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Role: Senior Software Engineer
Salary: $250k at previous job (160 base plus stock and bonus), and $460k at current job (220 base plus stock and bonus)
Size of company: 5000+
Total Years Working: 15
For a long time, I was pretty happy in my role as a Senior Engineer at my last company. I initially joined them not just for the interesting tech, but because they were growing and they had a really good attitude towards equality. When they interviewed me, two of the managers were minorities in tech and the CEO herself was a woman. It really felt like this was an intentional company. They didn’t preach too much about “hustle”.
But over time, there wasn’t quite enough hustle; the company stopped growing. Though this was billed as intentional “capital efficiency”, it seemed like this approach was more for investors and not the staff. They stopped backfilling departures, and soon I was taking on work that I didn’t want to do, and taking more on-call shifts. Career growth got harder. Because teams were shrinking, I was doing more of what I already knew how to do, and wasn’t given any tasks that would challenge me or help me reach the next career level. It seemed like no one was being promoted anymore.
At the same time, the company rolled out a new promotion process for engineers. Candidates were to create an extensive portfolio and go through a long, time-heavy application process. Thought it was designed to decrease bias, there was a resounding sentiment that the process was cumbersome and hard to navigate. While it was an interesting experiment, it turned out a lot of people weren’t willing to experiment with their career progression, and more people started to leave. I began to wonder if I should join them.
I decided to express my concerns to my manager and VP and asked what steps would get me to the next level. In the meeting, the VP kept talking about career requirements for other positions, not the one I was in or wanted to move to. I didn’t feel heard and it seemed disorganized, like they didn’t have higher up consensus about what the new levels even were, which was disappointing. I made the required portfolio but decided to use it to start looking elsewhere.
I started thinking of companies I might enjoy working with, then I looked at Glassdoor and Levels.fyi. I even joined Blind, which is a bit of a toxic space, but I wanted to see which companies had growth and a healthy culture, and if there were any red flags. In the end, I landed at a list of eight companies and ended up at the offer process for four. I wasn’t rejected from the other four but, in all honesty, they were just too slow. At one, the recruiter was so overbooked that they didn’t have any screening spots for a whole week, and another company took two weeks trying to book a manager. Another had a coding challenge and they took three weeks to get back to me. They were apologetic but at that point I already had offers. They were too late.
As for the best interview process, I was most impressed by Company 1, a FAANG giant. They had a portal where they provided materials about the process, practice challenges, opportunities to connect with one of their employees and chat, and even a space to thank the recruiter. Recruiters were constantly in touch and did pre-chats to get you hyped before each interview. It was nice to have a positive person hyping me up, following up consistently, and always giving a sense of next steps and timing. It’s a small thing but it made me feel like I hadn’t been forgotten.
Company 2, a large fin-tech company, was also thorough. They did a full day of pretty heavy interviews, but also gave me confidence that they had high standards. With other companies, when I went through an interview that wasn’t hard enough, it was a bit of a red flag for me because I wanted to feel like they were vetting me and not just selling. Out of all eight interviews, the better processes took about two weeks from reach out to offer.
From my side, I took the interviews as an opportunity to drill deeper into each company’s culture. Personally, I cared less about the product or problem we were solving, and more about whether I was joining a cohesive, non-toxic team and boss. Inclusion is important to me, so when Company 2 brought this up in interviews, it was a green flag. I was asked about times when I faced a tough challenge or learning about diversity and inclusion, times I was an ally, or times I supported someone underrepresented (for context, I’m a cis white man). This said a lot to me about their commitment to creating an inclusive workplace. Finally, the company had to be growing. I didn’t want to be in the same position again.
Next, it was decision time. One of the offers, at Company 3 (who make a tool almost all developers use) was much lower than the others. While I was excited about their culture, I did want a salary bump, so I ruled it out quickly. Company 4 (an e-commerce tech giant) offered a higher title, but a big issue was that my partner also works there. Not that we don’t love spending time together, but I was worried about our ability to disconnect from work at home. Unfortunately, Company 1, who had the best interview process, had just taken a big hit on their stock value. The recruiter tried to convince me that this would be a great time to join to “buy the dip”, but I was unsure. In the end, I chose Company 2. Even though there was no title bump, the salary was higher than other offers I received. So theoretically, I’d have room to grow and get an additional bump when I did so. When it came to stock, they were also able to promise a specific cash value vs units of options that could be worth anything. Plus, they valued diverse teams. After I made my decision and declined the other 3 offers, most had me fill out a survey about my experience and made sure to keep the door open if I changed my mind.
If I were advising a company trying to hire right now, I’d tell them that speed is one of the most important things. If you know a candidate is interviewing elsewhere, you have to keep pace. Be thorough in understanding the compensation market. If Company 3 had kept up with what was going on in the market, I wouldn’t have ruled them out so soon. I’d also recommend centering your commitment to diversity in your hiring process.
For other engineers thinking of looking, I have the opposite advice: there is no rush. In a seller’s market, you can make the companies do the work to sign you. They’ll leave the door open to you if you need more time to decide, or even if you say no. There’s so much opportunity out there! Take the time to do research, and don’t be blinded by the first company that comes knocking with a big offer.