Exceptional Team Member in team slowing promotion?

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Entry-Level Software Engineer [L3] at Snap9 months ago

I have 2.5 years of experience and working as an L3 engineer at Snap. To give you a bit more context about the structure of my team, We have 2 L3s, 2 L4s and 1 L5 in the team.

We just had our half yearly performance review. The review I got from my manager for the half yearly performance reviews was “exceeds expectations”. Clearly, I am a high performer, and in any other case, having 2.5 years of experience, I would be looking at a promotion in the next 6months-1year. However, the other L3 in the team got “redefines expectations” in his performance review.

We have same years of experience. He is a better engineer than me. He manages projects better than me, his output delivery is faster than me, he’s really good at writing technical docs as well as communicating stuff to the important stakeholders. There is no debate as to who is the better software engineer in team.

My question is, how much having him in the team affects the speed of growth from my career ? I am completing 3 years of experience soon and want to get promoted to L4. However I don’t see any situation where I am promoted before him, and I worry that this means delay of my promotion considering he'd be promoted before me and we already have many L4s in the team.

Am I overthinking this? I just want to know if switching companies or teams would be more beneficial for me than waiting in this team. Should I discuss about this with my manager ? While he is very focussed on making sure that the teams does well, I don't get the feeling from him that he cares too much about my professional growth.



  • Alex Chiou
    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    9 months ago

    This is a really interesting question as I was in a pretty similar situation back at Instagram Ads: There was this prodigy new-grad engineer who came in as E3 (Meta's version of L3) and got "Redefines Expectations" (which I abbreviate as "RE") in their first half. Even at E4, they kept crushing it, because they were honestly probably operating at around E5 when they were hired.

    That being said, here's my immediate high-level thought: In a nutshell, I actually believe the existence of this engineer helps you more than it hurts you.

    How It Can Hurt Your Promotion Trajectory

    • A lot of companies will have formal promotion limits where only a certain amount of engineers per org/team can level up each cycle. I think this is the only concrete way this really holds you back.
    • If the above is the case, then yes, you are hurt a little bit as this super talented engineer will "take up" a promotion slot each performance review cycle.

    How It Helps/Doesn't Actually Hurt Your Promotion Trajectory

    • A lot of the promotion "quotas" are based on level where teams can only produce X amount of senior engineers per cycle, X amount of mid-level, etc. If this is the case, this L3 engineer won't factor into your path as I imagine they are L4 now (RE translates to immediate promo 99% of the time).
    • I wouldn't worry about this engineer taking away scope from you, since engineers like these are generally creating scope on their own and often act as a force multiplier. An RE L3 generally means they are already solidly on the path from L4 to L5.
    • A tactical way this engineer can help you is acting as a role model. They came in at your level, and now you have this super local example of what you can do to follow in their footsteps and get to L4.
    • Expanding on the prior point, I think you should try to build a strong working relationship with them and set up a recurring 1:1 series. They could even be your mentor. It might be awkward if they're younger than you, but in the end, age is just a number. I saw younger folks mentoring older members of the team with more experience all the time. It's only awkward if you make it so.
    • For these outlier rockstar engineers, I've historically seen them act as a global uplifting force for their team, getting others around them promoted faster. I remember there was this absolutely incredible principal iOS engineer at Meta, and I heard that being on their team was amazing, because you would get promoted to L5 and L6 super fast just piggybacking off of their energy. In order to get RE, you generally have to be good at working with people, creating scope, and empowering everyone around them.
      • It's up to you on how much you want to try to "tap in" to their momentum and ride the wave upwards.

    Lastly, if you feel like your manager doesn't seriously care about your growth, that's a big problem and you should dive deeper into that. However, you got "Exceeds Expectations", which is a good sign IMHO. Your manager probably had to vouch for that in calibrations. A manager that truly doesn't care usually just gets the average rating for that report. I don't think you should start thinking about switching teams/companies right now.

    Related resources:

    • Check out my videos on effective communication to learn how to build a good working relationship with this rockstar engineer
  • Rahul Pandey
    Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    9 months ago

    At a medium/large company, having an exceptional engineer shouldn't directly hurt you. The calibration/stack-rank will generally happen at the organizational level (usually at least 3-4 teams), so you won't be directly compared to the exceptional person.

    They will likely get a higher rating than you, but that wouldn't directly hurt your promo ability. I'd instead focus more on positioning yourself as best as possible: what can you learn from this talented engineer, and is there some scope you could pick up from them?