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I keep talking to engineers who are antsy to get to senior and beyond, frustrated that it is taking so long. And I've encountered one very, very widespread blind spot around leveling

Which is ...✨not every opportunity exists✨at every company✨at every time.✨
I mean ok; if you're a junior eng you should be able to get to intermediate, pretty much anywhere. But it gets progressively trickier after that.

Even just trying to go from intermediate to senior can get interesting. How many other intermediate or senior engineers are there?
Typically you will get promoted to the next level after you have already been performing at it for six months or the span of a review period or two. So how many other people also require promo-worthy, solidly-senior projects?

Does your ladder include mentoring/leading others?
...and if so, are there enough lower-level folks to go around? In your general part of the stack? Have you sufficiently wrapped up your last project to move on?

What are the *business* needs this interval? What are our customers' needs (you know, that reason we're all here 🙃)?
It gets even worse if you happen to work in a niche, or a specialty area crammed with super-senior, world-famous high leveled folks.

(I mean, it's fantastic from the perspective of getting to learn from the best and level up at *knowledge* really fast. Worse for leveling, tho.)
Most ladders contain some idea of scope, going up from team, to cross-team, to eng org, to company, all the way up to "globally recognized expert".

_No_ company can make use of an engineering org stuffed with engineers whose projects must have "companywide (or global) impact"
You gotta understand that after folks get promoted to that shiny new level, they are expected to continue turning in work *at that level*. There's only so much of it to go around.

Of course, this is all assuming that your company takes leveling seriously. Most...really...don't.
It's tough to hold your ground when an engineer is complaining and dropping hints they may leave if they don't get that promotion soon. It's much easier to give in, make an exception, argue for rounding up.

That is not ultimately in your best interests, though. </3 Seriously.
There is a shitload of title inflation in the industry anyway. People are given the title "senior engineer" in less than 5 years, need I say more?

Once you let a little inflation into the system, it causes more trouble than it's worth. You *must* try to be fair and consistent.
A few more notes on levels, while we're at it. (maybe we should publish the honeycomb levels doc 🤔 it's adapted from facebook's, which descends from google's)

* Each level after senior (e5) gets ~an order of magnitude harder to achieve, and ~an order of magnitude fewer hold it.
* e5 is considered a "terminal level". less terrifying than it sounds; just means you do not *have* to advance beyond senior engineer

* whereas if you do not advance from e3->e4 within 2 years, and e4->e5 within 3 years, you are automatically put on a PiP (FB rule, not HC rule)
* we hire in to e5 as the highest level to start at, both because a) our interview process isn't designed to let us calibrate between senior vs super-senior or super-duper-senior, and b) we figure no one is able to have >e5 impact for the first 6 months or so anyway.
(These aren't by any means true everywhere, but they are common enough that I thought I'd mention. Engineers seem to have a very sparse mental model of how leveling works. I blame this in part on the fact that most places are entirely incoherent. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
So. I would urge you not to make most, if any, career decisions based on leveling, but I do get how frustrating it can be when you are in a situation that is clearly unfair, or if you do not see a clear path to move forward.

So here are a few strategic tips for leveling up.
(☝️psst☝️managers, note how demoralizing your "exceptions" can be when they create unfair circumstances. If you think no one will notice that you "rounded up" for one person, you are ohhhhhhh so very wrong. Remember what I said about "more trouble than it's worth"? ☝️☝️☝️)
1) Generalists level up faster than specialists.
2) When evaluating prospective roles, choose ones where your specialty is part of their mission, or at least key to its execution
3) Always ask to see the ladder when interviewing. If they hedge or fumble, don't take that job.
4) Talk to your manager about the job ladder. Talk to your skip level about levels too. Many managers will talk on and on and on about levels until you are utterly exhausted (and they're just getting started). It's annoying, but actually a strong sign of trustworthiness. <3
5) That said, don't take the ladder as a checklist or a thing to be pored over and obsessed on. It's an incomplete attempt at both shaping and reflecting relative impact. Focus on impact.

* (Ladders should be living documents that adapt and change with every review cycle.)
6) Is it easier to level up as a manager than as an engineer? Super common question, if unfortunately phrased and perceived. I answered here:
7) It is far easier to level up at fast-growing companies. When there is far more work than workers, and when everyone is getting dropped in the deep end to sink or swim, you level up fast. Don't underestimate what a stressful and awful experience this can be, though.
8) Many engineers get stuck on the bubble getting to senior because they are impatient and want a map. They just want someone to *tell them what to do*. Which is...the very opposite of what a senior engineer does. 🙃

Develop your judgment around what needs to be done, and do it.
9) Your relationship with your manager matters. So does your ability to communicate about the work you are doing, its difficulty, its unexpected challenges and triumphs, etc. This is called "managing up", and it is an actual skill which I am *terrible* at. So are most of you. 😉
10) TLDR, if leveling matters to you (and it should matter to everyone, at least a bit!), then look critically around for opportunities, and seek to maximize them.

Want to become an E6/E7? Probably don't join a startup that already has people functioning at those levels,
and many more nipping at their heels looking for the same opportunity.

This is obvious to us with the management track (if you want to go from M->Dir, don't join a startup that already has directors and managers who want to level up) but seemingly less obvious with engineering.
Most reasonable, non-desperate companies won't hire you directly into the next level up, on either manager or engineer track. (Yellow flag if they do.)

But it's perfectly reasonable to express your career objectives in the interview and make sure you're on the same wavelength.
Do they think this opportunity may open up? Can they see a path forward for you there, if all goes well? How many other people may already be eyeing that same path? Is there opportunity for more than one? On what timeframe? Who will decide, and how?

Etc. All fair game.
Engineers tend to find these conversations uncomfortable, and so they tend to avoid them because they don't want to make the hiring manager uncomfortable by being pushy.

Relax. Managers don't find this uncomfortable at all, it's their bread and butter. Ask away. ☺️
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