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What is the difference between Junior, Middle and Senior developers/software engineers?

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Today, when it comes to desktop, web, mobile, and app development, we have a logical gradation of developers’ level of expertise:  junior, middle, senior and lead.

But do you know what’s the difference between them? We all know that junior app developer is the entry-level to the world of developers, but can you name the edge between a junior developer and a middle one? When it’s time for your team member to become a middle developer and which skills should the lead have? How do you know whether you need a middle developer or a senior one?

To make it more epic, the terms “developer” and “engineer” and “ programmer” are often used interchangeably, but they might differ for many cutting-edge software development companies. So, it’s obvious that it might be hard to determine which kind of job position your company needs. This post will put light into these issues, covering at the same time some tips on how to properly choose the specialist with the required technical expertise.

So, let’s get started with who are and how  Junior, Mid-level, and Senior developers differ from each other.

A Basic Look At Junior, Middle, Senior And Lead Developers & Expectations From Each of Them

The level of software developersexpertise is subdivided into the four mentioned software engineering degrees in order to define a potential employee’s professional capabilities – what field of responsibility they can take on, how skilled they are, and how able they can be as a whole when it comes to stress load and emergency working situations. A clear definition of a particular developer role in a job description for an interested specialist is crucial. A future recruit must know for sure what they are about to handle occupying a certain software engineering position. 


Key requirements for the role.

Junior developer posses:

  • 0 – 1.5 years of experience
  • Intrinsic passion for learning
  • 110% work ethic
  • Excellent basic knowledge about Information Technology from both a software and hardware perspective
  • Computer programing basics.
  • The ability to learn how to use the tools.
  • Knowledge of at least one programming language with the ability to write basic program code.

What level of tasks can be accomplished?

A junior developer can:

  • Fix small, less important bugs
  • Work on internal or “admin-side” tools/features
  • Work on defined features – i.e., those with previously delineated by senior software developers general concept and markup
  • Focus backend in minor aspects
  • Assist initial project planning
  • Get comfortable with the codebase without doing anything too crucial.

A competent junior software engineer is usually a backend-focused assistant in defining common obstacles and clarifying the workflow progress, who is also at the stage of reasonably adapting to existing working conditions.

Things to have in mind when hiring a junior developer

  • Is likely to produce code with bugs, so he or she requires more iterations on code reviews
  • Is not aware of or has no experience in the best practices and latest technology concepts
  • Will require twice as much time as a Mid-level specialist
  • Should be supervised
  • Is not in a position to liaise with customers or gather requirements.

The bottom line to hire a junior developer: hiring junior developers is an investment in their long-term potential rather than an immediate payoff.

Key requirements for the role

A middle developer:

  • Has 2 – 4 years of experience
  • Has an intrinsic passion for learning
  • Is 110% work ethic
  • Has experience in several projects
  • Can work alone and in a team
  • Is competent in at least a couple areas of the SE “lifecycle.”
  • Can set up the dev environment on their own
  • Can mentor junior developers of a team
  • Demonstrates initiative and ways of solving different tasks

What level of tasks can be accomplished?

A middle developer can:

  • Code in such a way that other people can easily manage it
  • Change code to make it more efficient
  • Break major tasks down into smaller sub-tasks
  • Compose testing plans and schedules
  • Find major bags in code
  • Review code in close detail
  • Work on bigger chunks of code at once
  • Set objectives for junior employees
  • Perform several tasks for several projects

A middle degree in software engineering means that a specialist is able to roam about their area of expertise in engineering programs more freely. They take direct responsibility for operational moments and occasionally instruct juniors.

Things to have in mind when hiring

A Middle developer:

  • Still may need the support of the mentor as he or she may not have experience in solving tasks of all levels of complexity independently. So you have to get ready to help them if any questions occur;
  • Is likely to have a fixed mindset.

The bottom line to hire a middle developer: Hiring middle developers seems like a good option if you need to get the job done quickly, but your budget does not allow you to hire another Senior developer.

Key requirements for the role

A senior developer possesses:

  • 5-8 years of experience
  • Intrinsic passion for learning and self-development
  • 110% work ethic
  • Experience in solving problems and tasks of different complexity
  • Can work as a scientist to experiment/test, validate assumptions and connect the dots to reach a conclusion
  • The ability to develop and mentor the middle developers of the team
  • The understanding of the full scope of the project required that his team is responsible for and can delegate tasks in an effective manner
  • Has the profound view of the project development and suggests the best ways to develop having in mind the final market goal  

What level of tasks can be accomplished?

A senior developer :

  • Can take up a full-on ‘development-deployment-launch’ workflow process
  • Composes tech specifications and terms of reference
  • Defines initial risks in working on large projects
  • Is responsible for mentoring junior and middle team members
  • Do regular code reviews for less experienced colleagues
  • Can independently solve different problems due to past experience
  • Can distill complex problems through the application of design patterns
  • Can manage a team of guys doing simple- to mid-level tasks

Apart from bringing advanced software development skills to the table, seniors must usually take managing responsibilities when working in a diversely-skilled team.

Things to have in mind when hiring

A senior software developer:

  • Has to be well-paid
  • Is sometimes too self-confident

The bottom line to hire a senior developer: a senior developer can bring numerous benefits to your product, but ready to pay for them.

