Why senior engineers need soft skills

• 1 min read

A question I've been asked many times before. Why do I need to develop soft skills to become a more senior engineer?

The answer is simple: scope of impact.

When you're a junior, you can scale your impact (your value to the company) by simply getting better at your craft. By being faster and more effective. By learning new skills, languages, tools, and frameworks.

This type of improvement has diminishing returns though. At some point, learning more languages, tools, and frameworks becomes irrelevant for the company you work for. Becoming incrementally better at a technical skill becomes less and less relevant. If you're already able to build and solve things at a near optimum pace, what difference will an incremental improvement make? Does it justify a salary increase?

Put it this way: If you have a really great senior engineer on your team earning €70k/year (Germany median), and a staff software engineer earning €140k/year (Germany median), how do you justify paying 100% more for the staff software engineer? Do their coding skills alone justify this? Can they code twice as fast? Produce code that is twice as efficient? Unlikely.

So why pay them so much more?

The answer is that as an engineer become more senior, there is additional focus placed upon them to guide others to deliver great work too. They need to be able to not only deliver quality work themselves, but also ensure that the people around them are delivering quality work. The more senior, the more people.

Additionally, they need to help the organisation make great decisions, and guide strategy.

Are their technical skills less relevant? Less important? Of course not, but they are applied in a different way. A way that puts more focus onto communication, empathy, and leadership.

Their technical skills must be used in a different way, to make the group more successful. To have a wider and wider scope of impact, as they grow.

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