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What Senior Developers Can Learn from Beginners

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To grow and continue to succeed in the workplace, senior developers may still have a few things to learn from junior developers. This post discusses the many benefits that seniors can get from taking the time to mentor juniors and learn from them.
When it comes to developing workplace relationships between senior-level developers and beginner developers, sometimes the more experienced team members view it as a one-sided relationship. The perspective that the junior developer is the only person learning or benefiting is an inaccurate view. Senior-level developers can learn quite a bit from their more junior counterparts, such as how to:

1. Hone leadership
In companies that hire a mix of entry-level and more experienced developers, senior employees are often presented with a leadership role. This role is not a one-sided position in which only junior team members benefit. By stepping up into this position as a mentor and guide, the senior team developer will have the opportunity to hone their leadership skills, such as delegation, motivation, and communication.

Being in charge of showing junior team members the ropes is a great way to learn how to delegate assignments. Instead of trying to do everything themselves, senior developers can assess the new talent’s strengths and weaknesses, then match the appropriate tasks to the right developer. This is also a great method for allocating company resources and prioritizing tasks.

2. Develop motivational skills
Another leadership skill that senior developers learn when taking juniors under their wing is how to motivate people. New developers often come into a company full of excitement, though that excitement may translate as feeling intimidated or nervous. Some may even be afraid to speak their mind on new projects or tasks. Senior team members can use this as an opportunity to hone their motivational skills and help new employees feel comfortable in the workspace. This guidance and encouragement will also keep morale high.

Communication is the key. Senior developers should adjust the way they speak knowing the effect it can have on others and the overall company culture, especially when the junior team member has done something wrong. Maintain a positive work environment by speaking constructively. For example, if they have made a mistake due to inexperience, take the time to explain the proper steps without talking down to them.

Working with beginners enables senior developers to cultivate their listening skills by opening up to other people’s ideas and exercising practical foresight, which works well toward earning trust and respect from all sides of the company.
More often than not, a development team will need to deliver a solution that solves a problem. The only way to hone development skills is practice. This is where the senior developer has to use their intuition to know when a solution already exists. Developers can strengthen that intuition by writing more code and using a more diverse set of languages and paradigms.

Opportunities to work as a team also enable senior developers to hone their creativity, conceptualization, and critical thinking skills. Team meetings are all about communication and the generation of new ideas. Such meetings are the perfect place for senior developers to show how they organize their ideas and listen to team members at every stage of the development process.

3. Be open-minded and positive
One thing to keep in mind is that “senior” does not necessarily mean older. In the case of a developer, “senior” simply means that this person has more experience and expertise than the junior developer. This higher level of experience can sometimes lead to overconfidence that can get in the way of cultivating good relationships in the workplace.

Junior developers are typically coming into their first real job straight out of college. While they may not have the well-developed coding skills and work experience that seniors have, they have acquired newly minted skills and a head full of ideas and optimism. They can bring a fresh perspective to any new project.

Senior developers must stay adaptable and open to these new ideas that beginners bring to the field — in fact, new team members may have the outside-of-the-box ideas or even be the necessary fresh set of eyes to close the loop on a project or fine-tune a company procedure.

Maintaining a positive work environment is crucial to keeping all employees happy and thriving. While most new employees start with a lot of energy and optimism for the future, sometimes the repetitive work behind a computer screen can become a drag. The energy and verve of beginner-level developers, coupled with the guidance from senior developers, can work to re-energize the workplace.

Humor and friendliness can also go a long way in building a cohesive workplace. If seniors latch onto the positive vibe that juniors bring to the office, the two can feed off of each other to promote a healthier, happier environment. This often leads to improved work efficiency, better conflict management, and general respect for everyone on the team.

4. Manage expectations 
By taking on the task of mentoring a junior developer, seniors can quickly learn how to manage expectations. It’s unrealistic to expect a newcomer to be able to complete tasks as quickly as senior team members. It’s also a quick way to set them up for failure, which can be detrimental to the morale of the office.
In order to manage expectations, here are a few tips:

  1. Make an honest assessment of the beginner developer’s strongest and weakest point. Do this before allocating tasks on new projects. Having an active understanding of what team members’ strengths are will allow the senior developer to assign the appropriate tasks to align with their skill set and be done promptly. 
  2. When assigning work to a new developer/team member, bear in mind that they may not be able to complete tasks as quickly as someone who has been coding for years. In many cases, beginners are given the brunt of the work. Heavy coding is often pushed off onto newbies, because it can be tedious and time-consuming. 
  3. Many senior developers may think that they are too valuable to be wasting time coding, while many juniors may be chomping at the bit to get out of the gate. It’s up to the senior team member to manage how much coding work is expected. 
 
5. Be open to feedback
This is something that some senior developers may not expect to learn from a junior — that is, how to receive feedback. While some experienced developers may not like to be criticized, constructive criticism can help toward personal and career growth. By asking a new developer for their opinion on a senior developer’s performance as a leader, senior developers can gain valuable insight and a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses.

It doesn’t matter how many years of experience the senior has — there is always room for improvement, whether it’s a new tech skill, a different way of looking at a problem, or an outside-of-the-box solution.

Another point to note is to give feedback constructively. There is a difference between offering advice and micromanaging. More often than not, when an employee quits they are leaving because of their managers and not because of the job. When giving constructive criticism to newcomers, seniors should approach the situation as a nurturing mentor and not necessarily a boss. By evaluating new team members fairly, they will be able to coach them to improve with positive reinforcement and constructive advice. Providing clear and empathetic feedback encourages junior developers to be more open and honest and foster open, two-way communication. It can also help with keeping them motivated.

Sometimes, senior developers may stick to their traditional ways of doing things. Being open to new ideas and actually implementing those ideas are two very different things. For example, if the senior developer shares their new ideas at a meeting and a junior developer shares one, too, it’s easy for the senior to nod their head, say thanks, and move on without ever exploring that idea. Being flexible with new ideas means taking that fresh perspective and exploring the team’s options from there.

Adaptability and improvisation come into play here as well. For example, the junior developer may come up with an idea that incorporates elements that the senior developer is unfamiliar with. By embracing this idea, either in whole or in part, the junior team member feels valued and will shine as a contributor to the team. That shine carries over to the senior team member as well, who gets a nod for being open and learning something new. This exchange between seniority levels fosters a give-and-take attitude that can lead to encouraging growth for all team members as both individuals and professionals.

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