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How much does years of experience actually matter to be a Senior SWE?

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Mid-Level Software Engineer at Series C Startupa year ago

I recently had a conversation about promotion with my manager. It seems I am primed to move from L2 -> L3 which I am happy about, but I was more curious on making the bigger jump to senior as that’s when the scope and responsibility become greater. According to him I already demonstrate senior level qualities whether it’s being completely reliable in shipping features, scoping out work and planning projects, to working with engineers outside my team to work on broad initiatives to benefit the whole org. All of which I have already done to some extent.

I asked him after I move to L3 and prepare for senior if the years of xp is still a hard requirement and he said yes. And that being a senior after 3/4 years in the industry is a bit quick and needs at least 5-7. In that case if the years of xp is so important, should I even operate at a senior for 2 years if I can’t even be considered for it until some arbitrary time has passed? It seems like extra effort to be paid the same.

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(2 comments)
  • 21
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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    a year ago

    How much does years of experience actually matter to be a Senior SWE?

    In an ideal world, it doesn't matter at all! If you are operating as a senior software engineer, then you should be leveled as a senior software engineer. Unfortunately, the world mostly doesn't follow this mentality, which I cover more later on.

    And that being a senior after 3/4 years in the industry is a bit quick and needs at least 5-7.

    I really dislike this mentality, but it's unfortunately very common across the tech industry (and just corporations in general). There is this expectation that you need to effectively be a certain age before you can attain certain levels, and that throws meritocracy out the window.

    For what it's worth, 5+ YOE is generally the bar to be considered senior, but that's more for a job switch (and even then, there's a lot of nuance there). I feel like one main reason tech is beautiful is because anybody can be a "whiz kid" due to how accessible and innovative it is: I've met several engineers who were operating at senior with just ~3 YOE. Unfortunately, most companies won't level you at where you actually are.

    In that case if the years of xp is so important, should I even operate at a senior for 2 years if I can’t even be considered for it until some arbitrary time has passed? It seems like extra effort to be paid the same.

    I don't think so, and that last part is completely right (it's just not worth it). However, there are reasons to stay like the company having stellar WLB, you really liking your team, and/or you hate interviewing.

    If you're really bullish on continuing your growth and being paid/level properly, you could consider looking for another company after your promotion. I recommend chatting with your manager more though before doing that. I would ask them if a promotion to senior is really impossible if you're meeting all expectations at that level and can objectively show that you're operating at the same level and having the same impact of other senior engineers in your org/company.

    All that being said, I felt like Meta is an incredible company for being leveled properly and is an industry leader with seeing past raw YOE. I saw E3s make it to E5 with just 2 YOE (one of them was mentored by me!).

    Related resources:

  • 18
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    Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    a year ago

    Promotion based on YoE is a bad practice. You're at a series C startup -- how much structure is there behind what it means to be mid-level vs senior?

    Try this: with your manager, write down (1) senior eng traits and (2) comparisons of clear senior behaviors from other people on the team. #1 is likely to be aspirational, but #2 is an actual comparable data point of someone on the team who is supposedly senior.

    So one way to have a productive conversation about promotion with your manager is to become obviously more impactful + respected in the team compared to the exemplar senior engineer (or at least the median senior eng). Then ask "How would you compare my impact on this project compared to other senior enigneers you've seen, like the one we chatted about last time?"

    At this point, the manager really should promote you, otherwise good engineers will lose respect for the leveling system and start leaving.