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What to expect from your junior programmer – 5+1 things to look out for

October 22, 2021

6 min read

Junior developers on the job market today can possess amazing skills, and can even show up to an interview with great references. To make your hiring process easier, we created an outline on the skills and hallmarks of a great junior developer in 2021.

Defining what type of professional you need in your growing IT team can be a challenge. Do you need an experienced veteran who is able to make quick decisions or is ready to mentor their colleagues? Or maybe you could achieve more by hiring a motivated junior professional, who’s willing and eager to deliver high-quality work under supervision. Your business needs both juniors and seniors to thrive because they add value on different levels.

There’s a catch: one company’s definition of “senior programmer” could be the next company’s ideal junior developer. For example, one developer could be considered “senior” with respect to Java development, but at the same time be considered “junior” at HTML5. So categorising and labelling applicants according to their experience is not a cookie-cutter process. Plus, there are many more things you can expect from your next junior colleague apart from having some experience. 

On another note, age-old hiring practices are becoming outdated. For example, university degrees are becoming less and less of an expectation, and you can expect juniors to have some experience nowadays. Plus, more and more companies are opening up their positions globally, even overseas due to the changes that the pandemic has brought. You have the option to recruit junior developers from all over the world and offer them remote positions.

But before we dive into the topic of juniors, let’s quickly explore the skills and capabilities of a senior developer for some context.

What can you expect from a senior developer?

Programmers in a senior role usually have 5+ years experience at a certain technology.

Seniors should be critical thinkers and practice full ownership. They are the ones you can trust in an organisation to keep the big picture in their minds as challenges and problems arise. Seniors ideally place responsibility on themselves first, whether or not their team is succeeding. Apart from being responsible, seniors are generally experts at:

  • Liaising with internal and external customers and stakeholders
  • Leading and mentoring teams
  • Driving projects and keeping the big picture in mind
  • Having an innate understanding of software systems and architecture 
  • Advanced understanding of frameworks, technologies, testing, and troubleshooting methods
  • Analysing business needs and user expectations
  • Ability to lead and mentor teams and drive projects

There are a number of areas where a seniors excel. However, having a team full of seniors could be an over-kill, because junior developers can also be a great addition to your organisation.

So what exactly can you expect from a junior developer?

When we talk about a “junior developer” we usually think of someone who has 1 to 3 years of experience in any given technology. 

As a general rule of thumb, we can say that juniors should be able to perform technical tasks independently,  but they will need some governance and consultation on a general basis. They should focus more on the code and sub-tasks assigned to them by seniors, and less on the big-picture, architecture and strategy.

In short, these are the things you can expect from a junior developer in the year 2021:

  • 1) Have a basic understanding of technologies and development
  • 2) Have demonstrable, relevant experience
  • 3) Understand agile practices
  • 4) Deliver high-quality work under supervision
  • 5) Possess great soft and interpersonal skills
  • +1) Have a strong drive to learn and progress

Let’s dive deeper into each point, and explore why they are important to have in a junior developer.

1) Have a basic understanding of technologies and development

A junior shouldn’t focus on the big picture, and should rather get busy with working on specific features of a product. But having a knowledge of what processes are involved in creating a software will make everybody’s life in the team easier. So a junior should ideally know how the development cycle goes, and it’s more than ideal if they’ve been through the entire development process a couple of times before. 

Technology-wise, your business will define what skills are most valuable, but you can expect a good junior programmer to know around 4-6 programming languages. Juniors should be excited to learn the technology stack that’s relevant for your business, so expect them to be eager and willing to learn new things. 

Top junior developer candidates will have an innate understanding of the development cycle and will know their way around the processes and the roles. So expect your junior to understand the software development process and where they fit into the big picture.

2) Have demonstrable, relevant experience

In terms of hiring, experience is still golden in the eyes of companies– but the type of experience someone has is a game-changer. Experience can be gained through personal projects, at a programming school, during an internship, or at university. So experience doesn’t always have to come from a full-time job. The bottom line is to see relevant experience on your candidate’s CV because you can expect any junior to be able to demonstrate some type of work.

