I am a Software Engineer with a career plan. Its not a grand plan with big ideas. I just want to progress through some roles to hit every aspect of product development.

  1. Junior Software Engineer [check]
  2. Software Engineer [check]
  3. Senior Engineer
  4. Software Team Lead
  5. Systems Architect or equivalent

I cannot seem to make it to Step 3 of my plan with my current employer and I'm worried I am held back by age discrimination. The standard answer is obvious - 'find another job'. I've interviewed and been offered the salary I want, the title I want (Senior Engineer) and the pension I want but for whatever reason, its never worked out.

We have a serious period of hiring coming up and I want to position myself to take advantage of promotion opportunities. As the youngest I am concerned that this will not be possible.

Here are the facts:

  • There are 7 software engineers in my team
  • I am the youngest software engineer by at least 10 years but I am over 30
  • I am the most junior member of the team - everyone else, even the software tester is a Senior Engineer
  • I have been told by my manager that I am working at a senior level
  • I earn the market rate for a senior engineer
  • I design all of the high level views of our systems - desktop, cloud, embedded. -The design input from others engineers is very limited - this has been noted by management
  • I maintain all of our development tool chains on my own
  • All other software engineers have refused to do any overtime during business critical periods
  • I have trained other engineers in my field (C#) to cross-train our small team
  • I have mentored graduates and work placement students
  • I have been in this role for 3 years and have survived 2 rounds of redundancy and 2 large departmental reorganisations.

All I'm after is that job title so that I can work with the authority of the role and legitimately train for the next.

At its bitterest, the pattern is very clear to me. I am the youngest and I am the most junior. This is expected. However, I am also performing the role that my seniors should be, but do/will not. There is no ego here. I know I am not a software messiah but I do my best.

Is this age discrimination or simply a bottleneck arising from an ageing population?
How can I position myself properly in this environment?

Clarification #1 - I have asked for the promotion and I received a good salary increase but not the title. While my manager was enthusiastic about my request (and I try and keep that conversation open in bi-annual reviews) the title was denied due to something behind the scenes that I do not understand.

Clarification #2 - This is not a source of unhappiness for me and I do feel highly valued by management. As some commenters have pointed out, the job title is only a personal goal and is not that important. I see it as another challenge to conquer. It is occasionally vexing, as at times I feel that I lack the authority to make positive changes. That may be unrelated but it feeds into my desire to establish what the culture is, and how to move within it.

  • 16
    I feel like a brat now that I've written this down.
    – Gusdor
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 9:24
  • 4
    don't beat yourself up about it. Sounds like a frustrating situation, and you have given a very levelheaded view of it.
    – user45590
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 9:36
  • 7
    VTC since we can't judge your chances of promotion at a particular employer nor tell you what your career path should/will look like. I will tell you to drop your obsession over job titles as no one with any sense cares about them. They mean drastically different things at different companies and what's important is the work you're doing, the responsibility you're given and the salary you're getting for it. That's what you should be focusing on and if your current employer can give you that but just has a thing about calling you a Senior Engineer then that's still a great employer.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 10:20
  • 4
    I disagree about the job title being unimportant. It's a fact of life that companies judge your value based on your current position. If you walk into a company with no work history, they will not hire you as a technical lead. I've been turned down for a position because I refused to disclose my current salary, stating that I wanted to be paid based on my abilities not based on my history where I may have been over/underpaid. I would not state senior developer, I'd just put 'developer' and if asked say everyone's a developer, but you have enough experience to be senior developer so shrug.
    – NibblyPig
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 11:15
  • 3
    even the software tester - this might well be your answer. You seem to think they are automatically inferior to you which is just entirely wrong. It's probably unrelated, but you've just very passively offended me.
    – XtrmJosh
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 11:59

7 Answers 7


My answer will provide another perspective that can be summarized as "Do not care about the title"

If you are currently doing a Senior Engineer job, you can put a [check] mark on it and in a few years, look at a Software Team Lead job directly elsewhere.

