Death by Experience

Published on June 4, 2024, filed under (RSS feed for all categories).

Hiring solely experienced staff sounds like a great idea: You get talent that knows their stuff to be as sure as you can to hit the ground running and instantly move the needle (colloquialisms courtesy of our industry).

I’ve seen hiring philosophies that go as far as only and exclusively hiring senior personnel, specifically senior developers.

That sounds fantastic—until you see it hit the ceiling.

Why this happens isn’t hard to anticipate (though I don’t want to sound smart, I’ve only realized this in hindsight):

First, making experience and seniority a must limits one factor of diversity. There are no juniors, there are no mediors [sic], there are only seniors. Diversity is limited further, when other factors, like gender, aren’t distributed equally in each experience bracket, either.

Second, it limits career opportunities. Everyone being at roughly the same level means everyone competes for the same and usually more scarce positions a level above. There are also fewer people to mentor or coach, to manage and lead, and therefore less room to grow on the people side.

The diversity factor doesn’t only seem underestimated but often missed: Varying levels of experience and seniority can do a lot for organizational culture as well as for creativity and innovation. (The training of juniors is also a way for organizations to contribute to and take responsibility for the good of the respective fields.)

The career opportunity factor introduces a latent push towards competition, rather than cooperation. It can be managed to a degree, but the more experience is being made a factor and the more narrow the experience band gets, the less this really is manageable.

In the end, consistently hiring by experience leads to what I’d call death by experience—the accumulated wealth of experience leads to lack of diversity and growth opportunities, which negatively affects company culture, which together amplifies attrition, which leads not to death of the company, but of teams, which fuels more negative effects on culture.

❧ Hiring only juniors is a known anti-pattern—we save on the salary side, but pay for the lack of experience. But hiring only seniors is an anti-pattern, too—there is something like too much of a good thing.

Was this useful or interesting? Share (toot) this post, or maybe treat me to a coffee. Thanks!

About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. Thank you!