From a modest online bookstore to the largest customer-centric e-commerce platform today, Amazon’s journey to success has been exemplary. Over the last three decades, Amazon has experienced explosive growth by consistently scaling its operations, establishing new trends, and progressively diversifying its product offerings to achieve eCommerce domination.
With its customer-driven company culture and innovative e-commerce efforts that impact millions of people globally, Amazon is one of the best tech companies to work in 2021. Its organizational culture pushes employees beyond conventional boundaries through a leveling structure that serves as a career roadmap for software engineers to achieve professional goals.
Salary packages at Amazon are among the most favorable in the tech industry. An Amazon entry-level software engineer can earn a base salary of $111k- $121k per year. Meanwhile, compensations increase significantly as you advance in the software engineer career ladder.
Amazon, like other FAANG companies, incorporates the level system with accrued roles and benefits. So, for clarity, we’ll be examining the different Software Engineer Levels at Amazon, criteria for classification, responsibilities, and benefits accrued to each level. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Software Engineer Career Ladder at Amazon
- Factors Considered for Leveling Amazon Software Engineers at Amazon
- How to Prepare for Amazon Software Engineer Interview
Software Engineer Career Ladder at Amazon
Job levels at Amazon are defined by seniority, impact, and scope of responsibilities. Each level is associated with a salary band, a job title and requires a set of qualifications, skills, and experience to advance. Amazon’s clear job hierarchies help maximize career progression opportunities, enhance the internal mobility process, and encourages a transparent company culture.
Level 4: Software Development Engineer I (SDE I)
Average Base Salary: $121,153 per year
Since Level 4 coding engineers possess basic computer knowledge, they begin with debugging and writing test cases. Then, they gradually improve their problem-solving and start building and developing computer systems and software.
In addition to base salaries, they also receive bonuses and stock compensation, taking their total annual pay to $136,613, on average.
Skills and Qualifications Required for SDE I
- L4 software engineers at Amazon need 2+ years of non-internship experience in software development.
An SDE-I must possess a bachelor’s degree in computer science or related field and expertise in one or more programming languages such as Java, C++, or C#.
- They must also know object-oriented concepts, system design and architecture, data structures, UNIX/Linux operating systems, and technical/product development processes.
Level 5: Software Development Engineer II (SDE II)
Average Base Salary: $144,000 per year
At this level, software development engineers at Amazon are responsible for mentoring level 4 software development engineers. Their job revolves around application security, debugging, ownership, SSL, etc., and as they develop leadership and management skills, they are promoted to level 6.
Like all Amazon software engineers, SDE-IIs also receive health savings, employee discounts, and transportation allowances.
Skills and Qualifications Required for SDE II
- A level 4 software development engineer with 4+ years of industry experience is eligible to be an SDE-II.
- Candidates with equivalent experience must be well-versed in both backend and front-end development (full-stack development).
- An SDE-II should have strong communication skills to convey technical concepts to non-technical teams.
Software Development Engineer (SDE III)
Average Base Salary: $165,033 per year
It’s uncommon for level 6 software engineers at Amazon to be hired. SDE-IIIs must be technical leaders, recruit and mentor lower-level SDEs, and drive business growth through best engineering practices. They must also be well-versed with coding standards, build processes, testing tools and technologies, and code reviews.
With outside hires, the decision largely depends on the interview process and ability to demonstrate the skills and experience levels of an SDE-III.
Skills and Qualifications Required For SDE III
- SDE-IIIs require a minimum of 8+ years of professional experience and proficiency in C, C++, or Java.
- They must have in-depth knowledge of the fundamentals of object-oriented analysis and design (OOA/OOD), system design and architecture, algorithm design, complexity analysis.
- Level 6 software development engineers should be able to implement best software engineering practices and have a deep understanding of the full software development life cycle.
Level 7: Principal Software Development Engineer (Principal SDE)
Average Base Salary: $172,736 per year
Shouldered with higher responsibilities, a Principal SDE is in charge of large teams of software engineers and is responsible for making important technical and architectural decisions. Amazon’s leadership principles are applicable to level 7 SDEs.
