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Creating a Career Ladder for Engineers

Creating a Career Ladder for Engineers

One of the biggest challenges in people management is ensuring that your engineers are growing in their career. We expect larger companies to have an established career ladder, but it often gets sacrificed at many companies in the name of remaining “flatter” and “more agile”. As the demand for talent gets more competitive, painting a clear growth path for engineers becomes an asset in any serious engineering organization.

Marco Rogers will give a concrete idea of what a career guide looks like for engineers based on his experience as an engineering leader at multiple companies. There are the big things like creating levels that engineers progress through, and addressing what “Senior” means. He will also touch on the less obvious aspects, such as providing guidance on how to get promoted, and maintaining consistency between internal hiring and external recruiting.

Marco Rogers

April 30, 2019

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  1. :Marco Rogers | @polotek • I’ve been an engineer for

    15 years, a manager for 7 years • I’ve now created and rolled out career ladders at 2 companies • Most of my career as an engineer, I had no career ladder Hi, I’m Marco.
  2. Key Takeaways The Why There is no such thing as

    a “flat” org The What The Senior level is your anchor The How The messaging and rollout is critical
  3. There is no such thing as a “flat” org Hiring

    and retaining engineers is quickly becoming the top issue in many organizations • Tech is exploding • Our industry is not meeting the demand for engineering talent • Engineers (and everyone else) are staying at jobs for less and less time The Why
  4. Potential goals for your career ladder Engagement • Clarity for

    ICs • Visible paths to promotion • Increased retention Hiring • Better job descriptions • More consistent offers • Pay equity Growth • Tools for managers • Better feedback and coaching • Consistent performance management
  5. Why engineers choose a company • Innovative technology or product

    • Great mission or chance to have high impact • Compensation • Career growth The Why
  6. Personal growth is becoming a major driver for candidates We

    have been neglecting to provide career growth by trying to stay “flat”. We don’t have that luxury anymore. People need to see that their career is progressing at your company. Otherwise, why would they stay? The Why
  7. Career growth drives engagement • Recognition and rewards are a

    big part of keeping people engaged and making them feel valued • People want to get feedback on whether they are successful at the company • You need a structure for giving people both the recognition and the coaching that they need Announcing a promotion is one of the most engaging cultural events that can happen at your company The Why
  8. A tool for management A career ladder helps managers be

    more consistent around: • Feedback and performance reviews • Promotions and compensation • Offers and negotiation The Why
  9. Driving diversity, equity and inclusion efforts If you’re taking steps

    towards improving DEI, you need a framework to hang that from • Capturing data about who gets promoted and why • Maintaining pay equity between and within levels • Mitigating biases during negotiations If you don’t have a visible structure, then you have a hidden structure full of assumptions and biases The Why
  10. What’s a career ladder? • It specifies what Level an

    engineer can attain ◦ Numbers, e.g. L3 engineer ◦ Titles, e.g. Senior Engineer • Moving up a level is an event that signifies career growth • Promotions usually come with a compensation adjustment The What
  11. Some unanswered questions • How many levels? Anywhere from 3

    to 9+ • Is compensation tied directly to levels? Doesn’t have to be • Do level changes come with more responsibility? • Which level is the “Senior” title? Everyone cares about this, and yes you have to decide The What
  12. The Senior level is your anchor Senior is the only

    level that anyone understands • The people below Senior aspire to get there and want to know how • The people who have reached Senior are proud of it and want it known • People with stronger expertise and high impact want to know what’s after Senior The What
  13. Let’s look at some career ladders • The Starter Kit

    • The Snowflake Model • The Spreadsheet Matrix The What
  14. The Starter Kit A simple 3-level system. Usually doesn’t come

    with any descriptions or criteria. • Junior or entry level • Mid-level • Senior The What
  15. The Starter Kit Take my advice: This doesn’t scale •

    You don’t want people to top out at Senior • You don’t want people stuck in an ambiguous middle with no way to get promoted • You will almost certainly end up with people making very different salaries The What
  16. The Starter Kit Intriguing • Easy first step • Good

    enough when team is small • Most people already think this way Worrying • Not enough room to grow • Not enough definition of expectations • Senior people top out • Doesn’t help with compensation The What
  17. The Snowflake Model A robust system for scoring individuals across

    many dimensions and using a formula to ascertain their level • Popularized by Medium • Each dimension can be scored separately • People can reach the same level with a different combination of qualities The What
  18. The Snowflake Model Take my advice: Give this the amount

    of time it takes to get right Engineers freaking love numbers because they are less ambiguous. Once you start using a number system, changing the meaning of the numbers renders it worthless. The What
  19. The Snowflake Model Intriguing • Lots of granularity • ICs

    can see clear progress • Escapes the rigidity of a “ladder” • Engineers freaking love numbers Worrying • Looks like a major project to design • Many decisions to make • Difficult to onboard managers? • So many numbers The What
  20. The Spreadsheet Matrix One document that captures the expectations for

    each level across several dimensions • Each row is a level • Each column is a particular area of evaluation • The intersecting cell holds the description The What
  21. The Spreadsheet Matrix Take my advice: Fill in every one

    of those boxes • Ambiguity is your enemy in this model • Leaving cells blank greatly reduces the effectiveness as a coaching tool • Putting in “No expectations at this level” is an acceptable decision The What
  22. The Spreadsheet Intriguing • Format is easily understood • You

    know when you’re done • Can be extended with more rows or columns Worrying • Can feel too rigid • The descriptions can cause confusion • So many boxes to fill in The What
  23. The Senior level is your anchor Everyone uses Senior to

    understand where they currently are • Spend the time to formalize what it means • Use the levels below it to help people understand how to work on growth and autonomy • Use the levels above it to push people towards more impact and responsibility The Why
  24. The messaging and rollout is critical After you develop the

    ladder, you have to execute • Present to execs and get buy-in • Inform partner departments like HR and Recruiting • Message to the entire team, incorporate their input • Place every engineer into their new level The How
  25. The messaging and rollout is critical Many other policies and

    activities will intersect with your career ladder • Budgets and compensation • Management and Performance reviews • Interviewing and hiring The How
  26. Executive buy-in • Are you creating new compensation bands to

    go with it? • Does it require a compensation adjustments? • Does it match up with the HR policies around promotions or raises? • Does it change the hiring plan? The How
  27. Management and Performance Reviews • Every eng manager needs to

    become familiar with the ladder • You will need some period of calibration so it can be applied consistently • Performance reviews will shift to revolve around the ladder • Managers will start to get some very tough questions, e.g. “I thought I was Senior” The How
  28. Interviewing and hiring • Talk about your career ladder with

    candidates • Your interviews need to assess the level of candidates • Make the level clear in offer letters • Talk to candidates about their level before they accept The How
  29. Key Takeaways The Why There is no such thing as

    a “flat” org The What The Senior level is your anchor The How The messaging and rollout is critical