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An exception to this is the "boomerang" engineer, who leaves the company as a senior software engineer and is hired back as a principal/staff engineer. At my company, there is a belief that it's easier to become a principal by leaving than by going through the rigorous promotion process.

There’s a five level ranking at my company, and I applied for a level 4 position (I’ve been in level 5 equivalent positions before).

My boss somehow talked me into hiring in as a 3 for some reason that I no longer recall. I should have listened to the alarms in my brain. I started mid-year so around 18 months I had to wait for a promotion. My boss quits a couple months before that.

3 years and still a level 3. Gave my two weeks and people high in the pecking order are sad to see me go because I’m good at what I do. Well thanks for the complement, but how about a promotion instead of a heartfelt goodbye?

Sometimes it’s not the bureacracy, it’s a boss who either isn’t good at bucking for promotions or burns all their political capital on other things. Other groups get people promoted. Everybody but my boss thinks I’m a level 4 and has for years. That’s how you lose people and never get them back (I wouldn’t want to work for this manager again, not for reasons of aptitude, but simply because he doesn’t prioritize things that I care about).

> there is a belief that it's easier to become a principal by leaving than by going through the rigorous promotion process

That's because in most places it is. The whole construct of "work above your pay level for years on end, and MAYBE one day you will be paid accordingly" is fundamentally flawed and will always foster an environment of low morale. That's a sucker bet, and is why people job-hop for meaningful career advancement. Promotions are little more than popularity contests, not unlike a beauty pageant. And much like a beauty pageant, they don't reward those who answer the judge's questions the most elegantly, they reward the ones who attract the most attention. If you want to know what a company values, pay attention to what it rewards/incentivizes, then ask yourself if you share those same values. If not, bounce. You'll likely make more money doing so anyway.

I am also experiencing this and thus am starting to look elsewhere (and others at my co. feel the same), I imagine it’s an industry thing but have been trying to figure out what the root cause is.

Companies always seem to think that the talent is out there. They just don’t have it yet.

Sadly it’s often the opposite.

Supply and demand?

When you are employed they demand you show up every day and you supply yourself. There isn't an expectation that you wont supply yourself. After you leave but before you are hired back then there is demand but no supply. Leverage I guess. Makes sense to me.

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