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About 18 months ago I was hired at a fairly small firm as a junior developer. Because the firm was small often developers have to wear a lot of hats. So I had to do development on the front end, server and database. The company at the time had two lead developers.

Eventually the firm went belly up (about 9 months in) and we transitioned to new management but the same staff (with the former owner becoming our development manager). On top of that when we transitioned, the two lead developers we had quit. So we officially had no lead developers.

Because I was the only person left with any understanding the product, I was made an ad-hoc lead developer. So, I became responsible for integration, module design and a bunch of new technical tasks. I also was a project manager and often had to assess people with MORE experience than me. (I was in charge of juniors who had been at the company longer, but who were new to the product.)

So, I'm at a point in my career where I'm comfortable but I am curious about if I had to change jobs, how would explain this? My actual competency with code is that of a junior, but because I've been put into a position out of necessity, I am considered a Lead. (It went from ad-hoc lead to permanent full time lead).

My concern is: If I were to apply to a new position, and I put my current firm as a reference. When they call my development manager will say my position was a lead developer. Then the company I'm applying to will wonder why is a lead applying for a junior position?

How do I manage / explain the discrepancy?

  • "Then the company I'm applying to will wonder why is a lead applying for a junior position?". Maybe you should ask yourself the same question. You're currently a "permanent full time lead". Do you like it? are you good at it? If both answer are yes, just apply for lead. The fact that you got to this position because there was nobody else doesn't really matter if you manage to stay there. – F.Carette Dec 19 '18 at 16:20
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    To be completely up front. My ability to write good algorithms isn't strong. I make a lot of "newbie" errors. Which is what would be expected with my experience. I recognize this. It has also pushed me to the verge of burn out. The only reason I was able to keep the position, is on top of my 37-45 hour week I also do an additional 20 hours of studying. Design Patterns, Architecture... I have no life outside of work, because I feel it's my responsibility to be as competent as a lead should be. So in many instances, that additional learning helped me keep the position. But I'm not a Lead. – ShinEmperor Dec 19 '18 at 16:34
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    I literally restructured my entire life to keep this position and the company afloat. To meet the demands. But I'm exhausted and trying to essentially simulate "experience" by that additional 20 hours is taking its toll on me. I need to slow down and one way to do this is to actually be what I am, a junior. Because being a lead forces me to essentially constantly play catch-up. I literally haven't had a free weekend in 6 months because of all the additional learning I've done. I'm grateful for the opportunity. It's made me better at my job, but I can't sustain this. – ShinEmperor Dec 19 '18 at 16:42
  • Thanks for clarifying, it totally makes sense now – F.Carette Dec 19 '18 at 16:43
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You do what you always do when applying for a job. You tell a story. You start by having your resume tell it, and then you continue it in the interview.

The story you have to tell is great. You were thrust into a situation that was well above your pay grade, and rose to the occasion. All you need to do is tweak your resume so that anyone reading it reads that story. Your resume already ought to have a "notable achievements" section for each position you held (if not, get someone to teach you how to write a resume). You can tell the story pretty quickly in one of the bullet points there, at which point you won't get uncomfortable questions about what's going on, because they'll already know.

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    This is a good answer. The moral of the story is, don't get hung up on titles. – dwizum Dec 19 '18 at 16:28
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Some professions have standardized job titles. In movie-making, for example, even a title like "Best Boy" is a very specific and clearly defined term with a meaning that is widely-understood within that industry. And, in most countries, you'd better not call yourself a lawyer (or solicitor, or barrister) unless you have the relevant qualifications, or you could get in severe legal difficulties.

In software development, on the other hand, there are no agreed-upon standards for job titles - and everyone knows this. By way of example, in my time I've been called a software developer, software engineer, programmer, game programmer, DevOps engineer, and coder; at levels junior, (no-adjective), senior, principal, lead, and manager.

I've even had someone apply for a job who described himself as CEO in his previous position on his CV (because it was a self-run small business with no employees other than himself... which rather trivializes the phrase "CEO" in my view, but he was good at writing code so I hired him anyway).

So, titles don't really matter. If this question arises, simply explain to your new employer what you explained to us in the question. You have only 18 months experience and consider yourself a junior in ability, but became de facto lead previously under unusual circumstances. You are aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, and know that you're not yet ready for a "real" lead role - a junior role would be a better fit for where you are in your career. It really is that simple, and nothing to worry about.

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