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Professional Flexibility: Why a Promising Intermediate Developer May Be Better Than a Senior One

Ask any HR specialist if it’s possible that a mid-level developer can be better than a senior one – and a grin will be the first thing you will see. Seniority, no matter how measured, has always been the principal merit for determining the value of an employee, especially in the software development business. However, even though the logic behind this judgment seems to be self-evident, life occasionally fails to validate this rule.

The key to understanding this paradox roots in human nature itself. A developer with a dozen years under the belt is likely to have developed a set of rules and principles affecting every decision, action or judgment, which results in lower adaptability and professional flexibility. Also, a professional who is deeply settled in his or her current role is unlikely to agree to re-focus on a different technology or start moving in a different direction altogether – the boundaries of the comfort zone become too solid to be broken.

For a customer seeking to hire the highest-quality developers available, the choice of a group of senior specialists may seem to be obvious. Surprisingly enough, it may not be optimal from the cost and team performance standpoints for a number of reasons, including the following ones:

  • In case of idle time in a dedicated team model, its cost will be the highest
  • A group of seniors may encounter leadership issues and struggle to follow the same plan
  • Seniors are a lot less likely to agree to work on “basic” tasks, preferring to concentrate on the most challenging parts of the system being developed
  • A development team comprised solely of seniors has the highest risk of internal conflicts and occasional disaccord over various matters
  • Finally, a team comprised exclusively of senior developers and architects is very likely to burn a hole in the customer’s pocket without producing a highly synergetic effect leading to dramatically better quality or faster delivery.

This said, it’s apparent that although senior developers are a vital component of any development team, their presence alone does not directly convert into unquestionable success. On the other hand, intermediate developers, being the workhorses of the software development industry, are a better investment for any company seeking to build a balanced, cost-efficient and stable team. Some of the most self-evident advantages of building a development team’s core of intermediate developers are, as a minimum, the following:

  • Since intermediate developers are still actively absorbing new knowledge, it’s considerably easier to persuade them to observe certain development patterns and embrace approaches that senior engineers could reject or follow reluctantly.
  • Intermediate developers handle monotonous work a lot better, allowing you to assign them to a much broader range of tasks on the project.
  • Intermediate developers give the team the capacity to remain productive while letting senior developers concentrate on leadership, design and architecture.
    With this in mind, the widespread theory of senior software engineers being overwhelmingly better than intermediate ones does not really qualify for an axiom. Everything depends on context and a multitude of factors whose interplay defines the fitness of a particular individual for a certain project. A startup project with a very narrow specialization may be a lot better off with a single senior engineer onboard, while a large dedicated team will most likely benefit from a healthy mix of specialists of different skill levels, the core being formed by intermediate developers.

Cortlex pays a lot of attention to ensuring proper skill-level distribution in its teams and fully understands the true value of finding the “golden mean” in every project based on its nature, duration and other relevant parameters. If you are interested in learning more about our HR practices or have a chat with a representative of our Sales office, please let us know and we will get back to you as soon as we can.