CEO at Relevant

Your Quick Guide to Hiring a Principal Software Engineer in 2022

August 25, 2021

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The deficit of IT talents is a much bigger problem than you thought.

Today, the demand for software engineers is at its all-time high, about 63% of senior executives cite talent shortage as a growing concern. To keep up, you not only need to hire a principal software engineer, but do your best to retain them as well. 

This is critical, considering that over 60% of CIOs report talent deficit, which is a major threat to companies’ reputation and competitiveness.

To help you stay ahead of the game, we have come up with a guide to hiring a principal software engineer in 2021. We’ll guide you through the hiring process, so you know how to find candidates with the best principal software engineer skills for your projects.

After reading this article, you will have a clear understanding of:

  • what principal software engineers do
  • the current state of the software engineer market
  • why you should hire principal developers
  • and how you can hire them right

Software engineers: The current market’s state

The demand for software products continues to be on the rise. Most companies now need apps or custom web development services to keep up with the latest trends and ensure an excellent customer experience. 

According to the 2020 State of Software Engineering report, the need for virtual reality and augmented reality skills rose by 1 400% last year alone. 

Within the same one-year period, the demand for blockchain solutions grew by 517%, while the demand for back-end and front-end developers increased by 17%. 

This growth can be attributed to the need for innovative solutions and the increasing number of products that require software programs. 

It used to be big tech companies that actively hired IT specialists, but nowadays, retailers and financial institutions are chasing for IT talent as well. Recent studies also show a significant rise in the average salary for a top principal software engineer: by 3% in New York, 5% in the SF Bay Area, 6% in London, and 7% in Toronto. 

These numbers are expected to grow regardless of the global economic downturn and an overall drop in hiring demand due to COVID-19.

According to salary.com, the average Principal Software Engineer salary in the US is $157,995 as of May 2021.

According to salary.com, the average Principal Software Engineer salary in the US is $157,995 as of May 2021.

The site also mentions the typical salary range, which is between $143,420 and $173, 857. The range is due to several reasons, including education level, additional skills, certifications, and professional experience. 

When it comes to skills, Redux.js is the highest in-demand skill for software engineers, landing them 2.9 times more interview requests than the market average. 

Engineers with AWS, Google Cloud, and React.js skills received 2.7 more interview requests. And Scala and Go engineers get nearly 2.3 times more requests than the market average.

However, it is not all about the technologies. Experience matters, like in any other field. The more qualified software engineer you hire, the better services you will get.

What are the software engineering levels?

In this section, you will find out some useful information about the standard software engineering levels, so you can understand the role of a principal developer better. 

This software engineer level comparison is based on the standards that most prominent tech companies use.

The levels are as follows: 

Level 1: Software Engineer

This title is sometimes referred to as Junior Software Engineer. At this level, the programmers receive assignments from senior members of the team.

The general flow of work is like this: Top-level engineers find problems, they pass to middle-level engineers who are supposed to look for solutions. When a solution is found, level 1 software engineers begin to code.

These specialists’ remuneration varies, but usually, junior software engineers in the US earn an average of $61 908 per year.

Level 2: Senior Engineer

This level is usually offered to a software engineer who has three or more years of experience. The expectations here are higher than those of a junior engineer, but the senior engineer will still take orders from management to work on solutions. 

They are also expected to guide junior engineers in tackling their tasks. In the US, senior engineers earn $119 126 per year on average.

Level 3: Staff Engineer

This position is usually given to individuals with six or more years of professional experience. At this level, one is officially a part of the management team. 

A staff engineer usually gets orders from higher management, finds a solution, and passes it down to the engineers working on the code. 

They have to make sure that the coding team develops a robust solution for the problem at hand. Staff software engineers earn around $143 178 per year in the United States.

Level 4: Principal Engineer

There’s usually considerable confusion between senior engineer vs principal engineer. However, it’s important to note that this level is a step higher into management. 

At this position, more focus is directed on the company as a whole. While other tech specialists are responsible for providing solutions to the existing problems, a principal engineer defines these problems in the first place. 

At US tech companies, the principal software engineer salary is currently at an average of $157 704 per year.

Level 5: Distinguished Engineer / Fellow

Now, these are the guys at the top. Their influence is well known and felt by the whole company and usually throughout the entire industry. 

Distinguished engineers have years and years of experience developing, launching, and maintaining numerous successful projects. According to Salary.com, they earn an average of $205 160 per year in the US.

Software engineer career levels
Source: levels.fyi

Principal Software Engineer: What is this role all about

A Principal Software Engineer is generally responsible for all the technical so carry out strategies to enhance integration and efficiency, providing technical guidance to software development teams whenever needed. 

They must develop, document, and regulate systems to resolve problems identified through testing so that the software can meet end-user needs. 

Principal software engineers also carry out strategies to enhance integration and efficiency, providing technical guidance to software development teams whenever needed. 

So, when hiring a principal software engineer, consider someone who possesses a clear understanding of architecture and design elements that go far beyond the general technical area of expertise. 

If your company is flexible enough to get remote principal software developers, you may also hire remote developers who will get the job done just as fine.

To help you decide between types of top-level software engineers to hire, here are some helpful side by side comparisons:

  • Software Engineer vs. Architect
    These two work together to achieve a set goal. A principal software architect generates a plan with provisions for different businesses and technical requirements. 
    A Software Engineer takes it from here and reads the plan or design created by a software architect, and implements it in the most suitable language of choice.
  • Principal software engineer vs. Senior software engineer 
    A principal software engineer ranks higher than a senior software engineer and usually has more years of experience and expertise in the field. 
    A principal software engineer is more of a managerial position, and the latter is mainly a technical one, usually without any managerial responsibilities.

