The Pragmatic Engineer Test: 12 Questions on Engineering Culture

12 questions to get a sense of what a tech company is like at to work at, based on things most job postings do not mention.

I created this test to reflect healthy software engineering cultures in 2021 better. I've found the now 20-year-old the Joel test to be a baseline expectation at almost all companies by now, and missing many things you expect from great engineering organizations.

  1. Equity or profit sharing. If you're a venture-funded startup or a publicly traded company, do all engineers get equity allocation? If you're a private, non-venture-funded company, do engineers get generous profit sharing? Caveats: publicly traded companies offering discounted equity purchases - also known as ESOP - does not count. Generous profit sharing means at least 15-20% of annual salary in good years.
  2. Roadmap/backlog that engineers contribute to. Do you have one for most teams, and do engineers regularly contribute to the one for their team?
  3. Engineers directly working with other ICs. Do engineers work directly with other individual contributors (ICs) like other engineers, designers, PMs, data scientists etc? Answer "no" if they are expected to go through e.g. (project) managers instead of direct communication.
  4. Code reviews and testing. Are they both part of the everyday development process?
  5. CI and engineers pushing to prod. Do you have CI in place? When engineers finish coding, does the code either automatically get pushed to prod (through CD), or can engineers manually trigger this step?
  6. Internal open source. Do you follow an internal open-source model, where any engineer can access and contribute to most other codebases - with appropriate code ownership in place?
  7. Healthy oncall as a priority. For teams where developers are oncall, do you measure oncall health and the impact on developers? Does fixing an unhealthy oncall have priority over any product work?
  8. Technical managers. Are managers software engineers report to technical - meaning they have also been software engineers earlier in their career?
  9. Career ladder. Do you have a career ladder, with levels, and expectations at each of the level defined?
  10. Parallel IC & manager tracks. Do you have parallel IC & management career paths that run up to a level or two above the entry-level engineering manager role?
  11. Feedback culture. Do you have at least two of the following three:  a) 360 performance reviews (where directs also give feedback to managers) b) Peers giving feedback to each other c) Company-wide surveys collecting workplace feedback, and acting on this.
  12. Investing in professional growth. Do you have at least two of the following three: a ) A mentorship program within the company b) Professional development stipend for books/trainings c) Regular tech talks where people in the company learn from each other - or from outside experts.

Take the test for your company here and leave comments as feedback on the questions. I'd like to amplify companies who score highly on the above questions.

A higher score reflects companies that have more engineering-friendly and predictable cultures, and are typically more "Silicon Valley-like" in how they leverage engineers. The test is based on ideas explored in A Software Engineering Culture Test.

Scores will be specific to teams, instead of companies, as questions like a healthy oncall, or even pushing to production can be different for various teams in a large organization.

See companies who score high on this test, and are hiring on The Pragmatic Engineer Job Board.

Results based on 200 submissions show that 31% of submissions check all 12 conditions (!) and 68% of these submission score at least 10 points. I realize there is lots of selection bias at play here - teams who score higher on these questions are more likely to fill it out. However, it's still impressive that there are a confirmed ~120 teams at different companies scoring at 10 or above on this "test":

The most common "missing" points are on equity and healthy oncall:

A screenshot of some of the results from the test

Companies with teams reporting a 12/12 score (at least in some teams, that is):

  • Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix
  • Atlassian, Cloudfare, GitHub, Robinhood, Roblox, Square, Twitter, Shopify, Spotify, Stripe, Uber
  • Auth0, Expedia, Eventbrite, Freshbooks, HashiCorp, Intercom, Sumo Logic, Udemy, Yelp, Wise
  • ClassPass, DocuSign, Gocardless, Glovo, Impala, KeepTruckin, Loom, NerdWallet, Miro, Monzo, Noom, Rippling, Scribd, Sonder, Zocdoc
  • Birdie, Bud Financial, Butternut Box, CommonBond, Codat, Helge Scheil, Hubs, Indigo Ag, Kensho Technologies, Litmus, Pollen, Postscript, Orbit, Rev, Rows.com, Smartly.io, Quizlet, Northern.tech, ThoughtSpot

Companies with teams reporting a 11/12 score

  • Oncall health missing (props that they were honest on this): Box, OpenTable, New Relic, Wayfair, Delivery Hero, FindHotel, Good Dog, Kraken, Signal AI, Stash
  • Equity/generous profit sharing for all engineers missing: BBC, Just Eat Takeaway, Skyscanner, moonpig, Trainline, Zalando

Startups and small companies with less than 20 engineers answering "no" to #9 (career ladder), #10 (parallel career tracks) and #11 (feedback culture) is expected - but as the company grows, they won't have an excuse to not implement those improvements.

Growing startups with a 10-11/12 score where some of #9, #10 or #11 are missing (but engineering leadership confirmed they are addressing those as they're growing) include Fonoa, Linear Product Hunt and Udaan.

Ask the above questions as part of "reverse interviewing" companies, after you get an offer, to get a sense of how your future team operates, and how engineering-friendly the culture is.

Featured Pragmatic Engineer Jobs

  1. incident.io: Product Engineer (London) I'm an investor.
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  4. TicketSwap: Engineering Manager (Amsterdam)
  5. Wave Money: Engineering Manager & Senior Engineer (Remote, Global)
  6. Fonoa: Senior Backend Engineer (Remote, EU timezones)
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Browse more senior engineer and engineering leadership roles, or add your own on The Pragmatic Engineer Job board.