Sometime in summer 2015, when preparing yearly feedbacks for my team at vaamo, I started formulating our team’s (engineering) ladder. Back then the concept of a ladder, the act of spelling out what the requirements and expectations for a specific role and position are, was pretty new to me. Still it immediately appealed to me.
And while working on vaamo’s ladder I came across many more ladders, many of them inspired by RTR’s ladder, or inspired to be shared by RTR’s sharing.
After a while, keeping tabs on all those published ladders became nearly impossible. Yet, I found it very inspiring and helpful to have a list of resources in the spirit of “that’s how others do it”, in order to pick and choose what works best for our case.
So in order to make it easier to get inspired by other companies’ engineering ladders, I decided to put together a complete list of all published engineering ladders.
When using any of the below ladders as a starting point, be aware, that you’ll need quite a bit of effort to adapt and develop your own understanding of what the roles’ and positions’ classifications mean for you and your organization.
- Rent the Runway
- Travis CI
- Urban Airship
- Intent Media
- Charles Krempeaux
- Fog Creek
- Cap Gemini
- Tes Global
When looking at some of the other ladders, this is the one that kicked off many if not most of them to be shared.
I find it very well structured, approachable and it reveals deep thinking behind it. I especially liked the concept of the four pillars “Technical Skill”, “Get Stuff Done”, “Impact”, “Communication & Leadership”.
The ladder from Arty’s team, as shared by their CTO Daniel Doubrovkine has a much simpler structure than the RTR ladder, even though it says it’s much inspired by it.
While the ladder itself is not overly prominent in the slidedeck and video, the reasoning and story behind the compensation framework, which is based on the ladder, is very interesting.
Kickstarter’s engineering ladder, as shared by James Turnbull, features paths for Technical and Data people as well as People Management roles.
Each role and position, up to the CTO, is described in helpful and concise prose.
Urban Airship’s ladder covers engineers’ and operations’ paths as well as the respective manager ladders.
Similar to RTR’s ladder, Urban Airship’s organizes the expectations towards each engineering and ops level around the concept of four pillars, namely “Domain Knowledge”, “Teaching and Mentoring”, “Culture and Leadership” and “Customer Success”. Notice the absence of anything “Technical” from this list of pillars. Management positions are described using three pillars “Scope and Impact”, “Team Development” and “Customer Success”.
Intent Media divides it’s engineering organization into three paths, namely “Team Contributor”, “Technical Leadership” and “Engineering Management”.
It provides a lot of context about how engineering in general is structured at Intent Media and all positions are described in a concise yet extensive prose. It’s very well structured, offers a lot of inspiration and conveys deep thinking that lead towards the ladder.
Very interesting and comprehensive read and bonus points for providing a very different approach to an engineering ladder, than most others in this list.
HT to Robert for sharing these links with me.
It’s extra helpful, as it contains specific reasoning in which circumstances titles are helpful or maybe even necessary, and why it’s a bad idea to have a ladder where the top technical level is something like “Senior Software Engineer”.
Honorary mention for the infamous ladder by Joel Spolsky which dates back to the year 2009 and is probably one of the first publicly shared engineering ladders.
Compared to the more recently shared ladders, it has a completely different approach and is the only one in this list, where “years of experience” is a measure of sorts. Which in my opinion, simply isn’t appropriate anymore. Go watch Konstantin’s explanation of how a better way to think about an employee’s value contribution to a company looks like.
So just to be clear: Don’t base your ladder this one, as there are better ways to arrive at compensation levels than “years of experience”.
Last year, we identified a need to redefine the career framework for our software engineers within the UK engineering teams and started work on a Capgemini Software Engineering grade ladder. The grade ladder is our team’s self-produced documentation to enable everyone, both inside and outside our team, to understand our ethos and values and what’s expected of them.
Today we are excited to share Patreon’s revamped Engineering Leveling Guide. In Patreon’s early years, we had little in the way of objective criteria for leveling engineers. We’ve come a long way since then, and our engineering organization is much stronger and fairer for it. We want to show you how we define levels now and what it’s like to work at Patreon.
Songkick’s Career Growth Framework is very detailed and beautifully designed. It’s a great resource and inspiration to anyone looking to structure career growth at a team. As many other ladders out there already it describes a management and a technical career path.
Medium’s ladder is very comprehensive and therefore more than merits the title “Growth Framework”. The frameworks aims to help engineers answer the question “How do I progress?”. Medium offers 16 different tracks that each are organized into the categories building, executing, supporting, and strengthening.
The framework includes a description of tracks and the process how people at Medium assess their progress. A notable
distinction from other ladders is the “appeals process”.
The Growth Framework describes it with the following words:
Given that the framework is somewhat subjective, we accept that even reasonable people acting in good faith can make mistakes or fail to appropriately value work. The appeals process outlines the way in which engineers can challenge a decision they consider to be inaccurate.
The government of the United Kingdom released perhaps the most comprehensive career ladder/growth framework available. The skills are entirely generic so will require a degree of effort to reduce subjectivity and ensure consistency of interpretation. It covers an astonishing 38 different data and technology roles including management and technical tracks for many of the roles.
Anyone can use the Capability Framework to:
- learn about what different roles do in government
- understand what skills are needed by professionals in particular jobs
- identify skills that need development to help career progression
- assess skills in preparation for performance reviews
- create effective job adverts
- carry out HR and workforce planning
Tes Global designed their engineering ladder differently than most of the others. Rather than using career levels, they use a modified Dreyfus model to show skill progression within a set of high-level categories. Career levels can then be laid over this map to provide more flexibility than most other engineering ladders. The original and the evolved map, which has acceptance criteria for each skill, provide an idea of how this worked in practice. There is also a talk by David Morgantini that explains in greater detail how this engineering ladder was used at Tes.
The downside to this approach is it is more complex than others and requires tooling support and does not scale past 10 - 15 engineers without such. Tes implemented and open-sourced a tool to manage this kind of ladder.
SkillsMap.io is not a engineering ladder itself, but rather, a tool that allows teams to build their own engineering ladder. It emerged out of the engineering ladder created at Tes Global, and is a fork of the open source tool they released in late 2017.
The tool provides:
- a structured and scalable evaluation & review process
- the ability to create custom skills maps or engineering ladders
- skill gap reporting & insights
- the ability to evaluate candidates prior to interview
Buffer’s ladder (published early 2017) is not a ladder. Instead Buffer chose to use “scope of influence, together with a
description of ‘how work is conducted’, [as a proxy] for technical skill.”.
I think it’s a very interesting and great step forward, from the earlier, more rigid ladders.
Meetup shares their cross-company set of rules and expectations for Makers and Managers within the company. It’s very comprehensive and knowing that Lara Hogan worked with Meetup on it, let’s you know, that it’s well thought out and a great resource.
Soundcloud released their engineering ladder beginning of 2018, and even though they stick to the now almost classic model of several dimensions (skills and behaviours), the description reveal that they put a lot of effort and thought into it.
Progression.fyi is a project by Jonny Burch and is not a ladder or progression framework in itself, but
rather a nicely-tagged and better navigatable collection of such. Due to Jonny being a designer, the collection features
a lot of non-engineer ladders, which may give a little extra inspiration and ideas to those who seek it.
Plus it lists even more ladders/frameworks than this page.
CircleCI released their engineering competency matrix at the end of 2018.
Square released their engineering career ladder in July 2019. It features separate tracks for individual contributors and managers. A noteworthy detail in their ladder is that they label some of their criteria and responsibilities as shared between managers and ICs.
Missing a ladder?
Lots of 😍 to the following contributors so far: