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How A Senior Engineer Can Grow Their Career

Senior engineers have proven themselves to be extremely capable at shipping high-quality, complex software efficiently. This collection breaks down how they operate and how you can get to this level too.

Up Levelled FAANG Offer (Mid -> Senior)

Software Engineer at Taro Community profile pic
Software Engineer at Taro Community

I've recently received an up levelled FAANG offer in the US. I originally applied for a mid level role (SDE II, E4, L4) etc. but was up levelled to a senior engineer in interviews.

I currently have ~3.5 years of engineering experience all at small unknown startups so I'm trying to decide whether to accept the offer or whether to ask for a down level.

I have several concerns about taking the senior offer, which I've listed below:

  • I have only 3.5 years experience in development and I'm simply worried I haven't written enough code as of yet to be a senior and I'm not actually technically strong.
  • My current experience has been in startups and I've never worked in the big tech environment. Currently we don't need to do things such as write design docs or seek approvals to write code. Additionally, we don't aggressively unit test and only have unit tests for key parts of the code.
  • During the interview process I studied super hard and ended up seeing a lot of the questions that were asked beforehand in both system design and coding rounds (I'm concerned I have somehow gamed the system).
  • I am worried that the fast ramp up time and expectations in big tech will end up seeing me setup for failure.

On the other side:

  • I'm a hard worker and have good soft skills so I wonder if this will be enough to aid me while I get up to speed.
  • I know that big tech companies spend a lot of time on their interview process and because of this I should probably trust their rating. They must have seen something if they gave me this offer.
  • Finally the senior role offers a lot more money and it might be a good opportunity to see whether I sink or swim. At worst case a highly paid learning opportunity.
  • If I could make it through as a senior engineer it could potentially save . 1 - 2 years career time.

Wondering if anyone has advice for this particular situation?

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What matters in the long term career marathon?

Anonymous User at Taro Community profile pic
Anonymous User at Taro Community

I am a senior software engineer at FAANG (not Meta), and have found myself in a difficult career dilemma.

I joined the company as a junior and made progress to senior in the same team (say A). The nature of the work was very unique. It was heavily focused on technical analysis of software as opposed to writing one yourself. A significant portion of it was cross functional collaboration across different orgs, probably the reason why I was able to get promoted fairly quickly. The coding part was maybe 30% (you were welcome to pursue more if you have the time). The culture overall was nice with good work life balance. Manager mostly supported things I wanted to pursue. Later, I switched teams (say B) and moved to the one with more focus on development of the software. I loved the technology, projects. However, the expectations were crazy high. I ended up getting a low performer rating, a year after I was promoted to senior in my previous team. The side effects were no bonus, refreshers, salary hike.

I have been working hard since then to manage the expectations. However, I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to exceed them and thereby pursue a career growth and the next title without throwing your life at work. I can get “meets expectation” for foreseeable future. We are also thinking of expanding our family next year.

I discussed with my previous manager who is willing to take me back. The work there has a high visibility, impact for the next year. I could build strong soft skills - leadership, driving things through others, collaboration there; but, not so much as to actually writing software.

My options -

  1. Stick through in my current team for few years because it lets me stay closer to software development and open up opportunities in the future for development roles. But that means financial stress, an impact on family goals. Added anxiety.
  2. Go back to previous team. Get that job stability, pursue family goals; but, might get rusted on software development skills. Maybe if I find some ways to keep honing them (also software design skills) then maybe there is that.
  3. Looking externally. This is my last resort; but, given the market conditions it does not look pretty. I also like my company in general and would hate to leave. Also not sure of the dynamics of going through pregnancy shortly after joining a new company.

What is the correct mindset I should have? How should I navigate this situation in short and long run.

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Finding more scope internally vs. swapping company

Mid-Level Data Engineer [L4] at Google profile pic
Mid-Level Data Engineer [L4] at Google

I've been a Data Engineer for most of my career and my observation is that scope as a Data Engineer can plateau and therefore I see a lot more L4/5 DE's than L6+. I think it is because you don't impact the bottom line directly and regularly.

At FAANG's I've worked at so far, finding new scope can be difficult even when you are working with stakeholders: it is "easier" to scope/build a product (i.e. SWE work) and show metrics of success to add value vs building a data pipeline which may be limited to them having a reporting need for example which often isn't the case especially in a more established firm.

I moved into a partner facing DE role to help more with scope/stakeholder exposure. The highest impact project I worked on so far is influencing an internal team to change the way we measure a particular metric. This involved mostly stakeholder management and nothing more complex than SQL queries from a technical standpoint. While it was fulfilling, this is also something I 'stumbled' upon and is rare due to challenges like partner scope/vision is limited/slow (their leadership can change and therefore you projects/ideas can), technical challenges of automating things because of larger concerns (e.g. privacy, lack of infra on their side which you have no control over) and so on (you generally have even less control than an internal DE).

In my current role, I am generally able to derive projects, but (in my opinion) they are limited in scope/value: i.e. build a pipeline, deliver an analysis. Therefore, even though the projects 'ticks the boxes' for an L5, it is not really driving a 'transformation' as an L6+ would. I also directly asked my manager what are some of the hardest problems we have, and have been told we have a lot, yet, I'm not hearing or seeing them.

Given the situation, would you:

  1. Move to a SWE role internally at FAANG for a more established path 'up' (not sure this resolves the scope problem especially at FAANG as I think SWE-DE's can almost be even harder to get to L6+ on because they generally lack stakeholder visibility and focus on more top down work?).
  2. Seek roles outside of FAANG where the scope of the work is already scoped to L6+ e.g. Airbnb so the 'heavy lifting' has been done in terms of scope.
  3. Refine your scoping strategy within you own team, and if so, how?

Note: my motivation is to thrive at work, this isn't for a promo, just incase the post comes across as promo-focused. :)

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Career Progression on Resume - How much to embellish?

Data Engineer at Taro Community profile pic
Data Engineer at Taro Community

I'm an engineer with about 4.5 years of experience. I've had 2 jobs since graduating university. The first was a small startup (<10 people) where I did backend engineering and worked like a dog. The second (and current) is a large (~1500 people) company that's far more chill.

I've heard, read, and generally understand that recruiters (and probably hiring managers as well) like to see career progression when reviewing resumes. Makes sense.

My questions are:

  1. rather than calling myself "Backend Engineer" for my first job on my resume, should I say I was a "Junior Backend Engineer"?

  2. for my current job, rather than calling myself a "Data Engineer", can I call myself "Senior Data Engineer"? My company isn't technically advanced to the point where they formally use the title "Senior" engineer for anyone (although engineers definitely are paid differently based on tenure, impact, negotiation skills). Hence I feel like I have that lee-way. Heck, it might even be better to arbitrarily take the 3 year block at the company and pick a point around the 2-year mark where I say I became "Senior", so I can have Junior -> Intermediate -> Senior on my resume.

There's irony in down-leveling myself for my first job, although I really was junior and titles are fungible. As for up-levelling myself in my current role, isn't the point of a resume just to get an interview? And are people really going to check with my employer and say "aha, caught you! you said you were a Senior Engineer, but really you were an Engineer!" and even if people do, I would imagine it's a small number, that's offset by the upside of demonstrating that progression, even if it is a little messaged'

Finally, to address a question that will probably be asked, I definitely feel like I have learned a good deal since I started 4.5 years ago, technically, but more importantly knowing what to work on. Prioritization, time management, etc.

Thanks!

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