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How to become a senior software engineer

Published on: 9 Jan 2023

Software engineers are IT experts who focus on creating and maintaining computer software systems. They possess significant technical proficiencies and extensive knowledge on engineering and software development.

For individuals looking to pursue a career in software engineering, it’s important to understand the distinctions between each level of the career path. Generally, any engineer will spend the first several years of their career gaining vital knowledge and experience, before choosing to follow either a technical or managerial career path.

For those who choose the technical career path, the overall objective is usually to become a senior software engineer or principal engineer. These are roles that demand the pinnacle of knowledge and experience, requiring crucial decisions and a significant amount of responsibility.


The six stages of software engineering

Throughout the first few years of your software engineering career, it’s likely that you’ll move through a few early levels as you gather more experience within the industry.



Generally, a software engineer at this primary level will be completing an internship or working as a junior engineer. At this point, most of your workload will be to do with learning and development, which means you’ll be honing your technical skills and working on resolving code and software problems.


Entry-level engineer

A professional with the entry-level engineer rank has already learned the basics of engineering and possesses the foundational knowledge that will allow them to complete basic programming tasks. However, they’re not masters of their trade. Generally for two to three years, engineers will stay at level two before progressing to the next step on the ladder.


Mid-level engineer

This is where an expert is considered to be mid-level, with three to six years of experience in the position. In other words, they’ve built upon the foundations laid down in the initial stages and have developed a more synoptic understanding of best practices for developing software and code. Usually, these professionals will be proficient in several languages and may also be given specific responsibilities, such as helping level one and two engineers with their work.


Staff engineer

Generally, once a software engineer has four to seven years of experience to boast, they are brought on to the next stages in their career. In the technical track, this means becoming a staff engineer. As a high-level role, experts in this position are required to demonstrate extensive knowledge of software development and best practices, as well as proficiency in debugging and overriding code.


Senior staff engineer 

The fifth level of software engineering involves highly experienced professionals who can oversee large projects and tasks with precision. At this level of the career, experts are responsible for mentoring junior staff members and leading projects for company clients. A senior staff engineer will have a minimum of seven to eight years of experience in the field.


Principal engineer

On the technical career track, the principal engineer is the most senior of the roles. These professionals are responsible for showing a higher level of scope, responsible for making crucial decisions regarding the direction of the business and which members of staff are best suited to specific project areas. The technical ability of a principal engineer must be infallible, or it will be impossible to perform the wider functions of the role.

If you’re ready to explore the next step in your career, head to and take a look at the latest senior software engineer jobs today.