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Senior Engineer Fatigue

Senior Engineer Fatigue

I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then
— Alice, Lewis Carroll

As you move deeper into your engineering career, a peculiar phenomenon starts to set in — a phase I like to call the onset of "Senior Wisdom".

It's the juncture where your career trajectory pivots from a steep upward learning curve to a more nuanced expansion either vertically into leadership or horizontally across technologies. But alongside this wisdom comes a less discussed but equally important companion: "Senior Fatigue".

Senior Wisdom/Fatigue

The Paradox of Slowing Down to Speed Up

Senior Fatigue is characterized not by a decline in productivity but by a deliberate deceleration. The vibrant energy of younger engineers, bursting with rapid pull requests and overflowing with design documents, starts to give way to a more measured pace. At this stage, seniors might send fewer pull requests or be quieter in meetings, but this isn't an indicator of lost productivity. Quite the opposite — seniors are often finding more efficient, impactful ways to contribute, leveraging their vast experience.

The seasoned engineer learns that sometimes the best code is the code you never wrote. They become adept at delegating tasks, capitalizing on the strengths of their colleagues, and asking the dreaded question, "But why?" — a question that often leads to the heart of what needs to be solved, avoiding unnecessary work and focusing on what truly adds value.

Imagine you sit, you spend a long time working on a PROBLEM, you think about a SOLUTION while using a TOOL. You go to an expert, and instead of telling about this tool, he asks you questions — you have to do everything over again — you are doing the wrong thing. Such an asshole.

I heard this question very often, and over time I joined the camp of those who ask it. And you don't have to ask it straight in the forehead, you can torture with leading "why" and "why", but the task is always the same — to get to the original statement of the problem, which is always quite understandable.

Efficiency Over Activity

With age comes the understanding that value isn't always created through hands-on keyboard activity. Seniors start recognizing the importance of strategic thinking over operational hustle. They might push for additional resources to avoid shouldering entire projects alone, advocate for robust discussions on alternatives in design docs to preempt 'why' questions, and ultimately, they guide their teams toward high-impact projects and away from potential time sinks.


This shift isn't about slowing down in the traditional sense — it's about optimizing effort to where it can make the most significant difference. It’s about being surgical with interventions rather than carpet-bombing problems with code.

The Question of Value and Relevance

A critical challenge for senior engineers is staying relevant in a field that evolves by the minute. The front-end frameworks and new technologies that were once crucial to keep up with can often seem like a relentless and somewhat Sisyphean task in later years. Seniors may opt out of this race not out of inability but from a strategic decision to focus on depth rather than breadth.

This does not mean seniors become obsolete; they simply shift their focus from being the first to adopt new technologies to being the best at selecting and implementing the right tools for the right job. Their value lies in their ability to foresee technical debt, prevent architectural blunders, and cultivate a culture of thoughtful, deliberate progress.


The Intangible Wisdom of Experience

There's an analogy often mentioned in driver safety training that resonates well with software development: "seasoned drivers are those who've survived incidents not because of sheer luck but because of their heightened sense of awareness and prediction". Similarly, seasoned engineers bring a layer of foresight and experience that can't be replicated by those who've never faced down a legacy codebase turning into spaghetti code or navigated through the treacherous waters of enterprise-level deployments without CI/CD.

This wisdom allows them to spot potential pitfalls and guide their teams away from them, much like how an experienced driver might slow down at an intersection, knowing that not all drivers on the road react the same way in emergencies.


Senior fatigue is, perhaps paradoxically, a sign of maturity in engineering. It's an indicator that you’re transitioning from doing everything to ensuring that everything that needs to be done gets done in the most effective way. As for the younger engineers looking to one day step into those shoes, value these moments of apparent slowdown—they're the unspoken lessons in how to endure and excel in an ever-demanding field.

If you find yourself questioning your pace or approach as a senior engineer, it might just be a sign that you’re adapting to this new phase of your career. It's not fatigue in the weary sense but an evolution towards a more refined, strategic role in your engineering journey. You're not doing less; you're doing differently, and most importantly, you're doing what matters.

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