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With your example of an engineer who has a lot of experience (e.g. 6 years) on other similar technologies, yes I'd say many of those are senior engineers (specifically, the ones with the right intangibles). And I've seen these people join highly effective teams and do a great job -- getting above the productivity curve quickly. I wouldn't hesitate to consider those sorts of candidates at any team size. A green programmer, on the other hand, is a different story. I've also seen situations where trying to bring programmers up to speed who were green slowed down development and created a situation that no one was really happy with. So I'd recommend caution in that approach, but would start to consider it at around 3 pairs team size. -Bryan
Late to the party, but a few, somewhat random thoughts: I think the definition of "Senior Software Engineer" gets conflated a lot. Pairing at a good shop for 6 months might make you productive, but not Senior. Seniors engineers have been through multiple long-term projects and therefore have the experience from that to bring to the problem at hand. I agree with Luke that hiring green engineers is a tough sell when looking at runway. If hiring employee X will be net-negative to productivity for 3 months, neutral for 3 months, and positive after that, it's hard to make that call if you've got 1-1.5 years of cash in the bank. The question of whether they are building the right features is orthogonal -- but engineers with the most experience are also more likely to help the business understand the tradeoff of the different features they can build. Finally, I agree with Paul that there are available engineers, but startups are choosing not to hire them. This cuts directly to the value proposition of a green vs. senior engineer. Personally, I subscribe to the theory that a good Senior engineer is 5-10x more valuable than an "average" engineer over time. I think a lot of other engineers managers feel this implicitly as well. But here's the problem: Politically, we can't offer 5x salary for someone who is worth that much. An outsider would think it's crazy to pay a rank-and-file engineer even $200k. So, there are a effectively-infinite number of startups trying to make a bargain hire of an extremely valuable engineer at a price well below their value. (Although I hear there are now local startups offering in the $180s for Sr. Engineers now.) With such an imbalance, traditional hiring strategies breakdown, and even progressive HR policies get lost in the noise.
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Jan 31, 2011