Software Developer - Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 

As a software developer the best way to answer “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is, to be honest, optimistic, show you are keen to improve yourself and avoid generic cookie-cutter answers. Let your potential employer know you are someone who works to improve their skills and is willing to learn.

Software engineering changes so rapidly that it can be difficult to know where you want to be so far in the future. Technologies launch and evolve all the time, with different sub-niches of tech frequently opening up. Plotting your career can be hard at the best of times but having a longer horizon for your work goals will help you in the long term.

Let’s take a look at the best ways to answer “Where do you see yourself in five years” as a software developer. First, we will explore why companies ask the question in the first place, then cover some tips, and finally provide some example answers.

Why do tech companies ask Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

man and woman shaking hands at a desk

Tech companies ask software developers where they see themselves in five years because they want to know:

  1. If you think long term
  2. What your career aspirations are
  3. Whether your aspirations fit company goals
  4. If you are the master of your career

It is generally a great way to match their goals with yours. If they are looking for someone with a growth mindset looking to improve, it doesn’t make sense to employ someone happy to remain at the current level over the next five years. Similarly, some companies just want bodies in seats and are happy to have people who aren’t interested in moving up.

“Where do you see yourself in five years” ranks as one of the most dreaded interview questions but it’ll come up in some form or another. The timeframe and wording may differ but the desired outcome is the same.

You should definitely have a well-thought-out answer to this question. An inability to answer it well could be a make or break in a competitive interview. A lot of top-tier companies don’t want to put a lot of time and resources into training someone who doesn’t have the energy or desire to progress.

Keep in mind that you should ask a similar question when it’s your turn at the end of the interview. Working for a business is a two-way transaction and you may not enjoy working for a company based on their five-year plan. They want to entice you as much as you want their employment.

Tips for answering “where do you see yourself in five years?”

Interviews can be full of highs and lows especially in technical discussions where your knowledge may be slightly limited. Nailing the more business and personal-focused questions can help tip the scales in your favor even if your technical expertise is lacking. Companies want to employ people they can invest in and who are interested in bettering the business and themselves.

As a software developer the best tips for answering, where you see yourself in 5 years, include:

  1. Having a detailed answer
  2. Discussing future experiences
  3. Researching the company
  4. Showing flexibility
  5. Being personal
  6. Avoiding humor

Having a good answer also allows the interviewers to see how you'll fit in the business long term. A good cultural fit is essential to avoid being fired later on. Below we will explore each of the above tips in more detail and highlight different ways to improve your answer in an interview.

Having a detailed answer

It seems simple but you’d be surprised how many people falter at a question focused on their career over the next few years. While you don’t have to have everything mapped out perfectly, you need a detailed answer of what you expect to achieve and gain over the coming years.

Make sure to emphasize your ability to take on challenges and explore opportunities, you don’t want to be someone who waits for things to happen. It gives your potential employer an idea of your interests and aspirations and paints you as someone organized and serious about the role.

Of course, five years is a lifetime so things are open to change but having a good answer of where you want to be is always a good idea.

Discussing future experiences

Rather than taking narrow skills focus when answering this question, think of the type of things you’d like to be working on and the projects you’d like to manage. If you are looking to manage people, emphasize how you want to move into a tech lead or engineering manager role. On the other hand, if you are more focused on the technical aspects of your role, emphasize your desire to move into a principal engineer job.

You can also mention your previous experience and how you want to build on that or pivot onto something new because of the foundations it has given you.

Researching the company

When joining an organization as a developer it's a good idea to understand the different roles you can ascend to. For software engineers, you can find this information on sites like levels.fyi which outlines the major career moves at the big tech companies.

The benefit of doing this is that you can give a personalized response to each company you are interviewing for and it shows a level of intelligence. It shows you are interested in the company and have done your homework to discover the potential opportunities available to you.

Whether it's moving into an E6 role at Facebook or a senior SDE at Microsoft, highlighting you are aware of the path in front of you will come across well in the job interview.

Showing flexibility

Having a career plan shows potential employers you are serious and focused. But it is also important to demonstrate some level of flexibility in your forward-thinking. Things change and different opportunities arise, it's worth demonstrating you can happily handle change.

A good way to approach this is to discuss the skills and experiences you want to tackle over the next five years while acknowledging the different roles this could be achieved in. Setting your heart on one specific future role when answering these questions may come across like you aren't willing to work to the needs of the business.

Being personal

Try and give an answer that is meaningful to you. Bring your personal experience and future desires into the picture when answering. You want to let the interviewers know you are being realistic but have an ambition that is personal to your situation.

The opposite of this would be to give generic cookie-cutter answers that any candidate could muster up. Elaborating on the why is a good way to make your answers more personal.

Avoiding humor

There are parts of an interview where building rapport is important. You want to get on with your potential teammates and demonstrate they’ll enjoy working with you. It's definitely a positive to use humor in your favor in some stages of the discussion.

However, avoid using humor when answering where you see yourself in five years. Joke answers like 'sitting in your chair' or 'becoming the CEO' won't go down well. Remember the question is designed to see if you are serious about your career and think long term. Responding with a quick quip isn’t likely to go well here.

Possible answers to "Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Remember the point of this question is to outline long-term goals to your potential employer and show how working at this company will help you achieve that. Nailing this question shows the business you are determined and serious, about and allows them to properly consider how well you’d fit within the company.

Let’s take a look at some sample answers for questions around your long-term career plan, and different options for various approaches.

Seeking a management role

I want to contribute as much as I can to the business while working as a level 3 software engineer. However, once I have mastered all aspects of this role I see myself moving into a management role such as a tech lead or staff software engineer. I’m a leader and incredibly organized as I have demonstrated in previous roles.

Seeking a more technical role

In five years, I see myself as a successful software engineer who has benefited the business and achieved my technical goals. I enjoy new challenges and am eager to move up in the company into a specialized role where I can focus on the more technical problems we face and make a real difference.

Seeking more responsibilities

As a mid-level software developer, I see myself progressing into a senior role within five years and taking on more responsibility. Contributing to the team to affect large-scale change and improving the technical abilities of my teammates is something I aspire to do over the coming years.

No precise role in mind

While I don’t have an exact role in mind, over the next five years I want to be in a position where I can make a difference. At a technical level, this means helping my colleagues improve, and at a company level, it means taking on more responsibility in larger projects.Whichever role I progress into, I will aim to keep challenging myself and to help the company achieve our short and long-term goals.

Gain more experience

As a junior developer, my primary goal over the next five years is to improve my technical ability and gain experience working on large-scale projects. I want to deliver top-quality code while helping my team to improve our existing processes. As my experience grows, I hope to expand my responsibilities and take on more prominent roles within projects.

Contribute to the industry

Software developmen} changes rapidly and over the next five years, I want to contribute in a meaningful way to the sector. This business plays a crucial role in shaping industry trends and I hope to be at the forefront of that effort once I’ve built the necessary skills.

Conclusion

To answer where do you see yourself in 5 years as a software developer be detailed, personal, optimistic, and make sure to use the research you have done on the business in your favor. It can be daunting to look that far ahead in your career but having a solid answer to forward-looking career questions can set you apart in the interview.

Remember that nobody is going to plan your career for you. But having a good answer to where you’ll be in five years can help you put things in motion.

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