Should I Hire a Junior or Senior Designer/Developer or an Agency? — Rise Marketing

This is a question that many marketing directors ask: Should I hire a junior or senior designer/developer, or should I got all-out and hire an agency instead? It’s understandable why marketing directors are confused about this. It’s not their job to get all the nuances of these important tech roles.

However, it’s our job to make sure you’re equipped with as much knowledge as possible to make the best decision among all three for your business. After you finish reading this blog post, you’ll be able to have an intelligent conversation with anybody about the pros and cons of these three important roles.

What a Junior Designer/Developer Is All About

A junior designer/developer will have fewer than two years of experience in any form of technology. It’s important to note that there can be a great deal of nuance to this title or distinction. In other words, just because someone’s a junior designer/developer doesn’t mean that they’re short on experience in everything.

Someone working on a laptop.

Consider this:

A designer/developer can be junior with regard to their HTML5 skills because it’s a relative newer technology. However, at the same time, they can be senior with regard to something like .NET.

That’s why it’s important to really inspect the qualifications of any junior you’re considering to hire.

Nonetheless, the word “junior” in this title really does refer to limitations elsewhere. For example, junior designers/developers aren’t expected to do things independently—they need supervision from more senior designers/developers. As a result, it’s likely safest to trust them mainly with the simplest tasks and projects. Being junior also means they’re not yet ready to interact with customers or gather requirements.

Of course, it goes without saying that you won’t have to pay them as much as a senior designer/developer.

If you’re still interested in hiring a junior designer/developer, then GoDaddy recommends the following criteria questions:

  • Is there a sufficiently large enough room for error in the project for which you want to hire the junior?
  • Are the projects I have in mind for the junior those that don’t need an in-depth level of industry know how?
  • Can I nurture the junior’s career and therefore set him up for continued career development and growth?

To be perfectly blunt, any time you even consider a junior, it should be because you believe that you can eventually turn them into an experienced senior, with the experience they’ll get at your company. Remember that there’s a remarkable cost benefit to growing a junior into a senior at your own company: You’ll save money over time because you won’t have to pay the cost premium associated with recruiting experienced senior designers/developers from the open market!

What a Senior Designer/Developer Is All About

On the other side of the experience spectrum is the senior designer/developer. This title represents the most seasoned and experienced veteran in their technology stack.

A discussion on Stack Exchange provides illuminating information about this senior position. In essence, these are the true stars of any team, as their knowhow and training is second-to-none. Here are some key attributes of senior designers/developers:

  • They tackle the hardest tasks (those which no one knows how to solve) along with design responsibilities
  • They can work independently since they have a proven track record of showing results
  • They have a mentoring role, and it’s expected of them to take junior designers/developers under their wing and guide them
  • They excel at troubleshooting due to their vast amount of experience (they’ve seen it all or much of it)
  • They’re great at delivering on time and working on tight deadlines
  • They’re familiar with different languages on the expert level
  • They’re discerning about adopting new development tools, but are open-minded enough to always consider them
  • They know the most about their company’s products and services

Based on this, it’s easy to see why it’s recommended that you put at least one senior in a leadership position on your team. If not, then there’s a high chance that your project will crash and burn without their seasoned expertise!

Two people working on laptops next to each other.

Developer Matt Briggs takes the definition of a senior a bit further by analyzing how they behave. In essence, their experience provides them with enough wisdom that they can save you a lot of trouble and hassle on any given project by avoiding obvious pitfalls. According to Matt, seniors:

  • Have failed a lot and have learned from said failures
  • Are intellectually honest in evaluating their own performance in terms of what’s worked and what hasn’t
  • Hate complexity and embrace simplicity
  • Play to their own strengths anytime it’s possible on a project
  • Apply theory only in terms of the specific context
  • Realize there’s no one-size-fits-all way of building software and so value flexibility in the process
  • Understand there’s a “tradeoff” in any process and try to identify it with regard to design frameworks, patterns, libraries and processes
  • Are keenly aware of how their clients and organizations function and what their values are
  • Will never pass the buck and always try to fix problems
  • Comprehend that their job involves so much more than just writing code
  • Always help their team improve since they know they can’t do everything by themselves

In the best case scenario, at your organization, your junior designer/developer will have grown into a senior designer/developer from all the experience they’ve accrued while working at your organization.

Junior vs. Senior

It can’t be stressed enough that, while the specific title in a designer/developer is always important, it doesn’t tell the entire story. For that, you need to look at it in context. Naturally, young, hungry and ambitious designers/developers right out of college or university are an asset, but so are the veterans who already have decades of experience in the industry.

JavaScript code.

The best course of action is not to hire based exclusively on stereotypes and expectations for each junior or senior title, but, rather, based on the constitution of your team and overall organization. Diversity (read: different points of view) is helpful to your product, service and brand.

Bonus Consideration: An Agency!

Hold on a second. There’s a third and final choice for you to mull over: going with an agency. An agency is an interesting choice because it instantly does away with many of the stark absolutes in either choosing a junior or a senior designer/developer. That’s because an agency tends to have a far more balanced offering of talent and services.

Think of it as combining the best of both worlds. An agency gives you access to both junior and senior designers/developers, which empowers you to see how well each scenario fits into your current company culture and organizational structure. Because of the greater choice of whom to work with, you also have access to more skillsets, as opposed to if you just chose either or.

The beauty of an agency is that it lets you go a la carte, if you will. You get access to only the people and their skillsets that you truly need in the moment. No more. No less.

People in a meeting.

From a bottom-line perspective, you also stand to save money because you’re not hiring anyone full-time. As a result, you don’t have to deal with the hassle of figuring out employee benefits since you won’t have a junior or senior working at your site as a regular employee. Because anyone you work with who comes from an agency isn’t a full-time employee, they’re also easier to cut ties with when a project is done or if the working relationship just isn’t the right fit.

Compare that to actually hiring a full-time junior or senior designer/developer. Even if things aren’t going smoothly at first, you’ll likely be forced to find ways to work around the issue due to all that you’ve invested (financially and time-wise) into the new hire.
So if you truly can’t decide between a junior or a senior, then an agency may really be the solution you’re looking for.

Do What Works Best for Your Organization

At the end of the day, you call the shots at your own organization. We’ve just provided you with everything there is to consider when choosing between a junior or senior designer/developer. Now comes the hard part—what do you decide?

If you’re still on the fence after reading this, then going with an agency may be the best fit. At least with an agency, you have the freedom and flexibility of correcting any mistakes quickly that you can’t do when you’ve just committed yourself to a full-time junior or senior hire.

Kahl Orr
Founder, Rise

Kahl is an entrepreneur, web developer, and the founder of Rise, a digital marketing agency that specializes in web design. Rise builds high-performing, custom websites and apps for some of the fastest-growing national brands.

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