Career Paths for Software Engineers

Performance metrics can be harmful, too
Performance metrics can be harmful, too.

In years past, software engineers who performed rose up the corporate ladder would eventually find themselves in management. This usually ends poorly, since us nerds tend to talk to computers better than we talk to people. This means that while we're great at managing technology, we're not so great at managing fellow humans.

When I worked for Symantec some years ago, they had a career path for technical people (software engineer, sysadmins, etc.) that I thought was a great idea. It went something like this:

0-2 years experience Associate Software Engineer
0-8 years experience Software Engineer
6-14 years experience Senior Software Engineer
12-20 years experience Principal Software Engineer
15+ years experience Senior Principal Software Engineer
20+ years experience Distinguished Software Engineer
25+ years experience Senior Distinguished Software Engineer

There are a few nice things about this system:

- Overlapping years mean that people with higher skill levels can get promoted earlier in their career. For example, the kid out of school who can show that they worked on some open source projects is more likely to start out at the Software Engineer level, and skipping the Associate level.

- This chart demonstrates that management sees engineers are a long-term investment, and has an interest in retaining them.

- The final three levels required approval not just from your immediate manager, but from their manager as well. The highest 1-2 levels also required the engineer to have done work which had an impact company-wide or global in scope.

- When I see the resume of someone who has worked as an engineer for 20 years, and all the job titles say is "software engineer" and "senior software engineer", I get the impression that they aren't trying very hard to advance their career. It is way, WAY more inspiring to see someone with a series of job titles that change over the course of 2 decades (and presumably had more responsibility).

I remembered this listing of job titles, and kept it in mind as I went to future jobs. I wish more companies had career paths for techies like this.

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