About a year after starting my first developer position, I was given a new opportunity in my organization. I was going to temporarily work on another team to help them get traction on some feature work they needed. The tech lead for the other team was a good friend of mine and we had great respect for each other. On my first day working with the team, I was confused when he introduced me as a “mid-level engineer” on loan from another team who was going to help for a few months.
I asked him later why he emphasized that I was a mid-level engineer when I clearly was not and his reply was surprising to me. He wanted me to start off on the “right foot” and have my code reviews treated as if I were a peer and not as a “junior.”
That moment made me think. Why was that little moment of deception important? Was that something inherent within the industry or just an issue with his team. It made me decided to try something. My resume, portfolio page, and LinkedIn profile all had the title “Junior Web Developer.” For some reason, I felt that I need to be “honest” with the world and put “junior” on everything. This way, I could feel ok that I wasn’t “fooling” people into thinking I was more than I was. I decided, well if my workmate is ok calling me a “mid-level” engineer, then I should stop calling myself “junior” in my professional profiles. I promptly removed all reference to the word “junior” and simply just called myself a web developer.
Almost overnight, I started to be contacted to apply for more positions. the positions that I did apply for started to get further along in the interview process than before. Ultimately, I was starting to get opportunities I didn’t have when I referred to myself as a “junior.” It’s amazing how the removal of one word opened up so many opportunities for me.
Since that time, I have come to two conclusions:
Don’t Refer to Yourself as “Junior”
I don’t care if you have never held a job as a developer or not. Don’t call yourself a junior in conversation, on your resume, or in anything that is part of your professional profile. It’s going to make a difficult task of getting respect and ultimately your desired job even more difficult than it needs to be. Just stop using it altogether. I mean it. Stop it now!
Don’t let your imposter syndrome fool you into thinking that you are being deceptive. I’m going to let you in on a secret, that you probably already know: people are not that easily fooled. If you are getting opportunities to interview with people, it’s not because you fooled them. They know who you are and what you have been doing. If they thought that they couldn’t work with you, then they wouldn’t be contacting you.
I would like to make sure I clarify something. I am not advocating that you lie or misrepresent your experience. Be completely honest 100% of the time. What I am trying to say is that dropping the word “junior” from your professional profile is not dishonest at all and it is ok to not use it. Let’s look at it another way, you wouldn’t call yourself “divorced” in your dating app profile. You would simply put that you are single. Both descriptions are accurate, but one is going to make your life more difficult.
We need to stop using these terms in our industry
By using these labels in our industry, we are inadvertently creating a prejudice that is not needed. Human nature means we have a tendency to make quick judgments about people without knowing anything about them. We assume, often without realizing we are doing it, that junior means bad, mid-level means good, and senior means better ( principal means best, right?). This is absolutely false of course, but our human nature leads us to those conclusions automatically.
First of all, who decides you are no longer a ‘junior’ and don’t write bad code anymore? Does my code lose the ability to be “bad” when I am now a mid-level engineer or higher? Does a person move from junior level to mid-level after 1 year? 5 years? 20 years?
Let me be clear, most companies use a system, such as the Radford Level, that they use to assist managers in evaluating employee’s productivity and pay scale. I understand the purpose of these and I am not advocating that they go away. I am simply advocating that as follow engineers, we need to stop adding arbitrary levels when we are referring to each other.
I am not saying that we pretend that experience and skill don’t matter. It does. Those with less experience need to be mentored and our expectations should be appropriately aligned with their skill level. What I am advocating is that we stop using these terms, because they create an arbitrary hierarchy of who’s opinion and code deserves more respect. If we can break that down then we can open ourselves up to learn from each other on an equal basis and in the long run we will all be better developers for it.