On top of commanding an above-average starting salary, software engineers can expect regular opportunities to level up in their careers as they gain experience.

While the ladder isn’t as straight and narrow as going from law clerk to making partner, after several years of web development experience, you have the clout to ask for a promotion or be headhunted for a managerial position elsewhere.

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What does the job ladder look like for a software engineer?

Like most job roles, moving up as a software engineer entails going from individual contributor to leading a team. In other words, you shift from debugging software to debugging teams (more on that later).

There are two types of management/leadership positions in software engineering:

  1. Managing people and the work they do
  2. Managing systems and services 

Which path you take depends on your leadership style and preference: are you more inclined to help people grow in their careers, or do you prefer taking the lead on major projects?

The below infographic shows which roles fall into each category: people and projects or systems and services.


Image credit: Kashif Razzaqi via Medium.com

Below, we’ll go into more detail on the general career trajectory of a software engineer.

SEC Fast Track

How can I maximize my chances of getting promoted as a software engineer?

Major tech companies like Google, Uber, and Facebook offer formal processes for promoting their employees: meet certain requirements such as years of experience or responsibilities and/or take an assessment to qualify.

Never underestimate the importance of writing code on your own time, learning new programming languages, or even acquiring an extrinsic skill like agile methodologies. In fact, 46 percent of tech companies expect candidates to be proficient in agile thinking.

Training others is a crucial element for landing a promotion — and not only because it shows superior technical proficiency.

“If you don’t have anybody on your team that can fill your spot when you move on to your next role, it may be hard to convince your boss to promote you to the next opportunity,” Seth Scheilz, an engineer at Black & Veatch, said in an episode of The Engineering Career Coach podcast. “Training your replacement allows you to go and tackle the next challenge.”

Related: What Does a Software Engineer Do?

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