As you advance in your career as a developer, the key to reaching the next level of influence, leadership, and salary shifts away from improving technical skills. What makes a senior engineer qualified for staff, principal, and beyond? Interpersonal, leadership, and problem-solving skills.

Senior-plus salary bands expect you to build teams, not code.

Hitting senior software developer means you should be capable of handling just about any technical task thrown your way. Advancing to a senior-plus level requires making an impact that’s bigger than what you can code on your own.

As a senior-plus dev, your impact isn’t that you can code faster. Your impact is that you can:

  • Break concepts down in a way that helps less experienced engineers move more quickly
  • Convey context clearly and cross-functionally
  • Communicate with stakeholders in language that they understand

A senior-plus dev has to be capable of more than coding up something impressive — you need to be able to understand what to build (and why), then communicate with teammates and leadership well enough that they agree and support your insight.

Learn empathy for other departments — and how to communicate with them.

Learn the motivations and pain points of sales, marketing, product, and other departments in your organization. Know their metrics, objectives, and challenges. By understanding where they’re coming from, you can reframe proposals in the context of their goals.

  • Sales needs new features and value adds that they can bring up in sales meetings so they can hit their sales goals
  • Marketing is on the hook to launch things and drive conversation, interest, and new signups
  • Product is under pressure to increase activation, retention, and performance metrics

Instead of trying to convince these teams that they should care about the underlying tech involved, start thinking about how different engineering choices will impact all of these metrics, both now and in the future — it completely changes the conversations and allows you to wield much greater influence.

The ability to communicate empathetically and persuasively to teammates and leaders in every department is a strong indicator of a senior-plus developer.

Become the stabilizer and foundation for your team.

A vital part of a senior-plus developer’s role is to provide clarity to their team regarding the tasks and goals at hand. When the team is confident in the direction and deliverables, they can focus on being productive and efficient.

  • Support your manager in understanding project goals and specifications.
  • Collaborate with other departments to ensure they know what they are asking for and that their requirements are complete.
  • Consider user experience and user flow early in the project to prevent costly surprises midway through.

At every step, you’re not only thinking of the technical implementation, but also how the tech fits into the company’s goal and long-term success.

What you really build as a senior-plus dev is a high-performing team.

A team that gels well together and has confidence in their work is a sign of strong leadership and effective communication. Senior-plus developers and leaders should focus on clarity and alignment across all teams, speaking the same language, and working towards the same outcomes.

Reaching the next salary band requires growing your influence and leadership skills. Excellence as a coder is a requirement, but the higher levels require stronger communication and team-mindedness. By demonstrating that you understand the needs of stakeholders, that you can communicate effectively, and that you’re focused not just on your own output, but on your entire team’s success, you signal to leadership at your company that you’re ready for your next promotion and raise.

Resources and further reading