Stay Senior or be Staff?
How I truly understood my career aspirations and pursued the Staff promo.
I've come across numerous discussions on this topic on Blind and other forums. I faced the same dilemma - "should I stay a senior or become staff?" In today's post, I'll share how I got over this myself and decided to pursue the staff promotion at Meta.
I refer to Senior & Staff as levels in FAANG. The senior level is also referred to as E5 and the staff level as E6. To understand more, read up’s post on E5 vs E6 expectations.
Why I felt I didn’t want to be E6
I had just turned E5 and saw some Staff engineers around me dealing with annoying and difficult situations which didn't end well. So I prematurely decided to take it "slow".
Also, I didn't have a single stable manager for the next year and a half. So career growth conversations almost never happened.
I convinced myself that I didn’t need to get there. Some of my reasons to be ok with it were:
Wider Safety net at E5
I led multiple projects for the team and became the primary go-to person for various areas. I was acquiring new skills and pushing my comfort zone. I remained focused on doing what was “right”. However, I hesitated to add promotion considerations into the mix.
I had built a perception that making a mistake at E6 would be catastrophic. So, staying at E5 would be safe! I would have a wider safety net. I assumed going to the next level with this fear would be unsustainable.
What if I got fired?
Naturally, if you can't sustain at the next level, you would receive a poor performance rating or, even worse, be fired.
I dreaded getting a performance ding. I had even asked one of my managers to only promote me when he felt I could exceed expectations at E6.
Also, at that time, I was on a US visa, so getting fired meant the risk of having to leave the country. So there was a potential risk, even if it was unlikely.
Content with the salary
E5s at FANG companies earn a pretty good salary, so I didn't consider a salary increase a compelling reason, although it was more of an excuse.
What changed my mind?
Even though I didn’t have a single stable manager I found some support around me. One of my previous managers asked me to not worry about failing at E6. I was open about my fears and it helped hear the words of encouragement.
I revisited this question and realized that I had been undervaluing my contributions and worrying excessively about failure. I recognized that I was the team expert and leading the next big project. I even compared my skills to a year ago and observed measurable progress. This tangible progress alleviated many of my concerns.
Finally when I got a stable manager, we worked together on a plan to get to the next level. I asked for concrete examples of what I still needed to improve. I understood my strengths and growth opportunities.
I will share how I got to E6 and what I learned from that journey in a future article.
Reward vs Accountability
I had bought into this false narrative that "I can over-perform at E5 and greatly exceed expectations" and "I could merely meet expectations when I was stressed.” I wanted the reward of influencing the team but reluctant to be accountable for it. Companies don’t operate that way. If you can’t be accountable they will find one else who will want that job.
Mistakes are ok
I had this false belief that mistakes are not okay. I imagined the worst outcome all the time.
What matters is how we react after making one. This is the behavior that distinguishes leaders from the rest. Being okay with failure changed my outlook.
Also, if one is really fired, that is not the end of the world. FANG-like companies pay high enough that you can afford a nice break before finding the next gig.
Trust me when I say this - nobody will promote you (at least in FANG) if there is any doubt that you won't succeed at it and can’t sustain it.
I know many good engineers struggle with this dilemma. They build up a lot of misconceptions about E6 and the implications of failure. I strongly suggest folks to talk openly about their fears & concerns with their managers and staff engineers. Good mentors make a huge difference and put you on the right path.
Don't assume you will be satisfied with what you have today 10 years down the line. So have a long-term goal and work towards it. If it involves getting to the next level, then do it. It is not a race, so decide what the right pace for you is.
Finally, take risks, embrace mistakes, and learn from them. It will be okay.
Have you struggled with this thought? Or still struggling with it?
If you have tips to share leave a comment. If you need help leveling up and want to chat with me click on the mentorship link on the newsletter.