Fellow reader Ryan writes in with an age-old question that's hard to google and difficult to discuss in places where engineers hang out: What's next?
10 years in wide range of experience, consultancy product dev, leading teams, I'm not sure what that next step is, I still want to be hands on, any thoughts? Thanks mate, you're smashing it! ~ Ryan
First: Congratulations Ryan! 10 years of experience puts you in the top 25% of engineers by tenure 👏 The field about doubles every ~5 years.
Second: Great work keeping it varied. You don't want to have 1 year of experience 10 times.
Ryan is in a great position here. We can guess technical skills won't be a problem by virtue of having made it 10 years. The variety means he can not only be a good fit in many companies, he can show he's done that in the past. Hiring managers love it when they're not your first.
No. Senior engineer is a terminal title. You can stay there forever.
Enjoy your career as a source of funding for your other hobbies. I have lots of friends who do that and between you and me, they seem the happiest.
But be careful not to stagnate. A little bit of slope makes up for a lot of Y-intercept.
I've written about this before from my own experience 👉 How to grow as a senior engineer or why I got a new job
As someone who gets bored, I need increasingly harder challenges to stay engaged. Without that engagement my work becomes worse.
Two years ago I boiled it down to 4 options:
- Go into management
- Become an entrepreneur
- Find a company with bigger better challenges
- Become junior at new thing
For someone like Ryan who wants to stay hands-on, I would recommend finding bigger better challenges to solve. Leverages your experience, looks great on a resume, maybe forces you to learn a new approach.
Bigger better challenges come in many shapes.
You can find your way into a FAANG-size company and work on systems so massive every detail matters. I have a friend who removed NULL columns from a database and saved gigabytes of disk space. That's hard to do.
You can join a fast-paced startup early in their S-curve and experience the attitude of "Anything but slowing growth with technology problems". That can be fun.
You can find a hard problem with high stakes. Like the system we're currently rewriting at work with a multi million dollar contract on the line. The code will be easy, basic CRUD, but we've been domain and team modeling for a month. Fun!
Bigger means the stakes are higher. And that's exciting.
Better means the problems are new. At least to you, if not the world. My favorite indication of a better problem is when Google stops being useful.
You know how they say “even” senior engineers google stuff?— Swizec Teller (@Swizec) January 13, 2023
I find that the more interesting the problem, the less useful google gets.
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Have a burning question that you think I can answer? Hit me up on twitter and I'll do my best.
Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.
Want to become a true senior engineer? Take ownership, have autonomy, and be a force multiplier on your team. The Senior Engineer Mindset ebook can help 👉 swizec.com/senior-mindset. These are the shifts in mindset that unlocked my career.
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By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❤️