Principal Software Engineer responsibilities

When hiring a principal developer for your company, you need to have a clear picture of what the position’s responsibilities are. So what do these specialists do?

  • design, code, and debug software
  • maintain and upgrade existing products
  • improve the performance of software
  • train other developers
  • recommend new technologies
  • manage the technical aspects of projects
  • explore software-related complaints and make necessary improvements

Here are some specific examples of principal software engineers duties:

  • managing and fixing bugs with the JIRA bug tracking app
  • developing Master/Content pages using HTML and CSS for consistent layouts from screen mock-ups
  • designing modules for cross hardware integration using XML, JMS, HTTP, JAXP, and SSL technologies

How to hire a Principal Software Engineer

Hiring can be a tedious process. This is mostly due to a lack of insider knowledge on hiring the particular talent a business is in search of. 

There are also challenges to be expected when going into the market in search of the individual who will seamlessly fit into your goals and vision. 

However, all that should be a thing of the past as we will now address the most pressing issues and even provide you with a readily available, easy hiring opportunity. 

So, what are the hiring challenges, and how can you address them?

What are the challenges of hiring senior developers?

One of the biggest challenges in the tech industry is hiring an individual with excellent principal software engineer skills. 

A principal developer doesn’t click the job search icon looking for vacancies to find their next job. Instead, it’s usually through referrals, so they are mostly off-market. 

The increase in tech graduates in the past years should be expected to offset this, but for now, 86% of job recruiters still have difficulties obtaining the right individuals with the talent and skills they require. 

As if not enough, many businesses are also facing the challenge of high recruitment costs. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, it costs recruiters an average of $7,645 to hire in a company of fewer than 500 people. 

Even with the finances and hiring expertise, sometimes the process can take up to 4 months to find the ideal candidate. You may ask why so long?

The reason is highlighted in a study by the US Bureau of Labour which revealed that there are now 1.4 million job listings for senior developers but only 400 000 graduates to fill in. 

This causes the few available graduates to demand high salaries because they know there is a shortage of developers, and competitor companies will be offering higher wages to lure them.

General tips

Hiring a principal software engineer can be a daunting task. Here are some tips on how your hiring process can be less of a hassle and attractive to potential candidates:

  • Analyze your every step
    Consider the metrics because they help you evaluate how effective the recruiting process is. 
    Check the conversion of job opening applications and look for bottlenecks. For example, it might not be proper to ask a principal software engineer to finish his interview process with a test assignment.
  • Check out the trends
    Always keep yourself and your business up to date with the current market trends. For example, you need to know how much is being offered for this position by other companies out there.
  • Evaluate the soft skills
    Often when recruiting, managers focus only the technical skills without considering other characteristics. Aside from technical qualifications, look for individuals with enthusiasm, relational smarts, and some humility to collaborate well with other team members.
  • Use the proper hiring channels
    Find the best recruiting channel. You can try LinkedIn and Telegram when it comes to recruiting individuals for the principal engineer role. 
tips on hiring a principal software engineer

Principal Software Engineer’s job description: Example

Here’s a job description example that can help you find what you are looking for:

We would like to hire an experienced principal software engineer to maintain and upgrade all our existing software. 

The responsibilities will include recommending adjustments to resolve software issues, improving the functionality of existing software, and ensuring that the design, application, and maintenance of software meets the company’s quality standards. 

You should also be able to mentor and guide other engineers in your team.

Skills and requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree in computer science/ computer engineering or related field
  • Strong analytical skills
  • Experience in high-level programming languages, like Java
  • Good communication skills
  • Excellent leadership skills
  • Proven experience in software development methodologies
  • Proven experience in building complex web systems

Principal software engineer interview questions

Here are some questions you can ask a principal developer on the job interview:

  • Which programming languages have you used before, and what are your top two programming languages? 
  • How comfortable are you in a start-up environment, or would you prefer working in an already established company? 
  • Can you explain the app architecture where you last worked and the reasoning behind the choices made?
  • What’s the most important thing to look for or check when reviewing another team member’s code? 
  • What do you consider as principles of good software engineering? Can you share some basic principles people should follow? 
  • Why should we hire you for the principal software engineer position?
  • If required, how would you go about designing scalable applications? Could you walk us through your process?
  • Do you think you have the qualities of a good principal software engineer? 
  • Why do you want to work with us?
  • Do you have any questions to ask us?
5 Principal Software Engineer Interview Questions

How to hire a Principal Software Engineer with no hassle

Hiring a principal software engineer can be an arduous task with many challenges, but it does not have to be. 

Now you are equipped with more than just a guide on hiring the best talent and a platform with readily available, affordable, and effective IT professionals at Relevant.

You probably know that there several ways of hiring principal software engineers. For instance, through various platforms, recruitment agencies, and IT companies. IT firms have so far proved to be the most convenient option.

We at Relevant software have been helping businesses assemble their teams for over seven years. With us, you can find tech specialists with the proper expertise and skills. 

Whether you want to hire a mobile app developer, a principal software engineer, a tester, or an AI expert, Relevant Software is your reliable one-stop solution. 

Also, we can help you to set up a whole team in record time and within your budget. 


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