Career levels across Seattle-area tech employers

Disclaimer: These thoughts and opinions are my own and not my employer’s, although if you didn’t know that already you’re clearly not paying attention.

EMC Isilon recently refreshed their career level definitions and it got me thinking of how difficult it is to map levels from one company to another. EMC uses a P1-P7 numbering system, IBM uses a band 6-band 9 numbering system, Microsoft uses levels numbered 59-68, Amazon calls theirs levels L1-L10, etc. How is anyone suppose to make sense of this mess across companies? So I set out to do what any engineer would do: determine if there was a mapping between them.

From my experience at IBM, pre-acquisition Isilon, and now EMC I was able to do some of the mappings myself. I then reached out to friends who have worked for at least one of the three and asked how their current companies mapped to it. The following table includes the results thus-far:

IBM pre-EMC Isilon EMC Microsoft Amazon
P1 – Entry 59/60
band 6 SDE 1 P2 – Intermediate 61 L4 – college hires
band 7 SDE 2 P3 – Senior 62 L5 – mid-career
band 8 SDE 3 P4 – Principal 63 L6 – Senior
band 9 P5 – Consultant 64 L7 – Principal
STSM Staff P6 – Senior Consultant 65/66/67 – Principal L8 – Senior Principal
Distinguished Engineer Distinguished Engineer L7 – Lead /
Distinguished Engineer
68 – Partner L10 – Distinguished Engineer
Fellow Fellow Fellow

Discussion frameworks, not absolutes

The chart above is useful primarily as a framework for discussion. Even within a large company the skills for someone at given level may not map closely to others at that same level. Add cross-company evaluations into the mix and the above is, at best, a guideline.

Why is this important?

People change jobs frequently in the tech industry (no surprise given employees who stay in companies longer than 2 years get paid 50% less). My 10-year career at IBM and 4+ years (so far) at EMC makes me an outlier in a field where most of the resumes I see have people staying just 1-2 years between jobs.

The chart above can be useful when changing jobs across companies. When I left IBM to come work at Isilon this would have come in very handy. Instead of moving from my band 9 position at IBM to at least an SDE3 or Staff position at Isilon, I moved over as an SDE2 — two steps down. Next time I’ll have more data to make a solid lateral (or upward!?) transition.1

Levels !== Pay

Everyone I’ve talked to has confirmed that pay does not directly map to levels. It is common for the upper end of the pay range of level X to overlap greatly with level X+1 and maybe even border the lower end of level X+2.

What about Company X?

I’d love to get other large tech companies like Google and Facebook on here, I just haven’t found anyone willing to share their insight. If you have overlap with one of the above drop me an email and lets fill in the blanks.

1 FWIW, I currently have no intention of leaving EMC Isilon for another job.

Pro-public transit? Ditch AAA

Many people, roughly 54 million Americans, use AAA (formerly: American Automobile Association) for tows and discounts. What you may not know is that AAA actively lobbies against public transit initiatives and other environmental issues (see the full report). If you think about it, this makes sense — AAA makes money from people driving on roads, the more people that drive on roads the better off they are.

There are alternatives, like Better World Club that offers similar auto services to AAA but with a distinct bent towards greener policies and other forms of transit. For example: if you are a cyclist, Better World Club will give you a 30-mile ‘tow’ should your bike break down anywhere in the US. AAA offers a 5-mile ‘tow’ if you live in Washington state and doesn’t offer it at all in most others.

Take a moment and compare Better World Club and AAA and see if one aligns better with your world outlook.

Secret sauce to including data_files in python bdist_rpm

2017/02/10 update: I’ve discovered a better solution (using an updated version of setuptools) and have updated the post below.

To add additional data files to python installation files — such as service files in /etc/init.d for RH-based distros — all the docs tell you to simply add a data_files line to your file, like:

    data_files=[('/etc/init.d', ['init.d/service_name'])],

If you do this, however, might get this lovely error when attempting to create the RPM:

$ python bdist_rpm
< snip >
running install_data
error: can't copy 'init.d/service_name': doesn't exist or not a regular file
error: Bad exit status from /var/tmp/rpm-tmp.DRsp99 (%install)

RPM build errors:
    Bad exit status from /var/tmp/rpm-tmp.DRsp99 (%install)
error: command 'rpmbuild' failed with exit status 1

This will perplex you for ages considering the file clearly exists in the path relative to, per the instructions:

$ ls -l
-rw-rw-r--. 1 cpeel cpeel 1233 Mar  9 14:37
$ ls -l init.d/service_name
-rw-rw-r--. 1 cpeel cpeel 1242 Mar  9 14:40 init.d/service_name

The problem is that there are (at least) two different flavors of setup() functions and they are not completely alike. Both distutils and setuptools provide a setup() function and both packages have changed over time. See this StackOverflow example discussing the python setup tools landscape as of January 2017.

I don’t know what version of distutils I was using when I wrote this blog post, but it was probably some version with python 2.6. The version of distutils bundled with python 2.7.12, and presumably later, does not generate the RPM build error.

I also get the above RPM build error when using setup() from older versions of setuptools (at least 20.1.1). Updating to the most recent version of setuptools (34.1.1 as of February 2017) resolves the issue.

It appears that the general internet consensus, and official Python Packaging User Guide, is to use setuptools which can be updated independently of the python version you are using, so just be sure you’re using the latest version.

If you’re stuck on an older version of setuptools or distutils, the missing piece that took me hours to discover, is that even with data_files in, you need a file that tells them to include the files in the package:

$ cat 
recursive-include init.d *

No such thing as a “just defensive” patent

EMC is on a big push for employees to generate more software patents. I’ve always said that software patents are bad. Always.

[Insert rant about how large companies innovate primarily through acquisition and if startups are afraid of innovating due fear of patent infringement they won’t start-up and thus large companies won’t innovate.]

EMC currently touts the same party line as IBM during my 10 years there: “we only use patents defensively”. But things aren’t looking that great at IBM these days after a disastrous 4th quarter and laying off thousands of people. So what is a large corporation to do given their fiscal responsibility to their shareholders? You start using your patents offensively, like suing Priceline for royalties on billions of dollars for things you patented back in the 90s.

So the next time your company tries to tell you “yes, patents are bad but we only use them defensively” you can call bullshit and point them to IBM.