5 Things to Look for in a Senior Software Engineer




They’re the most important hire you’ll make. We’ll show you how to get it right.

We’ve worked on software projects with team members of all experience levels, from senior management to entry-level contributors and everything in between. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that senior engineers form the backbone of any good technical team.

Why are seniors so important?

We dive into great detail here, but the big takeaways are that seniors are strong at:

  • Communicating with non-technical team members
  • Solving issues across a variety of technologies
  • Understanding the business side of a product
  • Lending their years of hands-on experience to their team members

Now, we’ll not only tell you what to look for in a senior engineer but also how to spot them and make the right hire.

A Senior Software Engineer

Any software project includes a team of engineers who work together to develop a product. But what separates the seniors from the other members of your technical team?

Our VP of engineering, Daniel Bressan, shared his thoughts on the most important attribute of a senior engineer.

“Senior engineers can take a step back from software development and see the bigger picture from more than a software perspective. When asked to start a project, they don’t dive headfirst into the technical details. Instead, they look for potential holes and problems that you may have never considered.”

“While a junior- or mid-level engineer might start a project by accepting a set of tasks to complete, a good senior engineer starts by asking how and why the tasks need to be completed. They ask questions like, “what is the company trying to accomplish from a business perspective?” and “why have I been assigned to this project?’”

Hero quote

They have the foresight to say things like, “In six months, we will most likely have to deal with X issues, so let’s address them now.’

“This means that your senior engineers should start with a fundamental understanding of the business itself and its goals. A senior engineer doesn’t accept a task without understanding the impact it will have on both the software team and the broader company. They have the foresight to say things like, “In six months, we will most likely have to deal with X issues, so let’s address them now.’”

Ultimately, your senior engineers should have the wisdom to foresee problems before they occur, prior experience to propose a best-practice course of action, technical skills to implement that course of action, and communication skills to convey it all to non-technical team members.

Now, that’s all fair and good, but what is difficult is identifying this talent during the interview process.

We have you covered. The next section details exactly what to look for in a senior engineer.

What to Look for in a Senior Engineer - Hiring Process

You know that your senior engineer needs to have some degree of business acumen, prior experience, technical know-how, and communication skills. All these qualities sound simple enough, but how do you identify them during the hiring process? We’ll break down each quality below and tell you the tangible things you should look for to identify a great hire.


A senior engineer should be just that. Senior. This doesn’t, however, mean that there’s a magic number of years that a senior engineer should have. Instead, you should look for someone who has prior leadership experience and has taken on a variety of projects.

Have they worked in different settings or have they stayed with the same technologies throughout their career? This is especially important if you’re in the early stages of development of your company and/or product. Your senior engineer will likely need to be both a key technical lead and a business partner. You should be able to lean on them when you face challenges outside the scope of your project.


Communication is something that will come up most prominently during the interview process. At this stage, the candidate should be interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing them. A senior engineer should have at least a general idea of their preferred work environment and where they can add value. They should ask questions to confirm what you have to offer. Evidence of this would be the candidate expressing their professional goals and seeing if your company matches up with them.

Once you can confirm what your candidate’s work and career preferences are, you can move on to more technical communication skills. Overall, the candidate should be able to explain complex concepts in a way that makes sense for those who are unfamiliar with them. For example, your candidate is likely to have worked on projects where you don’t have any experience. Ask the candidate to describe the project and its concepts to you.

The candidate’s explanations shouldn’t overwhelm you. Their answers should generally follow the “SAR” (sometimes called STAR) criteria, meaning that they describe the situation, describe the action they took, and explain the results that follow.

During this entire process, it’s also important to take note of their use of technical language. Are they frequently mixing up terms like “parameter” and “argument” or “method and “function”? The idea isn’t to be nitpicky about the candidate’s use of technical jargon but to gauge how they convey information without making the audience scratch their head.

Technical Skills

During the interview process, you’re likely going to put the candidate’s skills to the test. For example, you might ask the candidate to design a simple application. During this phase, start by analyzing how the candidate begins to approach the issue.

Ideally, they will start by asking a series of questions to help fully understand the requirements. And when the design is finished, you should consider whether it can be immediately handed off to mid-level engineers or whether some segments need clarification.


If possible, try to ask a question about something the candidate doesn’t already know. Are they able to arrive at the right answer without knowing the subject matter? Do they ask smart questions to lead them to an answer?

These are things that are difficult to assess, but you’re ultimately looking to understand how they approach adversity. You’re both certain to face plenty of curveballs during the development process.

Final Thoughts

When you’re ready to interview a senior engineer, make sure to check out our engineer interview rubric where you can screen for all of the qualities listed above. This will help you stay focused and ask the right questions during the interview.