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Should I downgrade a level to get a SDE role?

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Cloud Support Engineer (Big Data) at Amazon8 months ago

I'm a support engineer in big data profile working in Amazon web services, and I'm looking to transition into a SDE role within the teams like Spark, Hadoop, Yarn EMR infrastructure, etc

At the same time I have been working hard on my promotion from L4 support engineer to L5 support engineer.

Given a scenario if I get promoted to L5 support engineer and later, down the line I also get L4 software engineer role within Amazon, should I take the SDE role at a downgraded level, should I look outside or what should be the best route?

Somebody I know has been working in Amazon BA and related positions for seven years, however they switched to SDE intern positions within Amazon. Do you think it is a wise move?



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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    8 months ago

    Is there a reason you can't pursue an SDE transition now? From my understanding, L4 is the Amazon entry-level for engineering track, so this is sort of the best time to switch: It's impossible to get down-leveled, hehe. 😁

    In general, I'm not a fan of taking a down-level internally. Let's say you put in a ton of effort (e.g. ~3 years) going from L4 -> L5 in your current role. When you switch from support -> SDE and go down to L4, so much is then lost:

    • Of course, you lose the L5 level
    • Some of the skills you built up across 3 years for support will be transferrable but some will not, so some percentage of this spent time kind of falls through the cracks
    • Most importantly, the trust and rapport you built with your manager and team to get to L5 goes away as I imagine you would need to switch to a new team/manager to pivot into SDE

    Some managers will say "Don't worry about the down-level, I'll make sure you get promoted back fast" with internal transitions, but I would be very careful with those promises as they're often empty (even if this SDM has good intent, they may not be able to follow through due to org thrash, budget cuts, etc).

    Of course, I always say that your career is a marathon and not a race (there's nothing inherently wrong with being an Amazon L4 while having ~5 years of industry experience), but I do feel like you can further optimize your level (and probably compensation) with some clever maneuvering here.

    Here's some generally good resources around team/SDM selection I recommend as well:

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    Senior Software Engineer [SDE 3] at Amazon
    8 months ago

    Totally agree with Alex's advice here. If you think that you ultimately want to take an SDE role, better to start working on it now and start having conversations with your manager. Also, I have seen an L5 support engineer switching over to L5 SDE during my time at Amazon. He did have to work on some projects to present his case. As long as your manager is willing to work with you and provide you opportunities for the switch, you shouldn't have to downgrade your level. You also have the option to switch teams to make it happen. It would be helpful to talk to some other engineers who had made such role change.