialist can always improve their hard skills, but it’s much harder to train soft skills. If you hire a candidate who is a bad fit for your team’s professional norms, it won’t matter how talented they are.

What Is a Mid-Level Developer?

Perhaps this is the vaguest level of specialist. Working with many IT companies, I’ve seen situations where one company considered a candidate a junior+ developer while another offered them a senior-level position.

In my experience, it’s possible to distinguish a junior+ developer from a mid-level candidate by paying attention to their career trajectory so far. If the candidate has been successfully tackling projects that have become more difficult and complex over time, that candidate is likely a mid-level developer.

In contrast to novice developers, mid-level developers are more independent in making decisions. That said, they do not have the full autonomy of a senior-level staff member. They may not be able to influence the architecture of the entire project, but if you give them direction, a mid-level specialist can solve rather complex tasks.

Key Characteristics of Mid-Level Developers

  1. Experience in working on high-load projects
  2. The ability to solve complex tasks and correct their own mistakes
  3. The ability to refactor code
  4. The need for mentoring in order to make tough decisions or understand the direction of work

What Is a Senior Developer?

A senior developer doesn’t need mentoring. In most cases, they have a vast background and an extended technology stack. Senior developers can easily solve complex tasks, manage a development team, and influence the architecture of the entire project.

When looking for a senior developer, you shouldn’t focus solely on years of experience. A person could work in the tech field for a decade, but if they haven’t progressed beyond legacy projects and primitive tasks, they can hardly be called a senior-level specialist.

Key Characteristics of a Senior Developer

  1. Full autonomy
  2. The ability to influence the product and find the best solution
  3. Competencies for code review
  4. The ability to manage the development team
  5. Experience with high-load projects
  6. The ability to quickly master new technologies
  7. The ability to think globally and solve problems based on business needs

Mid-level and junior developers often pass through transitional stages (middle+ and junior+) before reaching the next level. There is no such transitional phase for a senior developer. At this point, they’ve pretty much mastered their domain. The only place to go from here would be tech leader or CTO.

General Developer Recruitment Guidelines

The junior, middle, senior levels are not linked to years of employment. A person can remain a junior-level specialist for 10 years or become a confident senior in 2-3 years. Everything depends on the work a person does in their career.

When looking for tech talent, it’s important to understand the market. The market often dictates what a junior, mid-level, and senior developer will look like, based on the kinds of talent available at the time.

A Tip for Developers

This article is advisory, not definitive. Only you know for sure what experience you have as a developer. If you feel confident and ready to take responsibility for your decisions, you are definitely not a junior-level specialist.

A Tip for Employers

Your understanding of a specialist’s level is not always accurate. The IT market is very dynamic, and today’s mid-level specialist could be tomorrow’s senior-level one. Act quickly, or that developer you’ve been eyeing could become too pricey for your budget.

Finally, if you have the resources to train beginner specialists, I advise you use them. Training your developers from the start is a great way to shape the exact workforce you need.

Tatiana Melnichuk is founder and head of Lucky Hunter.

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Tatiana Melnichuk is the founder and head of the international IT recruitment agency Lucky Hunter. For more than 13 years, she has been recruiting staff for IT companies from all over the world. Tatiana holds lectures, training courses, and webinars; she knows how to recruit the best tech specialists, where to find them, and how to motivate tech candidates to accept any offer. On the basis of the agency, Tatiana has launched two tech projects: Zero2Hero and CVHub. Zero2Hero helps startups launch their products faster by building rapid product prototypes, while CVHub is a special service for IT recruiting.