As technology continues to grow by leaps and bounds, opportunities in the software development field are scaling right along with it. For skilled programmers with a yearning to develop interpersonal relationships and soft skills, management roles are wide open for the taking.

A technically proficient communicator has every option available, and over time can qualify for many roles, including Sr. Developer, Team Lead, Architect, Manager and can even move into senior management.

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The road to the highest paying senior positions can take anywhere from several months to several years depending on multiple factors. The speed of career path progression varies mostly with levels of demonstrated technical ability, internal drive, critical-thinking and communication skills.

A Typical Software Developer Career Path:

Junior Developer

This is the ground-floor or starting position that a developer right out of college or accelerated courses like Woz U’s Software Developer courses would have, with little to no real world computer programming experience.

Typical requirements for a junior developer include:

  • The ability to write simple scripts.
  • Understanding of the expected application lifecycle.
  • Basic understanding of database and application services, such as queues and caching.

There are times when junior programmers may feel as if they are in over their heads when asked to write complex applications. Other days you will ask yourself why you haven’t been promoted for doing the same work as many of the senior developers. This is totally normal! However, the main difference between a junior and senior developer is experience.

Software Developer, Sr. Software Developer

A software developer, or senior software developer is someone who has become proficient at creating entire applications. Much of a software developer’s career path will include spending several years as a senior-developer.

Typical requirements for a software developer include:

  • Having several years of professional programming experience.
  • Ability to write complex code.
  • Possessing a thorough understanding of databases, application services and application lifecycle development.

People who love to write code and don’t like the idea of management may spend many years or even their entire career as a senior developer. However, this position can also be a jumping off point to management positions that can include lead developer or CTO of a startup.

Lead Developer, Technical Architect

A lead developer or architect role is for someone who wants more responsibility and challenge but is not interested in managing a team. They’re also specialized senior developers that other programmers look to for direction. Lead developers typically coordinate work and implement decisions while still writing code. While architects will still occasionally write code, they are responsible for designing complex systems that will be implemented by other developers.

The typical requirements for lead developer positions include:

  • Many years of professional programming experience.
  • Demonstrates subject matter expertise.
  • Possessing the same technical skills that a senior developer may have.
  • Ability to conceptualize, plan and build software to solve complex problems.

Lead developer positions are often seen as transitional roles to a mid-level manager position, whereas architect is a technical position and usually not a transitional role. Technical architects are often considered the highest position on the technical career ladder.

Development Team Lead, Software Development Manager

Management is the next logical and traditional step along the software developer career path.

There are different focuses and responsibilities for managers that include:

  • Managing large-scale projects.
  • Managing teams of developers.
  • Hiring and firing developers.

The mid-level manager keeps track of workflow and productivity and reports to a senior leader or manager. Their typical function is to coordinate the needs of the application and project leader with the development team. This role requires great people skills and the ability to effectively mediate conflicts. The developer manager’s job is to also to eliminate and add new members to the team whenever necessary. One of the major downsides of becoming a mid-level manager is you may have to terminate people. This can be a psychological and emotional challenge for many, but when mastered, can be a powerful leadership skill.

Director, Vice President, Chief Technology Officer

The main difference between a senior and mid-level manager is that senior management tends to oversee the work of other managers and may have some responsibility for setting strategy and corporate direction.

Senior management level titles include:

  • Director
  • Vice President
  • Chief Technology Officer

A senior manager’s job is to make executive-level decisions including long-term strategy, setting goals and initiatives, plus accountability for entire departments. They must also motivate their managers to execute and hold the department accountable for specific measurable objectives. Senior-level managers hire, supervise and fire mid-level managers and report only to other senior-level executives, such as the CEO or to the company’s board of directors.

What if I don’t want to manage people?

Well, you’re in luck, because a career in development starts at such a high level of income, you can be rewarded as an individual contributor and still have a rewarding career. That said, opportunities for programmers in today’s technology-driven world are growing. Many development careers have a linear progression through the software developer career path ladder, leading to senior management and executive-level positions.

That said, management roles may not be a fit for everyone. Some developers abhor the idea of being a manager. Still others may enjoy a move to management as yet another personal challenge.

No matter your goals, your best bet for long-term success is to follow these two pieces of advice:

  • Be open to continuous learning and development no matter your role.
  • Understand the value of all roles in an organization including managers, executives and senior technical personnel, regardless of where you would like to go in your career.

Stick to these two principles and you’ll be set up for continued growth and success!