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Engineering levels at Mixmax

December 12, 2020

This is the last post, post twelve, in the Mixmax Advent 2020 series.

For the last post in our series, we’ll talk about how we designed our engineering levels. This document is a live document inside of Mixmax - it’s always being updated as we continue to grow and evolve as a team. If this philosophy resonants with you and you’re interested in the work that we’re doing, come join us!


Mixmax Engineering Levels

Philosophy

Levels at Mixmax represent your rank, not your role. Individual contributors and team leads share the same leveling system, and which role you play speaks more to your particular skills than your seniority at the company (beyond a minimum rank requirement for some roles). 

These levels are meant to exemplify Mixmax’s core values “building strength in our differences” and “bring out the best in each other.'' The intent of this leveling system is to embrace and support a diverse group of unique engineers. We value both generalists and specialists, from the engineer that performs consistently at the same level across all attributes, to the engineer that is an execution powerhouse, to the engineer that is a bastion of support for the entire org. 

The goal of this document is to provide clarity on how to advance in rank at Mixmax, and to help communicate what we’re looking for when we bring on new engineers at a certain level. You should be able to have a conversation with your manager about what you need to do in order to move onto the next level and formulate a specific plan to get there.

Leveling Up

Your overall level is an aggregation of your level across the dimensions that we focus on here at Mixmax.

Dimensions

Technical

This dimension focuses on an engineer’s technical skillset: including, and not limited to, an engineer’s mastery of different technologies, best practices, reading code, code stewardship, quality & testing, design, and debugging.

Execution

This dimension focuses on the way that an engineer gets things done: planning, scoping, estimation skills, getting unstuck, taking ownership, strategic alignment, product/business understanding, and vision.

Collaboration

This dimension focuses on the way an engineer works together with teammates: communication skills, asking for and giving feedback, collaborating, sharing knowledge, unblocking others, leading teams, participating in meetings.

Support

This dimension focuses on how an engineer supports themselves, their teammates, all of engineering and the company as a whole. It focuses on the glue that engineers can use to help be a part of and build incredible relationships and teams. Relevant skills include living the company values, supporting other engineers, recruiting, evangelizing, and leading organizational initiatives.

Impact

This dimension is an overarching dimension that focuses on the impact radius of an engineer. It looks to see what the consistent impact an engineer has on their peers, their team, their department and the company as a whole.

Evaluation

Your level in a dimension at Mixmax is determined by which of these behaviours you consistently and regularly apply. Writing a spec does not instantly qualify you for L2 - think of it as needing to be able to demonstrate that you’re an L2 consistently for at least 3 months before you fully qualify.

As you level up, we encourage a multifaceted approach - you’ll touch base with your manager at least quarterly to discuss how to iterate on this. If you want to focus in, and hone your superpowers, awesome! If you want to spend time working on your weaknesses, 🙌. We want you to focus on what will make you, as an individual, a phenomenal engineer. Everyone has specific superpowers that need to be continually replenished and developed, and working on weaknesses will increase your ability in other areas that then act as multiplying factors for your superpowers.

To reiterate this and to riff on how this ties into our values:

  • We all have our own superpowers, allowing us to build strength in our differences, and so it’s important to always be developing these.
  • We also need to work on our weaknesses, so that we can strengthen them to multiply the power of our superpowers, allow us to do more with less.
  • These together help us bring the best out in each other.
  • Which in turn allows us to live as one team, with one mission.
  • Which we have to do in order to turn our customers into heroes at work.

When you have these discussions with your manager, it’s up to both of you to come up with an actionable plan on what you can do to increase your rank, along with a desired timeframe for completion.

New Hires

New Hires can be brought on at any level - part of the recruiting process is to make a judgement call on what level they operate at based on their experience and their performance in interviews.

It’s not necessarily expected that a new hire is consistently performing at their level on day one - generally we would expect a new hire to “ramp up” to their expected level within their first 3 months.

Levels

L1

An L1 engineer is often new to software development, either from school or a bootcamp program. L1 engineers usually work on highly scoped problems that have been thoroughly reviewed by a more senior member before assignment so that they have guidance on how they should go about implementing the change. L1 engineers are usually not expected to define the architecture of their solutions, or work independently on a project without frequent check-ins.

L1s main focus to advance should be familiarity with the codebase, technologies, and coding concepts. L1s have project level impact.

Impact

  • As newer engineers, L1s will primarily have an impact on themselves and their tasks, and so their projects.

Technical

  • Can work independently on small issues and isolated stories that are well-scoped
  • Demonstrates a basic understanding of core technologies like Express, React and Javascript
  • Writes well structured code and writes automated tests appropriately.