You can expect junior developers to show up to the interview with a solid project portfolio and relevant programming experience. 

3) Understand agile practices

Agile software development is the universal best practice in software development right now, and around 92% of business owners think that the key to their company’s success lies in agile.

Hiring a junior developer who knows their way around sprints, or is up to make a team-based decisions will prove to be a great pick when your team works in agile. Of course, you can’t expect every candidate to have worked on a live project with agile methods, however, you can expect your new junior colleague to have a basic understanding of agile practices.

A great junior candidate will be well-prepared to start working in any software development team. You can expect them to understand what Scrum, daily standups, sprints, retrospectives, client demos, and collaborative work are. 

4) Deliver high-quality work under supervision

A junior should be able to work independently, but will need some supervision, guidance, best-practices and mentoring from senior colleagues from time to time to be able to progress and deliver the best quality of work. It’s a more senior colleague’s place to make decisions and to mentor junior colleagues, but a junior should demonstrate the motivation and the energy to learn and progress. Still, you can definitely expect a junior to be able to work on their own and to find solutions to smaller issues by themselves. Having a great work ethic and a keen eye for details will prove to be amazing features in your new junior developer.

An ideal candidate will be a confident, self-sufficient professional who won’t shy away from putting in the work to solve a challenge. Still, it’s great if they know when to ask a question or look for support from their peers. You could ask your candidate: “When was the last time you had to ask for help, why, and were you able to solve the challenge then?” Expect junior developers to have a great answer to this question, and to have an inner drive to learn and excel at their work.

5) Possess great soft and interpersonal skills

Your new junior colleague should be able to adapt to your company culture and team dynamics quickly and seamlessly. This process will be a whole lot easier with a colleague who has great social skills and who possesses certain soft skills.

Imagine a scenario where your new junior developer is expected to demo their work, but appears  to be uncomfortable presenting themselves in a professional way. Or think about initial conflicts that can arise during a colleagues onboarding and first few months. How will your new junior handle constructive criticism, communicate with their colleagues, and adapt to the changes that are bound to happen?

We know that soft-skills are in the focus of many hiring managers today, and they are just becoming more and more important by the day. Skills like presenting, feedback giving and receiving, time management or conflict management will all be invaluable in your new junior colleague. So expect them to have great soft skills, and you’ll have a faster time onboarding and integrating them into your team.

+1) Have a strong drive to learn and progress

Companies work in a changing environment, and digital transformation comes with a continuous change in processes and technologies. A great junior sees changes not as a threat, but as challenges to solve. They are happy to learn and implement new technologies, processes and ways of work. 

Personality-wise, look for a demonstration of motivation and genuine energy, plus a willingness to learn from mistakes when you’re interviewing juniors. Apart from the points on our upcoming list, expect your new junior to be open to constructive criticism, and have a real drive to progress at their craft. By paying attention to these qualities, you can make sure that your new colleague is excited and ready to learn and work in your team.

During the interview, you could ask your candidate to tell a story where they were able to learn from a mistake and get them to explain how they handled the initial criticism. Or you could ask them to tell when they supported their team, even though they did not 100% agree with the direction the team wanted to take. Hearing these stories could give you a great general idea about the type of person your candidate is, and about the level of support and commitment they can give.

Ready to find your next junior developer?

If you’re looking for a candidate who has a checkmark next to every item on this list, consider partnering with Codecool. Codecool graduates are great junior developers that can tick all the boxes on your list of expectations, and help your organisation grow. Our motivated junior professionals can deliver high quality work from day 1 in your projects.

Interested? Get in touch with us and let’s talk business. We’re excited to hear from you!

About us

Codecool is the fastest growing programmer school and tech talent hub in Europe. We make the digital talent gap disappear and enable people to take on future-proof tech careers. We solve IT skill development and resource needs via training and recruitment.

The Codecool Blog is a collection of the coolest insights and best resources for HR heads, IT leaders, other business executives and small business owners in charge of tech talents and digital strategies.

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