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How The Top 1% Of Engineers Are Judged

As a former VP of Engineering at Amazon, Ethan has the unique ability to share how the senior-most engineers were evaluated within Big Tech. These are the top few percent of engineers in the company (Staff Engineers, Principal Engineers, Distinguished Engineers, etc), and the expectations are incredibly high.

Key insights:

  • At very senior levels, technical excellence is table stakes. The top-performing engineers use their technical expertise to help the business.
  • The dynamic with company leadership is important: these engineers must be proactive in helping the business, and not simply the "guru on the hill" who provides answers when asked.
  • There are different modalities to get to a very senior level, e.g. CTO model, technical expert, product engineer, and others. It's ok if you don't want daily meetings with company leadership, but you must be working on a valuable enough problem that can merit an engineer of that seniority.
  • Finding a good manager is critical for both ICs and managers. Two ways to evaluate this are (1) find a leader who has grown many people and (2) find a leader who is advancing rapidly in their career.

Ethan Evans is a retired Amazon VP who now teaches managers how to break into executive levels. He was at Amazon for 15 years, and he became a VP in 2013 until he left in 2020. Ethan shares valuable insights for anyone interested in management or career development.

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