Key requirements for the role

A lead developer possesses:

  • 8,5+ years of experience
  • Intrinsic passion for learning and self-development as a manager
  • 110% work ethic
  • 8,5+ work experience in the industry
  • The ability to justify business value using data and convince others to join him
  • The ability to raise the software bar across multiple teams
  • The knowledge and experience in all aspects of software engineering: requirements acquisition, validation, and management; architecture/design; code and other artifact development; integration; and testing/QA.

What level of tasks can be accomplished?

A lead developer can:

  • Adapt design patterns to fit the needs at hand through thoughtful analysis of the problem space
  • Be trusted with architectural problems involving many systems, not just coding problems
  • Conduct technical interviews with candidates to make sure they have the technical skills to complete the job
  • Be trusted to take on problems without a defined approach.
  • Be trusted to generate ideas and software that provide quantifiable business value.
  • Think about the challenges the team will face in 6 months to 1 year and is already working with management to solve those problems now
  • Build and implement a system from scratch

These are full-scale project architects, whose software engineering skills allow them to work on major both backend and frontend patches of significant projects and knowledgeably set smaller tasks.

Warnings/Red flags/Thing to have in mind when hiring

A lead developer:

  • Requires a high wage level. Usually, it is worth to hire a lead developer for a really big team and complex system development.

The bottom line to hire a lead developer: hiring a lead developer can become beneficial for your company if it has a team of junior and middle developers and you need a reliable, professional lead to manage and lead your team to success. By the way, many companies prefer to hire a senior developer that would do some management.

Needless to add, one person might be considered a senior developer with respect to the .NET development platform and a junior at Node.js and other related technologies.

Meanwhile, now let’s review the basic differences between software engineers, developers, and programmers.

People often get confused when it comes to the difference between programmers, engineers, and software developers. Indeed, these terms are used interchangeably and the line here is pretty thin. But let’s figure it out – formally:

  • A programmer is more of a technician that completes the given tasks without much of an involvement in other aspects of the project, give or take. Simply put, programmers write software code and that might be the end of their responsibilities.
  • A software developer is more diverse professionally – on top of being able to write and review code, they are also tasked with technical documentation creation, testing planning, and professional summarization of all development cycles.
  • An engineer is, usually, an officially-qualified, in-depth expert with a degree that not only can code but also knows some ways around complex programming issues and setup thorough development strategies with best practices.

 However, many people still regard these three terms as equal.

Technical skills, experience, and expertise do matter when it comes to finding the best employee for your business. Still, since skills can be acquired over time, it’s not the only quality to look for and often not the most important one. So, how to hire the developers with the right level of expertise for your project?

It depends on your project requirements, budget, and scope of work needed. You are supposed to hire a team of junior developers and only one senior or lead developer if you wish to save money and develop the professionals tailored to your product in the long run. Still, bear in mind that will take time.

Meanwhile, if you need to get the job done in a quick, reliable, and most efficient manner, hiring several senior-level developers is a smart way to go.

Finally, you might want to hire a lead developer if your team consists of several juniors, middle and senior developers, and your senior-level developers are either too busy or too professionally immature to lead the team of developers.

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • A real expert’s best motivation is work & challenge – according to statistics, a majority of software developers are best attracted by the availability of exciting, challenging tasks and that should be your unique selling point when hiring
  • Resumes are great, but the practice is a decisive factor – put your potential hire to the test from the get-go, by giving them a practical task
  • Don’t confuse expertise levels with personal professional ability degrees – junior doesn’t mean a ‘developing weakling’ and lead doesn’t mean an ‘all-mighty’ ace, it’s just that each works on certain areas of the development and can be a top-notch expert in their niche  

Key Takeaways

Technical skills, experience, and expertise do matter when it comes to finding the best employees for your business. Developer levels do differ, but the expectations along with the salary for a junior software developer and a senior developer differ as well.

Since skills can be acquired over time, it’s not the only quality to look for. Upon choosing which developer your project needs depends on your requirements and budget. Some companies hire a team of junior developers and only one Senior or Lead developer to save lots of money, but that does cost lots of time. To get the job done in a quick, reliable, and most efficient manner, others choose to hire several senior-level developers. You might need to hire the lead developer if your team consists of several juniors, middle and senior developers, and your senior-level developers are either too busy or too professionally immature to lead the team of developers.  

Moreover, there are some basic things to keep in mind upon looking for the best candidates for your team. Intrinsic passion for learning along with a 110% work ethic, for instance, are the qualities every developer regardless of his or her level should possess.

When it comes to the differences between a programmer, engineer and developer, there are differences that were described above. Still, there are people who regard these three positions as equal. In a nutshell, even when you’ve got a big HR team to build and hire the best staff for you, knowing a thing or two about the specifics of each role can prove to be highly beneficial.


Hire junior if:

  • There are small, yet important in the long run tasks, like minor debugging, required to be handled
  • You are ready to invest in an ambitious specialist’s growth
  • An expert’s professional passion is more valuable to you than their initial technical expertise

Hire middle if:

  • Your project lacks an experienced, yet affordable expert ready to manage certain development areas
  • You have sufficient juniors and need someone a bit more knowledgeable to mentor them
  • You value mid-level integrity of a professional who is more universal

Hire senior & lead if:

  • You already have a team of lower-level software engineers to manage
  • You can afford highly-experienced, qualified aces
  • Your project is of an in-depth manner and requires a narrow, strict approach
  • You are gathering a team of experts but don’t possess proper expertise for efficient interviewing