DEV Community

Cover image for Software Developer Career Roadmap
Bo Bleyl
Bo Bleyl

Posted on


Software Developer Career Roadmap

As originally published in "Level Up Coding":

Software developers have many different roles and titles. As a new developer, it can be confusing as to what kinds of positions you might qualify for and what kind of career roadmap you can expect to see and follow.

I’m going to lay out the different career paths available to developers, what kinds of career changes you can expect, and what all of these different job titles actually mean.
The reality of software development is that there are many different areas in which you can specialize: Frontend, Backend, Security, DevOps, Full-stack, etc.

Despite many different specialties within software development, each of these paths has roughly the same core roles and progression. The most common of which being, Intern, Junior Developer, Software Developer, and Senior Software Developer.

We are going to cover the different titles that correspond with these core roles and what responsibilities you can expect to have.

It should be mentioned that you don’t necessarily need to step through each of these roles, but that these roles represent the various stages of responsibility software developers can expect to have throughout their careers.
For those interested in furthering their career past the role of sr developer, be sure to keep reading through the sections below: Individual Contributor(IC) Career Path and People Management Career Path. Both of these paths stem from these core roles and are fairly uniform regardless of your specialty as a developer.

Developer / Engineer / Programmer
One important note in regards to the different titles you will hear: is that in the tech industry, the terms developer, engineer and programmer are often used interchangeably. Some will contest that there are clear differences between titles with these distinctions, but generally speaking, these 3 terms mean roughly the same thing.

For many developers just starting out, the first role that they will have is that of an intern. Software development interns typically are given a 3–6 month window in which they get to work with other developers on a small to mid-sized project that gets them experience in the languages and technologies that a company uses. Often these internships occur over the summer months, may-august, while most students are out of school and spring job-recruitment season for new developers is wrapping up.

Most companies use these internships for finding developers that are a good fit for their organization. Many interns are also given the same job title as a company’s entry-level developers such as Associate Developer or Junior Developer.

Junior / Associate Software Developer
Junior (or Associate) Software Developer is a title that’s typically used for developers who are just starting out and require additional resources and time to get up to the same quantity and quality of output as a normal developer.

The term Junior Developer is used quite regularly in companies to define their entry-level positions for software development. This title can vary slightly depending on the company, but the other commonly used title is Entry Level Insert Language or Framework Developer.

Despite the lower expectation of output, there is a high expectation that over the course of your first year in this position you will gain the skills needed to progress to the next role: Software Developer.

Software Developer
A Software Developer is someone who has one or more years of professional software development experience and is able to handle tasks independently of others.

Usually, the barrier between Junior developers and regular developers is their ability to handle “most” tasks, independently. There will be times where pair-a-programming or advice is needed to move things along quickly, but most often, software developers can handle their own tasks independent of outside help.

Some other common titles used to describe this role are: Software Engineer, Insert Language or Framework Developer, or just Developer. Some larger corporations will assign a numerical value to their devs to signify how experienced they are within their dev teams such as Software Engineer I, Software Engineer II, etc.

There is some minor debate over the significance of differentiating Software Developers from Software Engineers, but most will agree that these titles typically carry the same weight.

Senior Software Developer
Senior Software Developer is typically the main role that most devs aim for in their career. Although the titles often vary greatly from company to company it signifies that you are a highly skilled developer. In most cases, Senior Developers have 5+ years of professional software development experience.

You’ll often see titles defined as Senior insert language or framework Developer.

Once you’ve reached the role of Senior Developer, there are two different career paths you can take should you wish to progress your career even further, both of which you can learn more about in the next sections: The Individual Contributor Career Path and The People Management Career Path.

Individual Contributor (IC) Career Path
For those who enjoy coding and want to remain in software development while still progressing with their pay and status, the Individual Contributor (IC) Career Path is ideal.

