Tech is Wrong About Junior Developers

The search for experienced software engineers has never been more competitive. Over 750 new job adverts for developers go live every day in the UK. That’s one new role every 2 minutes. Yet only 4% of these jobs are entry-level. More than 60% of the roles within that 4% still require 3+ years of experience. Why is the barrier to entry this high when the need for a future supply of senior engineers is so acute?

Academy’s team talks to top tech companies daily. Unlike other industries, we’ve noticed perceptions of junior talent in tech are often skewed. We sat down recently with three of our rising star Industry Mentors from Tractable, Infogrid and JustPark, all companies that actively hire junior software developers. Together, we identified 3 industry myths about early career talent that it’s time to bust:

  1. Junior developers are a burden
  2. More senior teams are more productive
  3. Training juniors is risky and expensive

Myth #1: Junior developers are a burden

William Di Pasquale, a Software Engineering Manager at Infogrid, believes the opposite. “Junior developers with the right attitude are never a burden. When you invest in them, it pays off for both the senior engineer and the team as a whole,” says William. With the right skills and support, high potential juniors contribute to team performance in 3 ways:

  • They ask fundamental questions. “Great juniors are deeply curious. They constantly ask how things work and why they work that way,” says William. “Many times, I’ve found that having to answer these questions is a catalyst for my team to rethink our approach.”
  • They’re highly driven to learn. “Juniors are keen to prove themselves in whatever way they can. They’re more than happy to take on small tasks, if it will progress their learning and ability to contribute more independently,” says William. “That’s invaluable for the senior engineers of my teams, because they can hand off routine work to juniors and spend their time figuring out something more complex.”
  • Teaching them makes you better at your craft. “Understanding and being able to apply a concept yourself is great, but unless you can teach it to someone else, you haven’t really mastered it,” says William. “Mentoring juniors throughout my career has made me a better engineer because it’s forced me to cement what I know.”

Myth #2: More senior teams are more productive

Georgina Steele, a Senior Software Engineer at Tractable, thinks this idea is a trap. “I’ve been on teams with only senior and mid-level engineers. Managers might think this is the ideal, but these teams could have been more highly functioning had we had junior engineers.” In Georgina’s experience, adding juniors to a senior team has 3 benefits:

  • Healthy challenging. “Junior developers are at the start of their careers, so they need to be inquisitive in order to understand what’s going on,” says Georgina. “Without this, sometimes assumptions and ideas go unquestioned. Having juniors in the mix helps build a culture of healthy questioning where people are encouraged to challenge each other.”
  • Open-mindedness. “There’s so much that juniors don’t know. That means they are by default very open to understanding different approaches to problem-solving,” says Georgina. “Senior people have a wealth of experience, so they also have strong opinions about how they think things should be done. When juniors are on your team, it’s a helpful reminder to keep seeking out new best practices and not get into the habit of relying on what you already know.”
  • Clarifying ideas. “Working with juniors means you need to explain your ideas in greater detail, as you’re not just speaking to an audience of experts. You can’t rely on shortcuts; you are forced to draw out good explanations and documentation” says Georgina. “This builds better understanding for everyone and really helps with sounding out an idea or approach.”

Myth #3: Training juniors is risky and expensive

Ed Heaver, a Backend Engineer at JustPark, sees a clear link between training juniors and functioning well as a team. “If your team struggles to find the time to train junior talent, it’s a sign of a wider operational problem. It could mean you don’t have the right learning environment or engineering culture, and that impacts everyone,” says Ed. “I would never want to work on a team that doesn’t foster a culture of learning and development.” Ed sees three areas where the ability to train juniors pays off for the whole team:

  • Continuous learning. “In tech, you never stop learning even if you’re ‘senior’,” says Ed. “The average shelf life of a hard skill is less than 2 years. Taking on juniors means your team needs to figure out a way to make time for active learning that also produces value for the team. That benefits everyone, no matter how experienced they are.”
  • Efficient processes. “To train juniors well, you need up to date documentation, solid processes, and effective ways to break down work,” says Ed. “No team has perfect processes, so every time you hire a junior developer, it’s an opportunity to revisit how things are getting done. That’s hugely beneficial.”
  • Better retention. “It’s ironic that people worry about whether juniors will leave once they’re trained,” says Ed. “It’s much more worrisome if a company doesn’t have a culture that fosters personal growth and progression. The more you show juniors you are serious about helping them fulfil their potential, the more likely they are to stay — and the better the culture will be in your team.”

The tech industry is too short-sighted to see the value of junior developers. It’s clear that the highest performing tech teams are diverse and have skillsets from junior through to senior levels. William, Georgina and Ed’s experiences show that hiring high potential junior developers creates a virtuous cycle of growth and improvement for everyone. What have you seen in your team?

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