Execution

  • Consistently completes tasks on time and sees them through to completion
  • Works to push tickets through review, testing, etc.
  • Conducts test parties for their features when appropriate.
  • Raises issues to the team when blocked on a ticket.

Collaboration

  • Participates in team, guild, and co-working discussions.
  • Provides feedback to team members and their manager appropriately.
  • Receives feedback constructively and works to resolve issues raised.

Support

  • Conducts themselves according to the Mixmax code of conduct at all times.
  • Is familiar with Mixmax values, and makes efforts to follow them.
  • Contributes to organizational initiatives, such as participating in cultural breakout sessions.
  • Actively looks to grow through their own skills through goal-setting and soliciting feedback.

Expected timeframe to next level

We expect L1s to transition to L2 within one to two years.

L2

An L2 engineer is capable of working on a project collaboratively with other team members, including defining specifications, defining architecture and solutions to projects, and ensuring that their work in a project covers all aspects of these specifications. L2 engineers should be active participants in PR reviews, team, guild, and engineering-wide meetings, and should be able to act as mentors to L1 engineers. L2s are increasing their team-level impact through such mentorship and teamwork.

Impact

  • An L2’s impact radius is their team.
  • They’re beginning to take responsibility for an area of our system (with guidance) and through taking initiative (e.g fixes bugs unprompted).
  • They help mentor L1s and inspire teamwork.

Technical

  • Proposes architecture and solutions for small to mid-sized projects
  • Familiar with all core services of the Mixmax platform
  • Strong familiarity with core technologies used at Mixmax

Execution

  • Can manage the workload of a project, including specification writing, creating an issue backlog, and executing on completion of the project.
  • Able to estimate workload and execute successfully within a weekly timeframe
  • Proactively works to unblock themselves on issues rather than relying on another team member.
  • Scope of work is focused on small to medium sized projects

Collaboration

  • Presents new ideas and topics at guild meetings and co-working
  • Regularly reviews other engineers code and adds constructive feedback on code style, design issues, and potential risks.
  • Works with Mixmax members outside of engineering on problems
  • Able to work directly with customers to resolve issues when appropriate
  • Able to assess risk on major changes and PRs and minimize risk on code merges and deploys.
  • Represents Mixmax Engineering to the greater community, eg presenting at meetups and conferences

Support

  • Lives our core values at Mixmax.
  • Helps support their peers and teammates by providing consistent feedback to them, espousing our culture of continuous feedback.
  • Assume good intent and trust their teammates.
  • Demonstrates empathy for teammates and consideration for the impact they have on others, e.g. reaching out if they sense something wrong.
  • Able to constructively voice concerns.

Expected timeframe to next level

We expect L2s to progress to L3 within two to three years.

L3

An L3 engineer is more of a technical mentor to other engineers on the team, and may serve as a team lead on projects. L3 members should be able to coordinate the work done by a group of individuals in order to hit a project’s goal, whether they are formally leading a team or playing a key technical role on the team. L3s continue to demonstrate strong team-level impact.

Impact

  • An L3’s impact radius is their team + their peers.
  • Share their experience and expertise to help others grow. They lead and coach within their team, where possible, and they’re trusted with team decisions.
  • Beginning to broaden their impact. They consider the effects of their work on other teams, as well as identifying and helping to resolve problems facing their team and others.
  • Fully takes responsibility for a service or component.

Technical

  • Serves as a technical mentor for other Mixmax engineers through project leadership, specification definition, and teamwork.
  • Thoughtful, in-depth investigation into deep technical issues.

Execution

  • Consistently uses data in making decisions on architectural and product direction
  • Estimates risk of future work, identifying potential roadblocks and incorporating them into their estimates
  • Self-manages their time - capable of scheduling time for learning and other initiatives themselves without manager support
  • Scope of work incorporates larger multi-week projects
  • Documents the work they do and ensures information they maintain is kept up to date.

Collaboration

  • Actively works to unblock others through helping with questions, offering technical mentorship and advice, and bringing out the best in other engineers.
  • Effectively leads meetings and organizes groups of engineers
  • Has a deep understanding of how customers use Mixmax, and applies that in the work they do.
  • Can be relied on to represent the company when talking to key customers or on sales calls.

Support

  • Helps newer teammates live our values. 
  • Gives incremental and consistent feedback to all team members.
  • Champions or owns new cultural initiatives.
  • Assists recruiting efforts in growing the Mixmax team, either through interviewing or other activities.
  • Writes insightful documentation and processes.

