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Junior, Mid, or Senior-Level? 4 Tips to Balance an Effective Engineering Team

Engineering team - short

As a Senior Fintech Recruiter, I work alongside highly-skilled engineers and hiring managers daily. My role places me on the front lines of Fintech’s talent war, and I’m constantly looped into both the candidate and client’s side of the story… including their successes, struggles, and stressors.

If you’re debating the makeup of your engineering “dream team,” read on! Making the best hiring decisions for your unique budget, needs, and goals has never been trickier, and I’d love to offer a helping hand.

 

JUNIOR VS. MID VS. SENIOR

Fintechs of all shapes and sizes should recognize that today, a one-size-fits-all approach to hiring is not the best way to attract and retain great talent. In fact, for dev teams like yours, hiring a whole slew of senior-level engineers (and no juniors or mids) may not cut it. Instead, building a balanced team is your ticket to success. But, before deciding how many of each to hire, I suggest considering “the basics,” or what motivates each level?

JUNIOR (UP TO 3 YEARS' EXPERIENCE)

Every great engineering team I’ve worked with is equipped with at least one junior. Juniors are newer to the field and, ultimately, need guidance. They’re seeking a solid foundation of support and the potential for (and feeling of) career advancement. If a mid or senior steps away, juniors should be able to step in and learn alongside the higher-level engineers. Again, they’re driven by career advancement.

MID (3-5 YEARS' EXPERIENCE)

Rather than having a whole team of just juniors and seniors, it’s often useful to introduce a mid-level developer. Mids are a great middle-ground when it comes to both salary and responsibilities. They’re driven by the potential to grow into a senior-level role and mentor juniors and interns on their team. Mids should have the potential to step in and help when a senior departs from the company or goes on extended leave.

SENIOR (OVER 5 YEARS' EXPERIENCE)

Seniors often want to show mentorship skills, yet they also want to focus on their own professional development. They’re happy to step in right and left when you need them to since they’re preparing to become a Lead. Yes, for your team, this level is the most costly. However, seniors will stick around if you compensate them according to years of experience and proven work ethic. 

 

4 CONSIDERATIONS WHEN BUILDING A BALANCED ENGINEERING TEAM

The best-case scenario is that you hire the right mix of juniors, mids, and seniors - all while keeping the basics in mind. Below are some key considerations when building a balanced engineering team. And, don't just take it from me! I also based these insights on a recent conversation with an engineer I placed with one of my clients.

1. FOSTER A LEARNING ENVIRONMENT:

Whether junior, mid, or senior, each level of engineer on your team is motivated by professional growth and development. Therefore, fostering a learning environment where each role is motivated to grow professionally pays off and helps with talent retention. You can also support learning by sponsoring and encouraging your team members to attend relevant certification programs, classes, and conferences.

Notes from an Engineer I recently placed: “You must be willing to foster an environment where the managers, leadership, and leads are all taking the necessary steps to mentor and support everyone. They must walk the walk to build a senior, mid, and junior hierarchy that does likewise - aka leading by example.”

2. HIRE MORE THAN JUST SENIORS:

Of course, you may think, “I want a team full of seniors since they’re the best of the best!” However, I’ve seen this method destroy great teams too many times. When you seriously consider a team loaded with seniors (and no juniors or mids), it’s easier to see why this makeup simply doesn’t work. Here’s why…

In some cases, “senior” as a title may hold different weights depending on each engineer’s background, experience, and education. It’s important to consider what happens when one senior is a clear front-runner who mentors the rest of the team. Ultimately, you’re at risk of a power imbalance within your team, lots of stress and frustration between all parties, and potentially even losing your whole team. Besides, if you solely hire seniors, who will step in when a senior is absent? 

Notes from an Engineer I recently placed: “A senior-only team may seem good, but it’s missing lots of value from juniors. If your documentation is lacking and code base is too hard for a junior to understand, then your codebase must be understood and explained by more senior engineers. The seniors will discover places that caused confusion and clear them up. The junior learns and can be tasked with improving the documentation along the way adding immense value that was otherwise only in the mind of a senior."

3. CREATE A PLAN OF SUCCESSION:

A great goal is to shape your juniors and mids into the seniors of tomorrow. Creating a succession plan will help you determine who takes the lead if someone steps away. Even if you choose to hire three seniors, bringing on at least one junior and one mid is beneficial to ensure there's always someone lined up for a promotion to the next level.

In addition, it’s important to keep role discrepancies in mind. No singular engineer (junior, mid, or senior) should be expected to do every task. Discrepancies between roles are a must! Make sure expectations and role differentiators are established and discussed in advance. This will eliminate any question about who will perform specific tasks and responsibilities.

Notes from an Engineer I recently placed: “On my team, we have at least two developers that were promoted from within. One began as a mid and is now a senior. The other began as an intern and stayed with the company to become a senior. Our Chief Technology Officer (CTO) actually brought mids and seniors from his previous companies to be seniors and leads, respectively. Organic relationships lead to good engineering talent following strong leaders. It’s like when Lebron or Brady go to a team as a free agent. Their former teammates and organically-formed relationships respect them and flock to them.”

4. COMPENSATE ACCORDING TO LEVEL:

Finally, it’s crucial that engineers are adequately compensated. Hiring a team full of seniors will ultimately cost more than hiring a balanced team that includes juniors and mids. If engineers are not paid properly, you risk losing them - especially in today's candidate market.

Notes from an Engineer I recently placed: “Focus on making a culture conducive to retaining employees what they’re worth. Don't wait on someone else's recruiter to slip into their inbox first after six months with your company. Be proactive with raises. The traditional 3% annual bump just means your chances of filling yet another role again soon just went up significantly because they can easily find over triple the 3% bump. “

 

A CONSULTATIVE APPROACH TO YOUR FINTECH RESOURCE NEEDS

When hiring or scaling your team of engineers, it’s best to work alongside a partner that knows your struggles, stressors, and biggest hurdles. For example, my team offers a consultative approach when working alongside our Fintech clients in the field. We do our best to predict and deliver to avoid the worst-case scenario - the loss of great talent on your team!

The right partner for your resource needs will go above and beyond, especially when deciding between junior, mid, or senior-level talent. They’ll help you find and vet highly-skilled candidates while also offering ideas and insights to build a balanced team that falls within your budget and aligns with your goals. As I said at the beginning of this blog, I understand that Fintech hiring is more complicated than ever. An excellent and well-balanced engineering team may be your ticket into Fintech's future, and it can make all the difference to staying innovative and on top.

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