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Individual Contributors

These titles describe seniority along four main axes: domain knowledge, teaching and mentoring, culture and leadership, and customer success. Most industry ladders focus almost entirely on the first of these four, and expect anyone showing signs of good mentoring or leadership to move directly into management. This approach often takes very capable, happy engineers and turns them into mediocre, unhappy managers. That's bad for everyone involved.

Associate Engineer

Management Equivalent: n/a

Domain Knowledge

Basic CS skills; some knowledge of coding in one or more languages, and limited experience with web, mobile, or data programming

Teaching and Mentoring

Able to present and discuss work with other engineers, and receptive to feedback and coaching from team

Culture and Leadership

Shows independent initiative and problem solving, and respects team and company values

Customer Success

Ships features with limited but measurable impact to customers and/or other teams

Engineer

Management Equivalent: n/a

Domain Knowledge

Capable in one or more core problem domains: e.g., web, mobile, data, or systems programming; familiar with OO design, testing, and core development tools; able to work independently on basic projects

Teaching and Mentoring

Provides detailed code reviews for teammates and helps document idioms and best practices; can help new hires and interns get up to speed with the team's style and existing code base

Culture and Leadership

Identifies quality and reliability issues in systems they maintain; seeks input from teammates and outside experts on systems and feature design; collaborates well with product, support, and other teams

Customer Success

Consistently delivers systems and features that provide significant value to customers and/or other teams; responds to escalated customer issues and incidents in a proactive, timely fashion

Senior Engineer

Management Equivalent: n/a

Domain Knowledge

Proficient with UA engineering stack and preferred tools/style; able to design interfaces and reusable components for their own team; understands scaling, reliability, and maintenance trade-offs as they occur in practice

Teaching and Mentoring

Consistently helps new hires and more junior engineers to "level up" and become more proficient over time; offers demos, talks, and recommendations to help their own team and others be more productive and ship better product

Culture and Leadership

Helps to continuously maintain and improve quality across the stack; performs regular interviews for positions on the same team, providing detailed and useful feedback; takes on significant share of oncall duties, 5Y review, and other "housekeeping" tasks

Customer Success

Understands customer needs and motivations; understands how engineering projects contribute to business goals

Lead Engineer

Management Equivalent: Manager

Domain Knowledge

Well-versed in multiple key product components; able to define and contribute to systems in multiple areas of the product; up to date on evolving standards, platform features, and critical vendor and community-provided technologies

Teaching and Mentoring

Defines, documents, and evolves best practices for development in their team's area of focus; shepherds and aids in development of new projects across the organization; provides training and mentoring for multiple team members

Culture and Leadership

Goes above and beyond basic requirements to support their own team and others; tackles hard debugging, incident response, and reverse-engineering tasks; regularly interviews candidates in a variety of engineering roles

Customer Success

Helps to identify key gaps in product offerings and functionality that will drive significant revenue and customer excitement; can take lead on non-trivial projects to address those needs

Principal Engineer

Management Equivalent: Senior Manager

Domain Knowledge

Contributes to core technologies used by a variety of teams; helps to make critical product architecture and implementation decisions; helps to define and build out standards for how product features and services are built throughout the company

Teaching and Mentoring

Recognized by engineers in multiple teams as an expert mentor and teacher; consistently in demand for design and code review; regularly provides training and support for new methods, tools, and patterns

Culture and Leadership

Builds tools, frameworks, and projects that improve productivity for many colleagues; sets a positive example throughout the company for quality and responsibility; helps define hiring standards and practices

Customer Success

Able to anticipate and quickly adapt systems and practices to changes in load, usage, and customer requirements; works closely with engineering, product, and sales teams to ensure continued product/market fit; keeps entire team focused on important, high-value efforts

Distinguished Engineer

Management Equivalent: Director

Domain Knowledge

Deep and broad knowledge of both current and emerging technologies that affect the business; core contributor to and maintainer of well-adopted libraries, tools, and services; expert in designing, implementing, and troubleshooting major portions of our production stack

Teaching and Mentoring

Sought out by other employees as well as external teams and individuals as a mentor and educator; often invited as a speaker to industry events; may be a published author on relevant technical topics

Culture and Leadership

Takes central role in decision making for both technical and organizational issues; helps to reconcile engineering POV with other groups; defines practices and processes that have an oversized, positive impact on the entire organization's output

Customer Success

Demonstrates deep understanding of customer needs and competitive landscape; able to estimate impact of and help lead efforts that significantly change product roadmap and footprint; plans and leads implementation efforts for major redesign, refactoring, and optimization efforts

Fellow

Management Equivalent: Vice President

Title bestowed only by action of exec staff and/or the board. Candidates should show all of the characteristics and skills of a distinguished engineer, as well as being critical to the success, reputation, and technical excellence of the entire engineering organization.

Note: it is obviously not ideal to have a gendered term for this level. This is the standard industry term, but pull requests containing a more universal identifier will be gleefully considered.

Managers

Good managers can do a lot to make their team successful, but part of successful management is learning to delegate and stop doing the technical work that you used to own. Day-to-day management work is very interrupt-driven, which makes it hard to consistently produce good code.

Manager

Engineer Equivalent: Lead Engineer

Scope and Impact

Leads a team of 3+ engineers; helps to set project scope and requirements; mentors new team members on both technical and organizational challenges

Team Development

Sets team goals and direction; determines hiring needs and helps to lead recruiting and interview activities; conducts regular 1:1s with all team members; manages performance for entire team

Customer Success

Aids product team in setting project scope and schedule; keeps team focused on quality and regular releases; works with other team leads to find creative solutions to customer issues

Senior Manager

Engineer Equivalent: Principal Engineer

Scope and Impact

Leads a larger (8+) team of engineers and/or managers; contributes to efforts that cut across teams and projects; improves quality of shared engineering processes such as hiring, planning, and operations

Team Development

Identifies and develops emerging leaders; sets goals for team members and tracks progress against them; identifies and addresses key talent and skill gaps through hiring, training, and organization changes

Customer Success

Understands and shows good judgement in deciding between engineering and customer preferences, as well as speed vs. quality; educates and informs product, sales, and other roles on current engineering efforts, needs, and contributions

Director

Engineer Equivalent: Distinguished Engineer

Scope and Impact

Sets cross-team direction and helps to define global engineering goals; identifies and manages programs to benefit entire engineering group; sets staffing and budget expectations for multiple teams and functional roles

Team Development

Coaches and develops managers; helps to define performance measurement tools and management processes across engineering; conducts 1:1s as well as level-skip discussions on issues across the organization

Customer Success

Works with product and sales teams to broadly prioritize and scope work for customers; defines and restructures teams and initiatives as needed to best address customer needs

Vice President

Engineer Equivalent: Fellow

Scope and Impact

Owns success of engineering and cross-functional goals; works with other executive leadership and the board to define long-term initiatives; represents the company with vendors, partners, and industry groups

Team Development

Identifies and addresses leadership needs for entire organization, including continuity and succession planning; owns medium to long-term plans for org growth; helps to set standards for how the entire org measures and talks about success

Customer Success

Able to establish and maintain strong relationships with customers' technical and marketing leadership; supports long-term deal-building and success via broad engineering efforts and priorities

Senior Vice President / CTO / CIO

Titles bestowed only by decision of exec staff and/or the board. Candidates should be exceptional in their experience, impact on the organization, and degree of sustained leadership and vision.

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