There are two important points that should be noted :

  • Job titles are internal to a company, and quite often not relevant to the outside. In some companies, there are no "senior engineer", while on some others you are "senior engineer" after 3 years (or less). As a recruiter, I wouldn't see a big difference between your first 3 jobs.
  • The order you provided in your career plan might be relevant to you, but it is personal. You don't need to have been a "Software Engineer" or a "Software Team Lead" to be a System Architect. (Of course, the skills you learn as a Software Engineer are useful, and the career plan makes sense, but there are many other paths to become a System Architect)

Based on those considerations, my main advice is to focus on the skills you learn and the responsibilities you gets, rather than job titles, because those would have more impact in getting your next job (at least outside your company).

  • Confirming that position names are internal, I was given the position once "Service Specialist", but I was doing local country manager tasks...which is honestly quite different and just includes the other tasks of other position. So I took courage and marked in CV as "Local technical lead - Service Specialist". If they wish to check, it is covered. It was a "2 men army", so I did not claim anything otherwise not true.
    – Sonic
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 13:43

Is this age discrimination or simply a bottleneck arising from an ageing population?

I see nothing here that indicates age discrimination. You may be experiencing "the most junior member of the team" discrimination on a team that is going through some layoffs and reorgs. Changing jobs could cure that.

I've interviewed and been offered the salary I want, the title I want (Senior Engineer) and the pension I want but for whatever reason, its never worked out.

That seems to indicate there's some other "whatever reason" at work here.

Clarification #1 - I have asked for the promotion and I received a good salary increase but not the title. While my manager was enthusiastic about my request (and I try and keep that conversation open in bi-annual reviews) the title was denied due to something behind the scenes that I do not understand.

You should not assume "age discrimination" is the cause here. Talk to your boss and seek understanding for the part that isn't clear.

If you simply jump to the conclusion that you are being discriminated against, and unless you wish to pursue legal remedies, then you are just portraying yourself as a victim. You may be thinking "woe is me, I'm the victim and I can't do anything about it". That isn't a helpful attitude, as it isn't actionable.

Instead, find out what the truth is here, and decide to act on it.

If your boss was enthusiastic, then talk with him and get to the bottom of the issue. "What do I need to do to get a promotion here?" is a good way to start the conversation.

  • 2
    Thanks for your input Joe. I don't like to make assumptions, especially ones this serious (hence the question) but it is an avenue that kept nagging at my mind.
    – Gusdor
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 10:25
  • @Gusdor - and, to address the 'discrimination' part directly, in the US at least, it isn't age discrimination (from a law perspective) unless you are over 40.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 13:16
  • 2
    @JonCuster - the question is tagged "united-kingdom", not US. Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 14:43

I hate to break it to you, but you've maxed out in your current job. Your boss will have a structure of seniors, juniors, etc. Promoting you will be a lot of work for them.

Honestly, with the state of the market down here (Pompey bro), you should look at contracting for a couple of years. It will boost your CV and you'll rake in very decent money.

If that's not your bag, start looking for that next step in the permanent world somewhere new. If your boss really wants to keep you, they'll do what it takes. Otherwise, you can move onwards and upwards with no hard feelings.

  • 6
    Having everybody but one on the team carry the title "senior" does not suggest they have a logical structure to which they are slavishly adhering.
    – user45590
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 9:51
  • 1
    @dan1111 It doesn't have to be logical, but once someone writes it down it becomes THE structure (encountered this a few times)
    – JohnHC
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 9:52
  • 1
    Perhaps, but it isn't clear that the OP has actually directly said "I want the title senior engineer" and been turned down.
    – user45590
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 9:55
  • 1
    @dan1111 that is almost the case. I asked and was told it was appropriate but was denied because of some sort of politics. I shall add it to the question.
    – Gusdor
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 10:13
  • 1
    @Pakk Pompey is local slang for Portsmouth. OP is from the next city over.
    – JohnHC
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 13:54

I have been in this role for 3 years and have survived 2 rounds of redundancy and 2 large departmental reorganizations.

This seems to be a deal breaker. You want to transfer into a lead position later. Lead positions are available when

  • an organization grows
  • somebody get fired or quits
  • somebody dies

Obviously, you want to watch out for option #1, the other two are rare and just random. But your organization has had 2 rounds of redundancy in the last 3 years. Laying off people is the opposite of growing. Your company seems to be shrinking. There are no open leadership positions in shrinking organisations. If you want one, you will have to look for another company.

