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After 8 years in the same company in a role growing from helpdesk to software support to project management, I recently found out I really like programming and decided I would spend the rest of my career being a developer.

Last year my company allowed me to switch to the internal dev team while keeping my salary - but in the last few months I noticed that the team is too small and stagnant: the core of the know-how is in an external outsourced company, which has no interest in training us or leave us any control over the software life cycle. I mostly spend my office hours writing documentation and handling projects still haunting me from my old role.

I read that changing job could accelerate the acquisition of new skills, so I tried applying to other jobs as a Developer. With my limited experience, I could propose myself at most as a Junior Developer, whose average salary is significantly below my current one. Unfortunately, because of various personal reasons (including a new mortgage), I cannot accept a lower income.

So I feel professionally stuck: I don't get to learn new stuff as much as I would like to, nor I can start a new career with the same salary I'm earning today.

Right now I'm trying to sneak some self-training time during office hours, but it feels like

  • it would take decades
  • an online-courses-only training has definitely a lower quality compared to real job experience
  • I have no feedback at all, nor mentoring from anyone

Is there anything I can do to move forward in my career as a Software Engineer? Has anyone had the same experience and would like to share any suggestions?

PS: apologies for any mistake in the text above, as English is not my native language

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  • have you spoken with your manager about this? are there some options to have you learning more?
    – Benjamin
    Apr 20, 2023 at 8:47
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    You can certainly study, alone or in a class, and build your skills that way. That will require investing your own time -- and possibly some money -- but not require a pay cut. Your employer may even pay for some courses; I'm still kicking myself for not having taken better advantage of that.
    – keshlam
    Apr 20, 2023 at 8:58
  • @Benjamin You're right, but my manager is not that interested in my personal development - a nice way would be to invest in making the internal dev team bigger, but that would require hiring people, which is expensive, I guess :\
    – sannae
    Apr 20, 2023 at 9:20
  • @keshlam I still miss having senior devs mentoring me, though - I guess keep on learning on my own and mentor myself :D
    – sannae
    Apr 20, 2023 at 9:22
  • Keep in mind that devs don't only need hard skills. We utilize a ton of soft skills, which only grow as you move up to the senior roles. If you're convincing enough, you might be able to swing a mid-level role (it's quite a wide range) if you focus on your soft abilities. Could also check out scrum master and similar development-adjacent roles - you get to learn some stuff and it relies more on soft skills that you already have.
    – user83977
    Apr 20, 2023 at 14:51

3 Answers 3

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Is there anything I can do to move forward in my career as a Software Engineer?

You need to find a way to make your skills, experience and objectives align with those of an employer.

At present, your objective of building skills as a Software Engineer is not aligned to your employer's apparent preference for out-sourcing the bulk of the software development on whatever product your manager is responsible for. And, as you know, your objective of maintaining the salary of an 'experienced' person is likely to be difficult to achieve with another company given that your skills as a Software Engineer are still at a beginner level.

So, you need to find somewhere that values your experience and personal qualities sufficiently that they will pay the salary you desire while giving you the opportunity to grow the skills in the areas that you are interested in. Generally, this is easier if you are already part of a company (provided what you want to do is part of their business, of course)

  1. Your current employer has already shown a willingness to do this, so the first step is to speak with your manager - does he have any interest in in-sourcing the current product? If so, there is scope for a plan whereby he supports you in your development objectives (e.g. ensuring the contract with the external dev team includes helping you, perhaps paying for training or giving you time to self-teach, or allowing you to use company resources out of hours to self teach, or just encouragement that your efforts will not be in vain - whatever is appropriate to your and the company's situation and budget) and take on more of the implementation work as your skills grow.

  2. If your current manager's objective is to keep the development work out-sourced long term, that is not compatible with your goal to do development work, but perhaps there is another team internally you could transfer to who do more in-house? The company has been willing to invest in you up to now, so if there is such a team, such a move may well be possible.

