Charity Majors had a great thread today with tips for leveling up to Senior Engineer.
Here is her #1 tip in my view: Focus on impact.
What does this mean exactly? "Impact" is a measure of how your technical work demonstrably impacted the business. Did you ship a feature that was adopted by large N number of users? Did you fix performance so that ALL users felt the improvement? Did you improve a system so that it does the same work for a fraction of the $$? Did you solve a hard problem impacting a high value customer?
All of these things share the quality of solving a difficult engineering challenge that lead directly to an improvement in the business. These factors multiply, so the highest impact projects are often ones that balance some level of technical difficulty with high customer value.
So if you are trying to level up to senior engineer, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I solving hard problems, or just knocking out a lot of tickets?
- What is the obvious customer value of the problems I am solving? Have I talked to my manager or PM to understand that value?
- Am I curating my time and effort to focus on 1 and 2? Or am I spending lots of time on other (generally important, but probably not AS important) activities?
After you focus on impact, there are lots of other still-important factors in getting to senior. Some just off the top of my head:
- Work to understand most of the key technical parts of the system you are working on, even those outside your immediate area.
- Work to earn the respect of other senior engineers, by writing quality code, learning from PR comments, and engaging in design discussions.
- Help your manager do her job by helping with task estimation, prioritization, and project tracking.