Uber’s engineering level changes

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This is a bit of a ‘late scoop,’ which I initially missed when it happened. Better late than never!

Until early 2022, the software engineering levels at Uber were:

Engineering levels at Uber, 2014-2022
Engineering levels at Uber, 2014-2022

Back when I was at Uber in around 2020, I saw statistics about the spread of these levels. By memory, it was something like this:

A rough, estimated split of ~2,000 software engineers at Uber, in 2020
A rough, estimated split of ~2,000 software engineers at Uber, in 2020

Back in 2020, Uber had about 2,000 software engineers, of which:

  • ~50-60 were staff (L6) level (2.5-3%)
  • ~15 were senior Staff (L7) level (~1%)
  • 2 were principal (L8) level (0.1%)

Uber had an ongoing challenge with the Senior 2 level. This level was created back around 2014, before which Uber had L3, L4, L5, L6 and L7 levels. However, the L5 (senior) level grew overcrowded, with a large population of engineers. Not only that, there was significant variation in expectations at this level. Uber’s engineering leadership decided to bisect the level into L5A and L5B, where L5A mapped to what most of Big Tech calls “senior engineer” (getting complex, team-level projects done), and L5B was closer to what the tech industry usually expects of staff engineers (complex, cross-team-level projects.)

Uber’s L6, staff engineer level, remained one where engineers owned complex, organization-wide projects, and vacancies for this level were rare. For example, in my 200-engineer organization called “Money,” we had 2 Staff engineers (L6) and no L7 or L8 engineers in 2016-2018. Between 2018-2020, this ratio changed to 1 L7 engineer and 5 L6 engineers in a 300-person organization.

‘Down-leveling’ to join Uber became common. Uber’s Senior 2 level was in line with what companies like Meta, Amazon or Google expected of staff-level engineers, so those at other companies often received offers for senior 2, senior staff engineer, staff, and so on – especially engineers arriving from Google.

The search giant is known to have the strictest expectations for levels, and most engineers expect a lower level offer from Google, than at their previous workplace. However, at Uber even former Google engineers above the senior engineer (L5) level received offers a level below their old title. I talked with a staff Engineer (L6) at Uber who previously was a senior staff (L7) at Google. We cover more about down-leveling in tech in the article The Seniority Rollercoaster.

In March 2022, Uber addressed this inconsistency in levels by updating engineering levels to be more in-line with the rest of the industry. The company pretty much renamed senior 2 engineer as staff engineer, and updated the titles from L6. They also added a new level 9. The levels now are:

Engineering levels at Uber from 2022
Engineering levels at Uber from 2022

My view is this update was overdue and makes sense. I cannot count how often I explained to candidates how Uber’s Senior 2 level was pretty much the same as “staff” at their present employer, and how our staff level was more like “senior staff” at Google. I also assume Uber may have been less attractive to candidates heavily focused on the job title, even though the Senior or Staff level titles become increasingly harder to distinguish. In an earlier issue, we also covered why, after 25 years, Netflix introduced engineering levels and ended up with similar—abeit fewer—levels than where Uber is now.

The title change had a small impact on Uber alumni. Following last year’s change, there was a flurry of title changes on LinkedIn by Uber engineers, many of whose connections congratulated them as senior 2-and-above engineers for what looked like a promotion to staff-or-above levels. However, for most there had been no level change, only a title bump due to levels being updated.

What was amusing was how quickly former senior 2-and-above engineers updated their titles to reflect the changes. Anyone who was an L5B at Uber years ago, could now say they were a Staff engineer, not a senior 2. And people duly did so.

In fairness, updating of titles is warranted, especially since the new ones reflect responsibilities better than before.

And this update also applies to how I can present my achievements as a manager at Uber. Throughout my tenure I never promoted any engineers on my team to Staff level. It would have been hard to do so as in the broader organization of 300 engineers, only one person was promoted to L6 during my 4-year tenure! But did help promote 4 direct reports to Senior 2 (L5B) level.But with Uber’s new levels, I could say I helped 4 reports get to the Staff engineer level.

We cover more on Staff+ topics: What is a Staff+ engineer, Engineering leadership skill set overlaps and Ways Staff and Principal engineers get stuck (and how to get unstuck).

This was one out of the six topics covered in this week’s The Scoop. A lot of what I share in The Scoop is exclusive to this publication, meaning it’s not been covered in any other media outlet before and you’re the first to read about it.

The full The Scoop edition additionally covers:

  1. Meta’s second round of engineering cuts. About 4,000 tech workers were let go yesterday (Wednesday) at Meta. Which divisions are most impacted, and is there a pattern? I talk with current Meta engineers and managers to get answers. Exclusive.
  2. More managers become ICs at Shopify. Several engineering managers at the e-commerce tech giant have been asked to revert to individual contributor (IC) roles. Could this become a trend in Big Tech? Exclusive.
  3. Tech vendors with standout growth rates. Okta has released a report summarizing anonymized app usage data from more than 17,000 customers. Postman, Sentry, Figma, Miro, Snowflake and 1Password are growing very quickly. What’s the ‘secret’ behind some standout growth companies? The CEOs of Postman and Sentry reveal details. Exclusive.
  4. AWS forming a Works Council in Germany. Amazon is known for its union-busting tactics, yet the leadership seems unusually supportive of a new Works Council formed in Germany, which supports the interests of software developers. What are this group’s goals, and its timeline? Exclusive.
  5. Honeycomb’s $50M fundraise. The observability startup has been close to running out of money at least once in their 7-year-old history, and their early years were quite precarious. And yet, in a down market, they raised a surprisingly large round. What is the fundraising environment like and how did they secure a fresh round? I sat down with their CTO to get more details. Exclusive.

Read the full The Scoop here.

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