Annual raises for principal SDEs are reportedly less than 1%, and commission potential is relatively low; however, level 7 SDEs enjoy a wide range of benefits from health care, employee assistance, retirement support, family planning, and professional support.
Skills and qualifications required for Principal SDE
- Principal SDEs must possess 10+ years of software engineering experience with an ability to drive technical and architectural decisions on large-scale projects.
- Must have a proven track record in dealing with high-quality systems with a focus on scalability, customer satisfaction, and automation.
- Other skills required strong communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and organizational skills.
- An advanced degree in CS or a related field is a preferred qualification.
Level 8: Senior Software Engineer (Principal)
Average Base Salary: $193,219 per year
Senior principal software engineers have an increased scope of responsibilities with a greater impact on technical decisions as compared to level 7 SDEs.
Level 8 SDEs, along with Principal SDEs and Distinguished SDEs, drive visionary technical excellence. They are in charge of highly complex systems and serve as leaders and mentors to large teams of junior SDEs.
Skills and qualifications required
- Level 8 SDEs at Amazon must possess at least 10 years of professional experience in complex, service-oriented software development and be well-versed with one or more programming languages such as C/C++, Java, Ruby, Scala, Python, etc.
- They should have experience delivering technical projects in an Agile environment.
- They should be able to showcase Amazon’s leadership principles and fulfill technical depth and complexity requirements.
- Senior Principal SDEs should have experience leading junior SDEs, effectively communicating technical decisions, and driving engineering excellence.
Level 10: Distinguished SDE
Average Base Salary: $219K
Distinguished software development engineers also serve as Vice Presidents at Amazon. They have large-scale organizational influence and have a proven track record of building, launching, and maintaining successful technical projects.
They enjoy many benefits from insurance, health and wellness, transportation, accommodation assistance, and financial and retirement plans.
Skills and Qualifications Required for Distinguished SDE
- Having spent 5 years as a level 8 SDE, you are promoted to a distinguished SDE position. Your primary job responsibilities include leading and mentoring massive technical teams, performance evaluation, and implementing best engineering practices that drive innovation.
- They should be well-versed with heterogeneous systems, hardware, and software required in cloud-scale infrastructure. Other responsibilities include system software firmware implementation, tuning, and I/O virtualization.
Factors Considered for Leveling Amazon Software Engineers at Amazon
SWE job levels are defined by HR and company leaders with a focus on maximizing internal mobility, optimizing career pathways, and improving employee retention efforts. They also contribute to pay equity, increased transparency, and accountability.
Amazon follows a similar track as other FAANG companies like Google and Facebook, where a software engineer’s career ladder has ample variations and progression opportunities. However, advancing at Amazon is more difficult compared to other top tech companies.
As you advance from SDE-I to SDE-II to SDE-III to Principal, there is an exponential decrease in the number of engineers since the bar keeps increasing. The progression is relatively rapid and consistent at levels 4, 5, and 6; however, only a few software developers progress to level 7 and beyond.
Leveling at Amazon is largely based on the following two factors:
Skills and Qualifications
At different levels, SWEs must be able to showcase different skillsets and qualifications. For instance, SDE-I’s must display competence, if not expertise, across software development tools and technologies. Also, they should be willing to learn and carry out day-to-day operations independently.
SDE-IIs should exhibit people skills, competence in management, and the ability to serve as independent contributors, while SDE-IIIs must have a proven track record in modifying software systems and maintaining ownership of successful projects.
As we get to levels 6, 7, 8, and 10, we are looking at Amazon SDEs with widespread organizational influence and software development capabilities that can shape the entire tech industry.
Therefore, based on the quality of experience SDEs bring to a job, the scope of responsibilities, and impact, they are categorized into different levels that make way for a rewarding career path.
Note: Seniority levels also play an important role in structuring job levels at Amazon; however, years of experience are more a screening method than a contributing factor.
