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this works in theory, but in practice unless you go somewhere else or you have an exceptional boss willing to go to bat for you not much will change between being competent at your job and killing it. Your manager and, most important, his manager and the execs, won't know the difference if your code is world class or just average for your position, they are not doing your code reviews after all.

If the lay of the land from high above is that in this company we have only X fellows, Y architects and Z distinguished, you can be the best developer in the world, but until one of those retires / leaves you won't get promoted. And if the lay of the land is stack ranking, you can be world class, but if your teammates are even more world class than you (or can play the politics game better) then you are going to be punished regardless of your effort.

It's not that just because you get an outstanding performance review, or two, or three you will be promoted. You might get a salary/RSU bump (within the band of your position) or you might not (for reasons beyond your control the company might have decided to freeze salary increases for a year)

I am sure companies where promotion from within and strong rewards for developers exist, but I don't think they are that common, when talking to peers it seems the only more or less guaranteed way to get promotions, recognition and significant salary bumps are to leave and go work somewhere else.

It's also surprising how many companies will allow great engineers with 5-10 years of domain experience to leave with just a "ah, it's normal, attrition happens" without actually trying hard to keep them, but I guess they figure that if they reward one for staying, others will want rewards as well, and so it's easier to just not do anything (which is of course helped by the widespread notion that engineers are just replaceable cogs, so if one leaves you can just get another or hire 3-4 offshore replacements for the same amount)

In the end it seems one should either try to work for a company where one enjoys what they do, and forget all about the career ladder, or one should think about moving around every 2-3 years and keep chasing the promotions / salary bumps instead, it feels like the time of working for a company where good work is rewarded is long past.

I hope that the tone of this post is not too pessimistic, it's just that it feels that chasing the career ladder is a goal in its own right as opposed of a side effect of a career well spent: as you said the deck is stacked against the employee, and the only thing an employee has on their side is the threat to leave, you can't do anything else, unlike employers who have a lot of tools in their arsenal.




> I am sure companies where promotion from within and strong rewards for developers exist, but I don't think they are that common, when talking to peers it seems the only more or less guaranteed way to get promotions, recognition and significant salary bumps are to leave and go work somewhere else.

This is what I've personally experienced from both ends. I was at one company for a very long time and as a result I was dependent on the variable annual salary review (which was at least consistent) but in the last decade or so I feel that compensation for needed jobs outpaced that growth. I've also noticed that viewing the profiles of various software engineers that a lot of people move around a lot. They might stay there one or two years but no more than three or four. I wish I had learned this early on in my career. Also I think as a developer you learn more and grow by experiencing different domains and problems. It's bad to get complacent.

> It's also surprising how many companies will allow great engineers with 5-10 years of domain experience to leave with just a "ah, it's normal, attrition happens" without actually trying hard to keep them, but I guess they figure that if they reward one for staying, others will want rewards as well, and so it's easier to just not do anything (which is of course helped by the widespread notion that engineers are just replaceable cogs, so if one leaves you can just get another or hire 3-4 offshore replacements for the same amount)

I sometimes wonder if long-term employees are a liability for companies. Or if they view them that way at least. Because of the nature of work maybe they need people for a few projects and if they go that's okay. They got what they needed from them (and maybe so did the employee).




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