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3 Ways to Stay Relevant as an Experienced Software Engineer

3 Ways to Stay Relevant as an Experienced Software Engineer

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Hint: Learning System Design is key for software engineers

Software engineers who have been working in the industry for a while can still take steps to staying “fresh,” while leveraging their applied work experience. In this blog, we share three ways an experienced software engineer can stay relevant as a job candidate in a competitive job market. Our partner, Educative, shares the third and crucial key to maintaining that competitive edge.

1. Highlight the valuable skills you already have

Most 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. Often, 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.

Perhaps you’re positioning yourself as an expert in Java. Make sure you brush up on the basics to show your full breadth of knowledge. Next, make your Java experience stand out on your resume, 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 your achievements in each position in the work experience sections. Companies often use hiring software to detect certain keywords. So, a candidate who mentions the languages they’re looking for more frequently may have better luck advancing to the next stage.

2. 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 guides 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.

Related: Engineering Manager or IC? Which Tech Career is Best for Me? (Video) 

Have an affinity toward leading and managing others? Update your resume 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 accompanying responsibilities.

3. Learn System Design

Continually learning new languages and skills makes you a more valuable candidate. Experienced software engineers in particular can stay ahead of the curve by developing a working knowledge of System Design. In this section, Educative explains how a solid working knowledge of System Design can help you stand out in interviews and beyond.

Understanding large-scale system architecture is a necessity. System Design is the discipline underpinning our entire modern software landscape. It’s critical for making any application scalable, fault-tolerant, and more efficient.

Every app or service we use daily — from YouTube and Instagram to Amazon and Spotify — is a scalable system. These apps must be designed to handle large amounts of traffic and data and to scale with spikes. That’s because the number of people simultaneously accessing these systems is massive.

What is System Design?

Coding is about creating individual bricks; System Design is about deciding how those bricks will form a complete structure. It’s the art and science of defining the architecture, components, and data flow for large-scale applications. It sets the groundwork for how a system will operate, ensuring efficiency, scalability, and reliability.

Essentially, System Design is the blueprint guiding developers in building software that meets specific requirements and constraints.

Some key considerations in System Design include:

  • Architecture: The overall structure of the system and how its components interact with each other
  • Components: The individual building blocks of the system. This includes servers, databases, and application servers
  • Interfaces: How the system interacts with its users and other systems
  • Non-Functional Requirements: This includes things like performance, scalability, reliability, and security

Role of System Design in modern software

System Design is indispensable to the modern software landscape — from initial planning to implementation and maintenance. It provides a blueprint that software engineers, TPMs, and engineering and product leaders can refer to throughout a product’s life cycle. Its principles guide decisions about database structure, user interface, networking protocols, and more.

For experienced software engineers, this offers a leadership opportunity — with an understanding of System Design, you’re not just following instructions, but are instead actively participating in shaping the vision and functionality of a project.

As software systems become increasingly complex, involving multiple technologies and serving global audiences, the role of System Design has never been more critical. It informs choices that can make or break a software’s performance, user experience, and overall success. For seasoned engineers aiming to stay competitive — it’s a career imperative.

Let’s review this summary of System Design fundamentals:

  • Horizontal and Vertical Scaling: Horizontal scaling involves adding more machines, while vertical scaling involves adding more RAM, faster processors, or additional storage to a single machine. Both are essential for handling an increased load.
  • Microservices: Microservices break down applications into small, independent services that communicate via APIs. This enhances modularity and scalability.
  • Proxy Servers: These act as intermediaries, forwarding client requests to servers. They can improve performance and security.
  • CAP Theorem: This theorem states that a distributed system can’t simultaneously provide all three of the following: consistency, availability, and partition tolerance. You have to pick two.
  • Redundancy and Replication: These ensure that backup resources are available, improving reliability and fault tolerance.
  • Storage: It’s crucial to evaluate the data storage methods. Different storage strategies can be employed based on the system’s specific requirements.
  • Message Queues: Enable asynchronous communication between different system parts, improving scalability and decoupling components.
  • File Systems: File systems oversee data storage and retrieval on disks, handling tasks like file naming, storage allocation, directory structure, and access permissions. With file systems, file identification and access control become easier.

Why is System Design important to know?

Due to the growing complexity and scale of web applications, it’s important to know how to handle large-scale challenges. System Design offers both theoretical knowledge and practical skills for real-world applications.

Investing time in learning System Design can provide both immediate and long-term advantages for your career. It can make you a more versatile and sought-after professional in the tech industry.

In an interview setting, a strong understanding of System Design can be an important difference-maker. Most developers will be expected to demonstrate at least a working knowledge of System Design in their interviews. Depending on their specialization, software engineers typically receive 1-2 design interview loops as part of the hiring process, of which System Design is the most common focus.

Ultimately, candidates who perform well in System Design Interviews will boost their chances of being hired, as well as increase their starting level and salary. (At Meta, for example, a strong System Design Interview can mean the difference between starting as an E5 rather than an E4 — an advantage worth tens of thousands of dollars).

Looking for System Design prep? Here are some helpful resources:

Stay relevant, stay ahead

Use these tips to position yourself for better alignment with top job opportunities out there. Showcasing what you already have to offer, advancing to leadership roles, and mastering System Design are some of the best ways to adapt and progress as a software engineer today. 

Interested in learning more about System Design? Give Educative courses a try!

Looking for your next role in software engineering? Create your free profile on Hired.

Originally published in June 2018 by Brittany Curran. Updated by the Hired Content Team and Educative in December 2023.