You aren’t getting promoted when switching companies posted on 03 April 2024

Every now and then someone will ask me (or on social networks) whether they should accept a specific offer. One of the arguments to accept it is sometimes that the title is better – e.g. you go from software engineer at your current role to senior software engineer or from senior to staff.

My take is that this isn’t a promotion – your level is the same, the title is just different. It’s fairly straightforward nowadays to understand how levels match with so this is something you can verify.

Levels don’t perfectly overlap (e.g. Amazon’s senior engineer SDE III, L6 matches both Google’s L5 and half of L6) so there is room for interpretation on paper. This ambiguity disappears when you look at actual scope and/or impact of the role – it’s harder to assess but this is something you can figure out during interviews/reference checks.

Like everything there are exceptions but these are rare. If you think in the company’s shoes, why would they hire an engineer at level L+1 (including paying them as a L+1) when they don’t have strong confidence that they can operate at L+1 (otherwise why wouldn’t they get promoted to L+1)? Yes there are sometimes reasons one doesn’t get promoted because of things outside their control (reorgs, projects being shut down etc.) but it’s hard to verify if someone didn’t get promoted because of these factors or something else. They can be confident if they have strong reference checks though.

TL;DR is that you shouldn’t focus on the title when switching companies but more on the role itself, its responsibilities, its potential for growth and its compensation.

Fun fact, you can also make up your title. I’m technically speaking today the EMEA Head of Trust and Safety at Databricks (I’m just the only T&S engineer and still hiring by the way 😉)

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