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Lead developer vs. senior developer: Does the title matter?

Lead developer vs. senior developer: Does the title matter?

Skilled software development teams can help companies produce quality programs and increase productivity and efficiency. However, many project managers, chief technology officers (CTOs), startup founders, and other professionals wonder how lead developers and senior developers differ. In this article, you can learn more about a lead developer versus senior developer and their similarities and differences.

What is a lead developer?

Lead developers guide projects and manage software development teams. They often have extensive industry knowledge and skills that qualify them to communicate with people outside their department and mentor team members. Even though they're experts on the practical and technical aspects of projects, they mostly handle management responsibilities. Typical duties of professionals in the role can include:

  • Building applications
  • Ensuring that team members follow project quality rules and standards
  • Communicating client specifications to software developers
  • Troubleshooting and debugging software
  • Making sure that team members meet deadlines
  • Helping team members plan a course of action to complete tasks
  • Giving feedback
  • Training junior developers
  • Marketing and sales related to software development
  • Communicating with CEOs, CTOs, and other leaders

What is a senior developer?

Like lead developers, senior developers have plenty of experience and knowledge. They're usually the most experienced software engineer working on a project. Senior developers act as mentors for less experienced developers, helping with coding questions and meeting client requirements. However, they spend most of their time working with a software development team instead of managing one. While the exact responsibilities of senior developers can vary depending on the company and the specific project requirements, these professionals often handle:

  • Using programming languages to write code for specific projects
  • Adding new software functions for clients
  • Creating reports for lead developers and other members of management
  • Collaborating with colleagues
  • Delegating tasks to team members

Lead developer vs. senior developer

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects software development roles to increase by 22% by 2030. Discover some of the areas in workplaces where lead developers and senior developers differ in education, training, and responsibilities:


Lead developers usually focus more on management and business operations. They often communicate with heads of other departments and clients. Senior developers help manage software development teams but often don't have formal management training. They work more as technical experts, providing guidance and support to team members.


Lead developers and senior developers need high-level technical and programming skills to offer guidance and support to their teams.

For lead developers, communication is more critical because they often need to speak with clients and relay their requests to the rest of the team. They also promote new services and technical solutions to clients and give feedback about projects to development teams. Lead developers use project management skills more often to ensure that projects meet clients' expectations.

Senior developers need interpersonal skills too, but they can be more casual since they don't speak with clients as often. Senior developers require more technical, problem-solving skills as well. These professionals handle all the programming tasks that other, less experienced developers can't complete alone. As part of their duties, senior developers regularly check other employees' work for bugs or mistakes. They should fully understand the technologies that a company offers and be able to use a variety of programming languages. Useful languages for both roles can include:

  • Java
  • Javascript
  • CSS
  • Agile
  • C#
  • SQL
  • Extensible markup language (XML)
  • Visual Basic
  • .Net framework
  • HTML

Choosing a software engineering specialty can help you improve your credentials and upload a more appealing resume to potential employers.

“Lead developers and senior developers need high-level technical and programming skills to offer guidance and support to their teams.”


Lead developers and senior developers both need the ability to perform high-level coding. Most lead and senior developers have a bachelor's degree in computer science, math, software engineering, physics, or a related field. Some lead developers also have a master's degree or an MBA. Lead developers also need extensive general and project management training.

A lead developer can usually function as a senior developer when needed. For example, a lead developer could take care of some of a senior developer's responsibilities during vacations. However, a senior developer may require additional management training before working as a lead developer. Professionals who want to be senior developers should focus on improving their technical and programming skills. Those who wish to become lead developers need a variety of business-related skills. In many companies, the lead developer supervises one or more senior developers. Most lead and senior developers have previous software development or software engineering experience.


In the United States, a lead developer makes an average of $39.10 per hour or $81,500 per year. A senior developer makes an average of $58.20 per hour or $121,000 per year. Most people who become lead or senior developers start as software developers. This job is one of the highest-paying entry-level occupations in the United States.

Career opportunities

The career opportunities for lead developers and senior developers can often differ. Lead developers usually have leadership positions only for specific projects. Their titles disappear after the team finishes the project. Senior developers have more permanent positions and can work on many projects. If they want to avoid managerial responsibilities, they can apply for jobs at large companies that often work on advanced projects. Senior developers can sometimes work as lead developers on specific projects. However, they usually possess more software skills than lead developers, who spend most of their time on management.

Some employers may prefer to hire people who have lead developer experience. They can perform a variety of roles, and they have leadership experience. They also tend to have more software engineering and project management experience than senior developers. However, senior developers sometimes earn more money than lead developers because their positions require more technical expertise. Even though they may have more advanced skills, lead developers usually supervise them.

People who enjoy management and more practical programming tasks sometimes switch between lead and senior development roles, depending on a company's needs. Those who want to avoid software development can become lead developers and manage others instead of writing code themselves. With CareerBuilder, you can learn more about software development and become a lead or senior developer. These professionals are essential for many different types of businesses and organizations. Get started on your career to becoming a lead developer or senior developer by uploading your resume to CareerBuilder.

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