5 min read

Craftsmanship, seniority, and paygrades

Craftsmanship, seniority, and paygrades
Photo by Jen Theodore / Unsplash

I am not sure how many times I had a discussion about what seniority means to me. And how that same term reflects in today's corporate world. I do have an opinion about it, surprise.

I will start from the point of software development. It is, for me, a more important one. It is the one that I will use when interviewing candidates. It is a scale that I reflect on to see how little I know. And use it as a goal for where I want to be in the coming years.

I love to use the word craftsmanship. It is a word, that expresses so much in a simple and elegant form. It says much more than using terms like junior, senior, SDE I, etc. These terms you will encounter in your company matrix scheme. Diverging already, damn. Back to the topic. It is a term you should use to express where you see yourself at your current stage of development. It is a line. And the end of it, I believe, we are still looking for. It is always outside of our reach. As soon as we think we grasped it, in my experience, something or someone pulls us back into reality. Sit down young grasshopper, let me tell you a story.

It is a term that should help to keep our egos in check. We work in an industry where knowledge expands faster than universe. With changes coming our way on hourly basics. At least in the JavaScript framework of the day world. Because of this, it is hard to lay claims of a single individual being able to grasp all of it. Then, is that how we should think of that mystical seniority? On how much we can cram in our heads? Is that what a craftsman is? Hmm, this sapling thinks not.

Knowledge is a part of that holy figure of software development. It is an important part. With that in mind, as stated above, there is so much out of it. This is where we could diverge in a blog post of its own about generalists vs. specialists. Or t-shaped developers. I will leave these terms for a later point in time. I believe most of the people reading this are familiar with it. For now, let us assume that we fit into one of those categories. Ok, check. What is next?

Here we get to one of the crucial distinguishing points. A will to challenge your accumulated knowledge on regular basis. Either to expand it or just to admit that your current way of thinking, bluntly put, can be evolved. Like a Pokemon. As much as we're willing to tell others how their way is wrong, we should be at least able to admit our own misconceptions. When they shine down upon us with that ray of a new understanding of pieces falling into place when looking at a different way of doing the same thing. Straying away to some unknown road. Is it better or it is just something that aligns more with our enlightened way of thinking? This is where the crusades begin on the internet. Everyone is right and wrong at the same time. I will leave this one to the judgment of the reader.

Now let us jump on the next bandwagon. How well can you spread that knowledge to the masses? Ugh, right in the guts. Most of us start somewhere along the lines: Let me do it, not sure how to explain it. Knowledge is there, verbalization of it is on the level of the first homo-sapiens that decided to stand up. Agile joke, cool, right? Right?! Anyhow, the next step is explaining all the technical aspects of the implementation while pair-programming with a confused individual sitting next to you while you flap your hands around. Or doing cave paintings in UML. The best of us out there, in my experience, are the ones that can relate to the knowledge level of their younger versions of themselves that stare at them with eyes full of hope. They can understand and come up, almost like magic, with an analogy that simplifies the complexity to the point of the baby's speech. This also shows their knowledge, and how well they understand it.

If you can't explain something to a six-year-old, you really don't understand it yourself.

- Source of it is heavily debated online

I believe this covers the main points that I believe every craftsman should be embodied with. With this mentality, I believe there is no technology foreign enough. Or problem hard enough. They are willing to learn the domain of our domain experts. To understand it, to be able to converse. And produce the best they know how. At that time. Remember, it is a line where the end is not known. We grow older, mature, and refine our knowledge.

Now let me destroy all of that with company paygrades in form of matrix salary schemes. And how they can be a false measure of knowledge in a number of cases. It is a necessary "evil". We all trade our time for money. Or our knowledge and expertise for it. The business has a problem to solve, we have knowledge. A simple definition of the trade system. Ok, so what is then a problem?

The problem is when we start believing that our promotion to <insert a job position here from your salary matrix> is a reflection of our knowledge. When we get lulled by into believing that and stop investing time to improve. People stuck there believe they reached that end described above. They're starved of any new developments happening around them. They know "best". You can recognize them by using terms like: We did it for the past 20 years like this. We use Technology X and because it is a hammer everything is a nail. And similar phrases. They shut down the talent around them, young pupils that are willing to learn. Everything new is met with an extreme dose of skepticism and arguments.

It is on you to recognize this toxic behavior. On your path to becoming a craftsman. Be willing to challenge the status quo. Shameless plug, I know. Or accept things are far gone and find a place that will nurture you on your hard road ahead. No need to go down with the ship. Warnings were given, and signal flares are exhausted. Captain decided that the iceberg is the way forward. Lifeboat it is.

Don't falter on the road. Accept the money. But don't fall into the trap described above. An hour invested in learning is an hour closer where you will shed your old way of thinking. And move one step closer to the next milestone. It is a cycle that has no end. But every time I repeat the cycle I feel like the first time I wrote "Hello World" and it printed on the screen. We're all still chasing that first trill.

Until next time, let us meet on this endless road and learn from each other.