Expected timeframe to next level

If an engineer wants to focus on moving to the next level, this will typically take two+ years to grow their influence to L4.

L4

L4 engineers are capable of defining the architecture and coordinating the moving pieces of large projects. L4 engineers should serve as mentors and leaders for the engineering organization, either through technical mentorship, leading more substantial projects that may span a quarter, or as direct managers. L4s are expanding their team-level impact by understanding the effect of their work on their team. They’re also beginning to understand and help solve problems facing their team and other teams, by beginning to identify and lead engineering initiatives within their team and the org.

Impact

  • In addition to their team and their peers, an L4’s impact radius is their guild (routinely have initiative and domain level impact).
  • Identify and advocate for foundational work and practice improvements in their domain.
  • Leads initiatives & meetings within team and domain. Regularly leads multi-person, multi-week projects
  • Has a consistent record of very strong ownership for their area (e.g. figuring out on-call schedules, new monitoring initiatives, research initiatives to drive their areas forward).

Technical

  • Proposes long-term architectural directions for major projects and technical initiatives at Mixmax.
  • Participates in defining an architectural vision for an area of the application long term.

Execution

  • Can be relied on to define an execution plan for a major project, incorporating past learnings and accommodating for unforeseen issues and learnings.
  • Can work with a team to define high level, externally facing goals for projects spanning many weeks
  • Scope of work is focused on major initiatives for a quarter.

Collaboration

  • Serves as a technical mentor to other team members and can add constructive feedback and guidance to other teams’ specifications and proposals.
  • Works with key stakeholders (including cross-functionally) in assessing needs for projects and ensuring they are addressed by solutions.

Support

  • Gives guidance & unblocks others on their team and area.
  • Actively works to help grow and evolve our culture.
  • Helps junior engineers find opportunities to get involved in recruiting and evangelizing (i.e. via presentations opportunities both inside and outside the company).
  • Routinely carves out opportunities for more junior engineers.
  • Helps others maintain resilience during periods of change.

Expected timeframe to next level

Things start to get fuzzier here, and we’d often expect this process, if desired by the engineer, to take two+ years to grow their influence to L5.

L5

L5 engineers are able to manage an entire area of the Mixmax application and propose and execute on long-term architectural vision for that area (i.e. major technology or architecture upgrades, redesign of core systems). L5s are expected to regularly have domain and initiative level impact. Many of the responsibilities of an L5 (such as defining long-term technical vision) might be something we don’t do a lot as a company, but we anticipate this will be an increasingly key function as the company grows.

Impact

  • An L5’s impact radius is, at minimum, the entire engineering department.
  • Thought leader for technical decisions, influencing architecture and prioritization across multiple teams.
  • Lead initiatives across domains, even outside their core expertise. Coordinates large & complex projects, including with outside partners.

Technical

  • Leads the definition and execution of major technology initiatives (introducing new technology, redesigning areas of the application, etc.)
  • Has best-of-class knowledge in a particular aspect of Mixmax-deployed technology.

Execution

  • Can work with key stakeholders, including the management team of Mixmax to define a technical long-term vision and execute on it.
  • Capable of managing the workload of a large team on a quarterly level and defining resourcing plans to meet those goals.

Collaboration

  • Implements new initiatives to improve quality and minimize risk in the Mixmax codebase.
  • Regularly serves a mentorship role to several senior engineers on the Mixmax team.
  • Works with all aspects of the business to help shape future direction.

Support

  • Routinely and consistently supports multiple teams moving forward.
  • Is a bastion of support for engineers to come to for advice, both professional and personal. This means that this individual is a go-to person for many engineers.
  • Helps act as a buffer for junior engineers, routinely reaching out to support them however they can.
  • Trusted to de-escalate conflicts and build consensus between team members.
  • Actively spreads the Mixmax brand to prospective candidates.

Expected timeframe to next level

The air is starting to get thin up here, this will often take three+ years to grow into an L6 (if the engineer decides to grow their influence more).

L6

As we get bigger, we will probably need engineers who work with an even broader impact and more seniority than L5s. Right now, we don’t have a solid model for how a L6’s responsibilities would be different from an L5. Part of the responsibilities of an engineer hoping to move to L6 should be to work with us to define this role.

As a starting point, however, the impact of an L6 engineer should move outside of the engineering organization, and into the broader ecosystem we work in. They should genuinely be considered thought leaders outside of Mixmax for a particular area - whether that’s due to speaking engagements, open source contributions, or direct interaction with Mixmax customers. L6 engineers should have visibility and influence on key strategic initiatives at Mixmax and will generally feel comfortable working among department heads on important projects.

Written by

Trey Tacon

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