In a conversation about what activities senior developers should be doing, there was a general alignment on activities such as mentoring and growing more seniors, working on design, working directly with stakeholders, etc. The thought that the top developers should focus mainly on coding was dismissed as ridiculous, no matter what McKinsey says.
However, when a discussion like this arises, some developer usually chimes in with a version of “I don’t want to do that, and I shouldn’t have to.” This time was no exception. Let’s discuss why they are wrong.
Someone who claimed the role of “Senior Engineer,” let’s call them “Pat,” responded with some hot takes.
Do these individuals want to be in meetings and dealing with stakeholders? If they do, great, but not everyone enjoys that, and forcing people to fit some “ideal” is just making them unhappy and likely unproductive.
Senior developers don’t “deal with stakeholders.” They collaborate with them to ensure we are building the right things at the right time. They give feedback when something doesn’t make sense and work to understand the underlying needs, not just the surface-level request. This is the expectation of the job, not some “ideal.” They shouldn't be in the role if it makes them unhappy and unproductive. They should admit they’re not cut out to lead any development and probably aren’t qualified to be on most high-performing teams at all.
Stakeholders wanting feedback and dragging technical people into meetings is one of the worst drags on performance and morale.
Do you want to know what’s worse for morale? Ignoring the need for communication and feedback and then delivering the wrong thing. Worse than that is if what you’re delivering is important, and now you’re up all night fixing it for months. Delivering the wrong thing, no matter how quickly is a bigger drag on performance than talking to stakeholders.
If you have stakeholders that just cause problems for teams, then it’s them that are the problem, not the coders.
Pat needs to remember why we have jobs. We are here to solve problems for the organization. This means collaborating with the people who have the problems and helping them. If you see them as an opponent getting in the way of coding, there are bigger problems with a lack of leadership from the senior developer.
My suggestion to this response was that “senior” developers who just wanted to code may be happier applying for a lower-level position at a contracting company where there was no expectation of leadership.
The Senior Engineer didn’t like this suggestion.
I disagree with the suggestion that senior people who “just” want to code must accept entry-level positions. Firstly, that is highly offensive to those in such roles because it implies they are somehow lower and unable to fulfill “higher” functions.
I’m not trying to imply that someone in the role of “senior developer” who feels the way Pat does cannot fulfill their role. I’m trying to state that very clearly. They can’t have their cake and eat it too. If they are unwilling to do the entire job, they don’t deserve the recognition and compensation for the role. It’s not offensive to say they aren’t performing at a higher level if they're not performing at a higher level.
I’ve worked with some “entry-level” people who have amazing skills both technically and in stakeholder management, analysis, and design.
I have, too. Time in service isn’t the measure of “senior,” though. I’ll take new developers with a senior attitude over developers like Pat any day of the week.
Everyone is an individual, and good teams work because they help people be the best they can without trying to make them fit some cookie-cutter set of roles.
I agree with them here, but you don’t get more senior roles without performing at a more senior level. Coding isn’t enough. You don't deserve the job if you don’t want to do the work.
Also, your whole approach is deeply ableist and anti-diversity, and that in itself leads to massive problems of psychological safety and toxic workplaces
This response tells me all I need to know, honestly. Pat is too fragile to lead because they think the world owes them.
Recognizing under-performers isn’t ableist or anti-diversity, and the team will have more psychological safety if they have real seniors to mentor them.
We all need to work to elevate the industry. We won’t get there by pandering to the selfish desires of developers like Pat. We need to help each other be better than this.