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What's The Difference Between A Senior And Lead Developer?

29 January, 2019

For software developers, more often than not, job titles don't really mean that much.

The following titles, as examples, could potentially represent the exact same position and duties!

  • Software Developer
  • Software Engineer
  • Web Developer
  • Full-stack Developer

It usually comes down to the actual job description itself and how the company views it's different tiers of developers.

But when it comes to "senior" and "lead" developers, there usually is a difference.

Senior Developer

A senior developer, in my view, is not marked by his title (of course), but by these traits:

  • Very competent in the core technologies used in his/her organization
  • Understands high-level architectural design and patterns
  • Experience building "full" solutions
  • Actively mentors intermediate and junior developers

The most important of these is the last.

You can be an expert with, let's say, JavaScript and building NodeJS apps.

But, if you can't take your experience, expertise and knowledge and transfer it to your team members then I wouldn't say you are really a senior developer.

What's the best indicator of being a senior dev?

Do you regularly have other team members coming to you for advice and help?

Sometimes you may find yourself thinking:

"Why does everyone keep asking me questions! Just go learn it yourself!"

Instead of being upset - you should be thankful and encouraged!

You're someone who your team trusts and considers the go-to for knowledge and expertise!

Lead Developer

A lead developer has the abilities and skills of a senior developer. But more 😊

The lead developer can act as a senior developer - mentoring, providing general design guidance and puts work into the foundation and early stages of a product's development.

But more importantly, the mark of a lead developer is:

They are a bridge or connector between your development team and the other business-oriented departments in your organization.

Lead developers often:

  • Aid in planning product development and timelines
  • Provide feedback to marketing or sales teams
  • Discuss and aid the CEO or top managers to make sure that the development team and technologies being selected are aligned with the business' goals and vision of the company.

This means lead developers require:

  • Good communication skills
  • Good understanding of the product
  • Good understanding of the business problem the software is solving
  • Good understanding of the field the software's users are part of (medical, HR, etc.)
  • Understanding of other disciplines like management, product development, marketing, etc.

Summary

I suppose the short way to say this is that senior developers are leaders who are mostly "inward" facing - towards their development team.

Lead developers are more outward facing - bridging the gap between the development or technical team and all the other departments in the company.

Becoming a lead, therefore, is much more about knowing how to think about the "big picture" and being able to translate business terms into technical terms.

It also involves translating technical solutions into language that non-technical co-workers will understand 😊.


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