Do I need a mid-level or senior developer?

February 18, 2021
Phil Woodward

A common question I hear from startups and early-stage technology businesses (and even later stage ones) is:

“Should we hire senior or mid-level developers?”

Often there is talk of maybe having two mid-level or junior people, vs. one senior one. So how do you decide what to do?

My advice is to look at two primary areas in making this decision.

1 Team structure & management time available: who do you have available to manage the team and how precious is their time?

2. Product & technical maturity: how mature is your product in terms of market positioning, architecture, security and so on?

Also, something to consider is the definition of different terms. I’ve observed in development that people assume the title “mid-level developer” very fast. From experience, mid-level can mean 1-2 years’ experience.

So, consider the impact of a mid-level hire.

On area 1. if it is mid-level you will (almost certainly) need to cost in significantly more management time.

On area 2. if the product is not technically mature, you’ll again need to factor in additional technical oversight on architectural and other concerns (e.g. security).

So, I would advise that if management time is precious, and the product’s technical maturity is not there yet, wait for a senior hire. But if management time is readily available and you have technical maturity, you’re ready for mid-level.

I have, repeatedly, underestimated the difference between mid-level and senior hires. At an early stage of the development of any department I’ve learned how much a more senior person can add, vs. my having to manage a junior or mid-level hire.

Of course, as always, this comes back to the individual. Spend the time hiring and you might find that junior or mid-level outlier. But be aware that this is panning for gold, which is just as hard as taking the time to hire at a senior level.