  • 2
    This answer focuses on they key issue. @Gusdor You haven't been promoted because they've been busy trimming down the company. However the upcoming growth you mentioned is basically your ticket. If they're looking to fill a senior level role, you should be a shoe-in. If they're adding a bunch of junior-level devs, you'll most certainly be put in charge of some of them and probably given a senior title to boot.
    – thanby
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 14:20
  • "somebody get fired or quits" is something rare? I've seen far more open positions due to turnover than due to new job creation.
    – gvo
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 8:37
  • Fun story, I gave it a year and resigned (and took a senior position elsewhere) as the 'team' was gutted by budget cuts. The organisation is now experiencing growth again and asked me back as a team lead. I declined the offer - it was a little heartbreaking.
    – Gusdor
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 9:42

Realistically you have two options, I'd probably go with the second but the first is the most obvious.

1) Find another job.

2) Tell them you want the title Senior Engineer. You have been there long enough to have proven you deserve it. I pretty much just demanded anything I thought I was entitled to. If I didn't get it I moved on. But with one exception they just gave it to keep me happy because I'm a productive and valuable employee. I never cared what others in the team made or were called, and any arguments involving them I just discounted as irrelevant. I knew what I wanted and I demanded it, I wasn't irreplaceable in most cases, but I would be extremely difficult to replace. The one time they didn't give it I walked out the door and some of their major clients followed me a few weeks later.

You're at an advantage in a negotiation if you're not compromising and catch the other chap off guard, because it's not really a negotiation, they're lost wondering what to do. By far the easiest scenario for them if they can afford it is just to give in and pretend they were going to do that anyway. When you really want something and it's critical to your future, you don't negotiate, you take it. Otherwise you just get put off with excuses.

  • 1
    I agree that OP needs to accept there are two options, and to take one. I would take option 1 - at least see what you can get. If it's what you want, leave. If it's not good enough to leave, then stay. And if you stay, you can bluff/demand a title change. Either way, option 1 should be the same regardless: Have some interviews.
    – NibblyPig
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 11:13
  • @SLC option 1 is problematic in that the OP has tried already with no luck, jobs aren't that easy to find sometimes and it's a whole new ballgame with unknown people in an unknown environment. While he is already doing well where he is apart from one issue. I agree there is no harm in continuing to try it though.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 11:18
  • This is only worth doing if OP is ready to walk away if they don't budge. Could also be that they budge but OP will then be on the "disloyal list" and get canned at the earliest next convenience.
    – Magisch
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 11:22
  • @Magisch yep, it's a risk and takes balls, but most things that get you ahead in life do. OP is already job hunting.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 12:00

Have a conversation with your boss about how you feel your title and official role does not reflect what you are actually doing.

From your description, it's clear that you have a key role on the team, even with leadership in some areas, and your official position should reflect that.

This is not something where you should need to interview for a new position; it is about accurately describing your current position. (If your boss suggests you interview for a new role as a way of changing your job description, you should certainly go for it; but that's not where I would start the conversation).

Is your boss aware that the title "senior engineer" is important to you, and you'd be happy with the same pay but a more accurate title? If not, make sure they know this. Because this should be a relatively easy thing for them to do, compared to, say, giving you a big raise. They would be crazy not to make it happen if you are essential to the team.

Update: you asked for a raise and title change and you got the raise. But was the boss aware the title is very important to you? They may have assumed that the raise was the main thing you cared about. So I would reiterate this request.

Ultimately, you may need to look elsewhere to have your skills truly recognized.

The pattern so far, of everyone being senior but you, suggests this is not a workplace that rewards talent appropriately. If your manager thinks that you are working at a senior level, they ought to be pro-actively trying to make your role reflect that.

Ultimately, if you want to progress you may need to move elsewhere. But try to at least get the senior engineer title, if only to support that job search.


It's natural to view these things on a personal level - but managers have to view any promotion in context; what will other employees think of this promotion?

If you're working at a place where seniority is valued, then formally promoting someone 10 years younger than the average could have pretty wide-reaching consequences.

It seems you are paid adequately and are assigned relevant tasks. In that situation, I would personally not care about the title.

If this really is a deal-breaker for you, since you seem to be a valued employee, you could try to strong-arm them into giving you what you want, but that might jeopardize what you already have. To me, the possible upside is not worth the potential downside.

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