Recommended reading: How to Get Software Engineering Jobs at Amazon
Amazon has an elaborate interview process that considers every characteristic in an employee they deem worthy of driving engineering excellence in the industry. Therefore, interview questions are designed to evaluate your knowledge of data structure, system architecture, coding abilities, analytical-thinking skills, problem-solving capacities, people skills, and leadership and management skills, depending on the job level you are applying for.
While all candidates must showcase competence in coding and answer behavior-based questions effectively, interviewers will focus more on system design expertise if you are an SDE III or higher. They will also judge your ability to meet or exceed Amazon’s leadership principles like customer obsession, bias in action, and ownership, etc.
Amazon seeks employees willing to take action, improve software systems, and contribute to industrial growth through innovation. They’ll decide if you would be “raising the bar” at their company through your skills and competencies. So, landing a job at Amazon is hardly a cakewalk.
Fortunately, there are clearly defined perquisites for getting promoted to a higher level, such as X years of experience and Y number of skills. Therefore, you can determine how best to prepare for your interview.
Recommended reading: Amazon Interview Process Guide 2021
How to Prepare for Amazon Software Engineer Interview
Landing a job at Amazon won’t be easy, but here are a few tips that you can follow to maximize your chances of success:
Update Yourself with Amazon’s Interview Process
Amazon software engineer interviews are long and difficult; they span 4 to 8 weeks and require knowledge specific to Amazon and its products.
The interview process involves a phone call or email from an HR recruiter, one or two interviews with Amazon tech professionals over the phone, and 4 to 6 onsite interviews with upper-level SDEs. Following this, there is a debriefing where interviewers and hiring managers decide whether to move ahead with you.
Suppose you are applying for an internship or an entry-level position. In that case, you can also expect an online assessment (OA), where you are required to solve debugging and coding problems and logical reasoning questions before appearing for the phone screen interview.
The final two interview rounds cover various technical and behavioral questions based on system design, object-oriented design, data structures, algorithms, and leadership.
Research Amazon's Culture
You could excel at the technical and non-technical aspects of the interview; however, if Amazon’ finds you lacking in its culture, you are unlikely to get an offer. Therefore, researching a company’s culture and values is important to have a good sense of your daily responsibilities and who you’ll be working with. That way, you can be certain the company is the right place for you to grow and flourish.
To get insight into Amazon’s culture, you can speak with employees at Amazon, read reviews on sites like Glassdoor, or consult hiring managers. Here’s a YouTube 9-part technology culture video mix to get some insider knowledge.
Refresh Your Knowledge on Questions Based on System Design, Data Structures, Coding, and Behavior
Technical interviews at Amazon are less role-related; they are centered on CS data structures and algorithms. However, interviewers also examine your leadership skills by asking you scenario-based questions to gain insight into your decision-making and analytical thinking abilities. Therefore, you must be prepared with answers to the toughest technical and behavioral questions.
It is widely known that some of Amazon’s most commonly used programming languages are Java, C++, and Perl. So, if you are proficient in any of these languages, it could be beneficial.
To boost your problem-solving abilities, we recommend practicing at least 200 leet codes on a whiteboard. For every question you solve, explore the different approaches you can take, test them with examples, and time yourself. This will help you determine the fastest route to the solution and help you solve coding problems more efficiently.
Once you are confident enough, you can enter coding challenges or competitions to assess your coding abilities.
Leverage Interview Preparation Resources
There’s nothing like feedback and mentorship from tech leads and hiring managers that can seal the deal for you. Domain-based questions can be answered methodically, but coding questions require a “thinking out loud” approach, where you explain your steps to interviewers as you write your code.
Therefore, we strongly recommend signing up for mock sessions to practice live coding with industry experts from top tech companies interviewing you.
For instance, Interview Kickstart’s interview preparation resources include rigorous mock interviews with actual FAANG+ hiring managers who provide you detailed personalized feedback, scores, and reference videos.
Register for a free webinar here to advance your career!