  3. If neither of the above are options, you need to look elsewhere to find an employer where the personal qualities, skills and experience you do have are valuable enough that they will pay your desired salary while you learn additional skills. Ex sports people and politicians don't walk into top jobs in the media because of their extensive experience writing shorthand and natural ease in front of a camera, they get those jobs because they have profile and insight that the people who started as cub reporters on the local newspapers haven't necessarily had chance to acquire. Your project management experience is a definite plus, but you will have to be willing to use those skills to justify the salary you are hoping for, and make sure you join an organisation that has the scope and personnel development mindset to support the development path you want - don't join somewhere as a project manager if their development is all outsourced!

TL;DR - You're unlikely to get someone to pay you senior dev money for junior dev skills on their own. You need to use your other skills and experiences to support this transition. If there are any opportunities at all at your current place, or if you can work with them to make such an opportunity, that might be the best option. Otherwise, work out what compromises you are prepared and able to make to align your aspirations to the needs of another employer.

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  • Very good analysis! My considerations: 1) my employer is not really interested in expanding the internal dev team, as everything is taken care of by the outsourced company... the internal team is considered a backup plan when the other company is not responding promptly; 2) unfortunately there's no other team, it's a small company; 3) therefore my best chance is to remarket myself as a project manager in a company where I'd also be in contact with the developers, and hope to have the chance to also code a little bit.
    – sannae
    Apr 20, 2023 at 13:15
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Consider not applying to junior developer roles, and instead find roles at the salary you'd like.

If you have a year of development experience with a wealth of other technical experience before that too then you can probably land a job paying more than a junior developer role which may be aimed at people with much less experience.

Aim for a regular developer role which may be closer to your salary expectations. If your lack of development experience is brought up at interview be prepared to explain your choices and why you've switched late to software development but also highlight the benefits that your other experience will bring.

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  • I will try, many thanks! Apparently in my country things are quite simplistic, either you're a developer or you're not, and either you're a junior dev or a senior dev - that's why I'm having a hard time marketing myself as a senior. But I guess the benefits of my previous experience encompass software configuration and deployment, as well as project management, which are pretty valuable skills...
    – sannae
    Apr 20, 2023 at 9:30
  • Something to consider is that some of the experience that makes a senior dev a senior is the soft skills. Soft skills that you probably have grown in. So the leap to fully-fledged dev might not be as far as you think Apr 20, 2023 at 9:34
  • But being a senior developer also means that you have to be knowledgeable in the technical details of the project you are involved in? I can think of nothing worse than having a senior developer such as this representing a team in a business setting.
    – Sam
    Apr 20, 2023 at 10:02
  • I have to agree with @Sam on this one, I hate senior developers or senior whatever who are not knowledgeable in their field, it feels like they don't belong to that role, or like they got the job thanks to their contacts.
    – sannae
    Apr 20, 2023 at 11:46
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You got a great deal from your current employer when they allowed you to learn software engineering at an unusually high salary. You probably won't get this repeated elsewhere.

If you want to move and keep a similar salary, try looking for jobs that will value your previous experience. For instance, your management experience may qualify you for a team leader role in some companies. (Not all TL vacancies will be suitable - you'll need to find companies that split people/project management from technical leadership.) In a role like this, you can expect to spend some of your time on leadership tasks but still have time free for software development. Your progress as a software engineer will be slower this way but you will have more experienced colleagues to learn from so you will get there.

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  • you're right, basically in my situation I'm paid to learn, I'm kinda blessed. Nevertheless, I'm left all by myself and it doesn't feel like learning or going anywhere, except for what I'm doing on my own. Regarding the Team Leader position you're probably right, but isn't it a more socially-based role? I'm afraid it'll get me further from coding, and more into managing people and projects.
    – sannae
    Apr 20, 2023 at 11:54
  • It depends on the size of the team. Leading a team with more than 10 members may tend towards full time. Leading 5 engineers should leave you with a fair bit of time free for software development. I appreciate that the role still isn't ideal for you. You just won't get access to many interesting software roles without relaxing your constraint of being paid way beyond the norm for your experience though.
    – simonc
    Apr 20, 2023 at 12:07

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