At a glance, IC’s mainly are focused on improving their existing skillsets and continuing to take on more responsibilities within their dev teams. Although they haven’t chosen a management path, IC’s are still expected to be a leader and mentor developers within the teams and organizations they work with. There are a few types of roles that IC’s can progress to that have more clearly defined expectations for this type of leadership. Those two main roles they can progress into are Team Lead and Software Architect.

Team Lead
Team Leads are exactly what the title sounds like, leaders. They take on the added responsibility of being the developer in charge of executing the technical side of a project. This typically entails being in charge of code reviews, helping coordinate how different features will come together, etc. Other similar titles can be known as Project Lead, Lead Developer, etc.

Software Architect
For those mainly interested in getting even deeper into software development and design, the next step for them after Senior Developer is that of Software Architect. Architects often deal more with the overarching structure of systems and how they interact and work with each other. They make important decisions for which technologies will be used and implemented on projects. Depending on the company size, responsibilities in this role can vary.

Both of these roles can be a great jumping-off point for progressing into upper management positions, being that they give credibility to a developer’s skills and experience in the field.

Unless you’re looking to transition into management positions, this is often the furthest down the career tree you can get while remaining a software developer and being hands-on with development.

If you have a desire to get into people management positions, keep reading below in the People Management Career Path section.

People Management Career Path
People management encompasses all types of roles associated with the leadership and execution of teams. It’s a step aside from hands-on development and a step onto the management career ladder.

For those interested in leadership positions or with aspirations of working in company management, this career path is ideal for them.

People management encompasses various roles: software development managers, project or product managers, director positions, and various C-Suite positions. It’s important to note that one doesn’t have to step through each of these positions to progress, but that these are simply the most common roles one can expect to have if they choose a people management career path.

Software Development Manager
Software Development Managers are roles more commonly seen at larger companies. Their main responsibilities are to manage and assist the software developers. This can entail:

  • hiring/training new developers
  • setting/managing goals in development teams
  • monitoring and assigning tasks
  • making plans, reports, and other aids for both the software development teams as well as upper management
  • In some cases, these managers will be in charge of heading up communication with clients

Project / Product Manager
Similar to Software Development Managers, project and product managers have many of the same responsibilities. Their core responsibilities however are to take the lead of a given team or project, divide out the necessary work, and manage the efforts to see that project through.

You can expect to communicate frequently with clients and convey the concerns and questions of the development team to the client, and like-wise, the concerns and questions of the client to the development team.

Ultimately, the Product or Project Manager is responsible for the success or failure of a particular project and/or team.
Upper Management (CTO, Director of Engineering, etc.)
For those desiring to progress beyond the responsibilities of a manager, the next step is to move up into a position in Upper Management. Another path to get to upper management is through becoming a Software Architect, a role we discussed in the Individual Contributor Career Path Video, also found in this series.

The types of positions available in upper management depend on the size of the company. In smaller companies (<200 employees), you’ll often see Chief Technology Officer as the main and sometimes only role available.

In larger companies, however, there are various opportunities in positions as a director of engineering or director of various departments within the company. Some also use the title of “Vice President of Engineering, etc.”. These titles often depend on the company structure. The roles and responsibilities of these positions are very similar, despite having different titles.

VPs and Directors are often responsible for everything occurring internally in a company in regards to software development endeavors. They work with product/project managers to ensure projects are moving along smoothly and identify areas that need improvement within the companies processes.

CTOs on the other hand typically work mostly with other C-Suite level employees as well as shareholders. Their responsibilities are to be company evangelists and their day-to-day activities often revolve more around networking and going to board meetings. VPs and Directors of Engineering report to the CTO and apprise them of everything going on internally in regards to software development efforts.

If a company is smaller, then oftentimes you’ll see CTOs take on all of the responsibilities we listed for VPs and Directors. Many times, you’ll even see CTOs at startups still involved in the actual hands-on development of products, meaning, they are actively contributing to building out these products. As startups grow into larger companies, these types of responsibilities get handed off to others, as their scope of focus broadens.

Want to Connect?
Follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my Youtube Channel.

Top comments (0)