Becoming a Senior Engineer: A Journey, Not a Sprint 

Not long after I became an engineering manager, one of my engineers asked me: “Haven’t I done enough to become a senior? What else do you want me to do?!”.

Marko is an Engineering Manager at Infobip.

Marko Marusic

Marko is an Engineering Manager at Infobip.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite ready for that question. While we do have clear career development guidelines, they are meant to be guidelines, not a checklist. 

The aim of these guidelines is to help engineers and managers make a plan. It’s not the manager’s plan; it’s your plan to become an even better engineer and person, and the manager is here to assist you along the way.  

Remember, it’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. The level of investment you make in your growth depends on you! 

So if you’re grappling with this question yourself, let me help. 

How long does it take to become a senior? 

Is there a specific timeline for becoming a Senior Engineer? Is it 3, 5, 6, or more years? That’s a tricky question. 

Different companies have different benchmarks for designating a software developer as a senior. It’s crucial to focus on other criteria for becoming a senior in your field rather than just years of expertise. That said, let’s look at some statistics. 

Note: that the data provided is not official; we have gathered it by searching comments within the community! 

But rather then focusing on how long it takes, let’s think about what it takes. 

Technically Good Enough 

Ask yourself the first question: ‘Am I good enough technically, recognized by others?’. You will probably realize that you are indeed technically proficient – You have written a lot of code, conducted numerous tests, tackled complex challenges, and overall, you have delivered what was expected of you autonomously. 

Have you ever dealt with legacy code? Do you have experience in managing and preventing incidents, as well as troubleshooting services? Are you prone to overcomplicating things, or do you keep things simple and put focus on the product? 

If you’re thinking “I know a lot of technologies, and they call me a coding guru, so I can handle everything on my own”, hold on a sec. You may be technically proficient, but no one wants to have a Brilliant Jerk on their team: a high performer with a bad attitude. 

An engineer’s attitude and ego play a crucial role in their growth and development.  

Remember: Technical expertise is the baseline and the easiest to measure. 

Behaviors are harder! What really differentiates a senior developer from a mid-level is their attitude, mindset, and soft skills 

The Mindset Shift 

Looking back to when I worked as an external contractor and worked on numerous projects, I realized that I was consistently pushed out of my comfort zone. I worked on diverse projects, tackled complex problems, and engaged with various stakeholders. What helped me stay motivated was being surrounded by great and positive people.  

Did I fail? Yes, I did it many times, but I didn’t give up. I embraced the feedback  and increased self-awareness. It’s not easy, even though it may sound like it, to switch your mindset and develop new habits. It requires persistence as you pursue your goals and vision. 

Let’s meet a few of the great engineers I’ve had the privilege to work with, showcasing their willingness to step up and exceed expectations, in line with the standards of a Senior. 

Paolo and Marko, have immersed themselves in projects within Infobip’s products, showcasing their expertise in the C# .NET technology stack for quite some time. However, faced with the demands of a crucial project for the US market—the US Sender Registration App—they had to swiftly adapt to a new business domain and a new technological stack: Java/Spring/React. Their incredible attitude and mindset shift demonstrated a mature approach to learning by doing. Their exceptional communication and collaboration skills not only benefited the team helped the company reach its objectives. 

Domagoj, young, but mature enough to understand urgent business needs, reacted proactively by driving important initiatives, such as requirements related to the migration of the Open Market platform we acquired a while back, and maintenance of its legacy code. Driven by continuous improvement mindset, you can easily spot him as an organizer of meetups, and knowledge sharing workshops.  He is always ready to go the extra mile. 

Tomislav demonstrated what it means to unlock his full potential by mentoring and coaching less experienced engineers on their journey to full project onboarding. Additionally, he mentors the Infobip Internship Program, going that extra mile to ensure the success of our interns.. His ability to communicate appropriately with a wide variety of people, listen with empathy, and be open to giving and receiving feedback highlights how supportive a Senior should be for their colleagues. 

They are widely different examples, I know, but they have one thing in common – they all stepped out of their comfort zone. 

How to get out of your comfort zone? 

As you work on your regular daily tasks, seek more opportunities. Ask your manager for support and inquire about potential opportunities. Try something new, even if it feels uncomfortable – give a public presentation, write your first blog post, engage in peer programming, participate as an interviewer in the hiring process, shape the process that works for your team, and challenge business requirements by addressing them in discussions with the business. 

Getting out of your comfort zone and progressing to become a Senior Engineer requires a combination of technical skills, soft skills, and personal development. 

  • Be proactive: set your goals outside of your regular way of work 
  • Develop soft skills: work with as many stakeholders as you can practicing effective and assertive communication 
  • Demonstrate Initiative: identify opportunities for improvement, propose and implement solutions that benefit the team and company 
  • Make an impact: drive wider initiatives across multiple teams or departments 
  • Manage your time effectively: develop good time management skills to handle multiple tasks and projects efficient 
  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance: enjoy in life by doing those little things that makes you relaxed  

Action Points for You 

Still not sure how to start your switch from mid to senior? From my humble opinion and experience, I would say start with yourself. 

Continuously examine yourself to find ways to be even better every day. Grab a blank sheet, respond to the questions below, and engage in discussions with your colleagues and manager – they are here to assist you. 

What do I want to achieve? 

  • Define three larger goals, breaking them down into SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) objectives for precise tracking and effective progress measurement. 

Where am I now? 

  • Undertake a thorough self-evaluation and review to establish your starting point. 
  • Reflect on your achievements from the past six months. 

What could I do, and what support do I need? 

  • Explore the options for moving forward. 
  • Which obstacles are stopping you from getting where you want to be? 
  • Identify resources and support you need. 

What is the plan, what will I do? 

  • Specify the actions you will take to advance towards your goal. 
  • Make a commitment to concrete, specific steps for tangible progress. 

Remember, it’s your first marathon, and you will probably run many more. Of course, it’s your choice how many, but don’t forget to learn something from each run so you continue to grow and share your experience with others.  

Mar 4th, 2024
6 min read
Marko is an Engineering Manager at Infobip.

Marko Marusic

Marko is an Engineering Manager at Infobip.