Whether you are part of your company’s leadership team tasked with designing a tailored development framework for your engineering teams or an engineering researching what careers ladders or growth paths look like for different companies, we’ve put together a few examples to get you going.
Square’s engineers’ growth framework is an excellent example of how to create structure and clarity so that all employees have some idea around the opportunities available to them in terms of advancing their careers and the kind of skills, experience, and abilities required for each position. This becomes even more necessary within a complex organization like Square, with a wide range of software engineering disciplines including backend, frontend, security, embedded, mobile, etc.
At Square, they’ve created a Software Engineering Career Ladder that places every employee on a hierarchical level that defines elements like role scope, complexity, and impact – all of these linked to compensation models. Engineers have the choice of picking their preferred track: a purely engineering one or a managerial career track. The tracks do allow for flexibility, and engineers can choose to switch from one to the other if desired. The framework allows for leadership abilities to be developed and recognized at an individual contributor level also.
Each level comes with clear expectations in terms of scope, impact, and behaviors, while promotions are given only after an employee consistently ticks all the boxes necessary for the next level – in other words, people don’t get promoted for showing potential but for proving over and over again that they are already performing at the next level. Every promotion is thoroughly weighed by a leadership panel.
“Promotions can be an extremely powerful for defining the overall culture that exists as people try to mimic those lucky individuals that are promoted.(Michael White, former Engineering Manager at Square)
Square openly share their framework – use it to get inspiration for creating your own or use it as is ( https://developer.squareup.com/blog)
Before the organization drafted their framework, engineers didn’t have a very clear idea about the internal hierarchy, existing levels, and how to go about going from one level to the next, or what promotion decisions were based on. Obviously, even without a formal framework, people did move within the organization, with decisions being made by my leadership. These decisions weren’t made using a set of clear principles but leaders’ own maturity, responsibility, and integrity. It was an “order” based on trust, and even though it seems to be working, it was clear that it wasn’t sustainable.
They did manage to move to a more structured approach, and they now clear guidelines around what is valuable and appreciated, how the progression from one level to the next happens, how skills and contributions are measured and rewarded.
Medium has made their system public and available for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. You can also have a look at their hiring documentation.
Spotify’s career path was created in 2014. While there are many examples of engineering career paths openly shared by companies that one can use, Spotify’s former VP of Engineering recommends using them for inspiration but crafting a path that is tailored to your company’s values and culture. Another thing he recommends is not to be in a hurry to create one but, instead, to let the initial enthusiasm cool down a bit and give people and structures a chance to solidify before starting to draft – what might make sense in the startup phase might not be appropriate down the line. For Spotify, eight years had passed before starting to work on their career growth framework. Spotify Career Steps. (Kevin Goldsmith, Spotify’s former Vice President of Engineering)
Spotify’s culture is unique, and, as Goldsmith points out throughout his account on how the career steps have been created, everything needs to be taken with more than a grain of salt. Based on the principle of equality and serious about encouraging employees to challenge leaders if they feel they are right, Spotify’s culture tends to put a higher emphasis on teams than on individuals. It is all sounds intriguing; have a look at some of the lessons learned while implementing the career steps.
Building on the idea of beginning to work on a growth framework once you have a company, not just a product, Buffer designed theirs in early 2017 when they significantly grew their engineering team. Similarly to Spotify, Buffer had an internal culture that resisted the idea of ranks and favored a flat height, so they avoided defining their framework using words like “level” or “ladder.”
Find out more about Buffer’s engineering growth framework here.
At Waydev, we are still a startup, and our main focus right now is to give engineering managers the best tool possible to make their job easier. However, we know that once we grow and scale, we’ll eventually reach a point where we’ll need to revisit all the examples above. In the meantime, we hope you will use them as inspiration to help you craft or refine your company’s growth path.