3 Ways to Stay Relevant as an Experienced Software Engineer
This piece is a part of ‘The Career Strategist’ blog series
Unlike other industries, tech can be seen as a playground for the young. Companies have filled their offices with ping pong tables, ball pits, and slides to attract fresh college grads toting computer science degrees. This obsession with youth is depicted on HBO’s Silicon Valley. Week after week, the twenty- and thirty-something software engineers under Richard Hendricks’ leadership try to make Pied Piper a success (or at least not a complete failure). Likewise, in one episode, Gavin Belson, the Founder and CEO of Hooli, injects himself with the blood of a young, athletic “blood boy” in an attempt to extend his longevity. Fortunately for software engineers who have been working in the industry for a while, it is very much possible to leverage your decades of work experience without having to partake in elective blood transfusions. In this piece, I will share three ways an experienced software engineer can stay relevant as a job candidate in a competitive job market.
Highlight the valuable skills you already have
Contrary to how software engineers are idealized in certain contexts, many employers would rather hire an expert in the field than spend time and money training someone much less experienced. Companies of all sizes, particularly large corporations like Amazon and Google, are always in need of software engineers who are Java experts. This is actually an area where young college grads are at a disadvantage. These companies would rather hire a candidate with at least 5 years of core Java experience over more junior software engineers, who haven’t had exposure to the language in a professional capacity.
If you’re positioning yourself as an expert in Java, for example, make sure you brush up on the basics to show your full breadth of knowledge. Next, make your Java experience stand out on your résumé, LinkedIn, or Hired profile in the skills and work experience sections. In the skills sections, list your skills in order of proficiency with Java at the beginning if applicable. List all the languages and tools you’ve used, your workflows, and achievements in each position in the work experience sections. Since companies often use hiring software that detects certain keywords, a candidate who mentions the languages they’re looking for more frequently may have better luck getting to the next stage of the application process.
Consider leadership roles
If you’ve worked as an individual contributor for a while, you may want to consider taking on a leadership role as a team lead or engineering manager. Generally, a team lead reports to an engineering manager and provides guidance for the other engineers on the team. An engineering manager has often shown experience leading others, has multiple engineers reporting to them, and can provide technical guidance as needed.
If you’ve shown an affinity towards leading and managing others, modify your résumé and career profiles accordingly and start looking at open roles. If you’ve had several roles at the same company, think about separating and fleshing out each role as a distinct item in your work experience. Hiring managers like to see a candidate’s progression from being a Software Engineer to a Lead Software Engineer or an Engineering Manager, as well as the responsibilities that accompany said roles.
Learn new tech stacks
Although it can seem like companies reward the young and inexperienced, it’s best not to assume you know what companies are looking for as there’s a right job for every skill set. Make sure you are positioning yourself with your best foot forward by understanding how your expertise aligns with a job opening. Remember that adaptability and being open to new opportunities are the best way to continue growing your career while leveraging your current experience.