What Separates a Junior Programmer from a Senior Programmer?


If you ever applied for a job as a programmer, created a LinkedIn profile or spoken to recruiters, you’ve asked yourself this question: “How do I know if I’m a junior, mid-level or senior programmer?”

The truth of the matter is, there is no one, definitive answer to this question. Everything depends on context, project scope, and, sometimes, that extra bit of confidence.

But there are general guidelines which can determine into which category the kind of work you do fits. We’re here to explain those guidelines.

Here’s our list of five things that separate a junior programmer from a senior programmer:

1. Experience in programming

This is obviously the first thing that comes to mind – how long have you been doing what you’re doing? 

A junior-level programmer can be anyone who has about or less than two years of experience. Anything above that can be considered mid-level. And once you start getting into those double digits, as soon as you hit ten years of experience, you are certainly qualified enough to be considered a senior programmer.

Obviously, depending on how hard you work and how quickly you learn, it could take significantly less time to “upgrade” your job title.

  • Junior programmer: Less than 2 years of experience
  • Mid-level programmer: 2 to 9 years of experience
  • Senior programmer: Over 9 years of experience

A nice little way to describe it is that the junior programmer will say “I found the bug!” They will think they solved it all just because they found the one issue and everything seems to be working for the time being. The senior programmer knows better. He simply says, “I found bug.”

2. Ability to decide what tools to use vs. using the tools they know

Secondly, senior programmers are expected to have a wider range of skills from which they can choose the most appropriate for the project at hand. They look at a task and weigh the strengths and weaknesses of different types of languages, frameworks, etc. That helps them chose the best tool for the task.

A junior programmer, however, cannot be expected to do that. That doesn’t mean they’re bad at what they do, they just don’t have that broad scope of knowledge. So they will not necessarily pick the best tool for the job. Instead, they will pick the one they know best, even if it is strictly worse than another solution.

  • Junior programmer: Work with tools, programming languages that he knows
  • Senior programmer: Pick the best tool for the job

3. The approach of the project

Senior programmers approach projects in a planned-out, organized way. They think about automation, about maintenance in the future, and about other ways to deal with the problem than the one suggested. They can offer those alternatives and explain why they think one particular method is better.

A junior programmer will take the task and method of completion without second-guessing either. They should not be expected to consider the future implications of their work. They can be expected to complete the task in the way it laid out for them, but no more and no less than that.

  • Junior programmer: Complete the project without second-guessing
  • Senior programmer: Planning, long-term focus, automation.

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4. Amount of supervision required

How much a programmer knows directly correlates with how many questions they need to ask to understand a project and complete it by themselves.

They may be expected to be the head of the team – rather than ask their clients questions, a senior programmer provides the answers. And while some clients love to micromanage freelancers, most know how to let the people they hired to do the job they hired them for. That’s why when a contract is written out for a senior programmer, a client will usually expect you to be able to supervise yourself.

For junior programmers, however, almost the exact opposite is the case. If a client hires a freelance junior programmer with a vague task in mind and then proceeds to be annoyed at all the question that freelancer asks, it’s their own fault. A junior programmer can be a part of a team, but cannot be expected to be at its head as a supervisor. They will need some looking over the shoulder, especially if the task is not clear-cut.

  • Junior programmer: Work better as part of a team
  • Senior programer: Able to supervise himself

5. A senior .NET developer can still be a junior for HTML

In the end, it’s all about context. A senior developer is not a senior in every single field.

They might be proficient in a lot of things, but the levels of proficiency certainly vary. If you have been writing HTML code for several years, for example, you could be a senior in that particular field. But that doesn’t make you one in every single other field.

That is the determining factor – so when applying for positions that state they require a senior programmer, make sure your seniority is in the right field.

Are you looking for a developer for your project?

Have you experienced any other ways in which junior and senior programmers are different from each other? Let us know in the comments below this article!

Viktor Marinov

Viktor is the voice behind the freelancermap blog. Every week he comes up with helpful hints, checklists, and guides for freelancers and independent workers. If you would like to know how to find remote jobs online or how to niche yourself as a freelancer, don't miss his freelancer tips!

By Viktor Marinov

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