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What is the Ideal Junior to Senior Developer Ratio? And How to Get There?

Building A Team
Large Number Of Reports
Internal Communication
Juniors

10 July, 2019

Cliff White

Cliff White

Chief Technology Officer at Accellion

Cliff White, Chief Technology Officer at Accellion, shares his views on the ideal junior and senior developer ratio and discusses how to achieve the right balance by aiming for a pyramidal team structure.

Problem

Building a balanced development team takes a lot of time and consideration. When stuck with a load of juniors you may jump to the conclusion that adding a few more senior developers is all it takes. The prevalent thinking is that a team balance can be achieved by finding the right ratio between junior and senior developers. Is there a magic number that embodies this balance and makes a team excel? Once you embark on the quest for a perfect ratio you will learn that there is more to than just simple addition.

Actions taken

When conceiving your team structure you should shoot for a pyramid consisting of a few senior developers, a layer of mid-level ones and lots of juniors. A pyramidal structure ensures the right proportion between these three layers. Make sure that you have mixed in mid-level developers with the junior and senior developers. This middle layer of developers should take the pressure off the senior engineers. This middle layer should be occupied by developers with five to seven years of experience who are able to offload the heavy-lifting grind. To understand which exact proportion works best for your company, consult the metrics. We relied on metrics to identify which group of developers created the most bugs. Clearly, that very group would need more oversight, i.e. more senior people around. However, depending on the problem, mid-level developers can also handle these issues and be an immense support to junior developers. We also used Jira which lets you track hours. By tracking working hours we were not to judge anyone but were instead interested in a detailed breakdown on how time is being spent. This helped to allocate resources more effectively and do the necessary restructuring. Explore other, less customary, options like having a senior who is a technical lead and a project manager who coordinates the project from the outside. If there are not enough senior people around, juniors tend to stagnate over the course of time. To avoid that, you should nurture mutual support and encourage them to help each other.

Lessons learned

  • A development team should resemble a pyramid. Ideally, it would be composed of three juniors per mid-level person and four mid-levels per senior -- all together that will make twelve juniors, four mid-levels and one senior in one team.
  • However, don't be afraid to adjust the ideal structure to your actual needs and don't be afraid to seek out for less conventional solutions. Trust the metrics, and let the numbers speak.
  • Mid-level developers are an essential part of a well-balanced team. They are an irreplaceable ingredient and an ideal choice for an organization restrained by budget concerns.
  • Juniors may hit a progression plateau for a myriad of reasons. An insufficient number of seniors to offer guidance and cultivate camaraderie may be one of these reasons. Instead of solely relying on seniors, a mix of juniors with different backgrounds and experiences can encourage an inspiring exchange and lead to individual improvement. .

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