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Software Engineer Job Levels at Google

Posted on 
August 13, 2021
Team Interview Kickstart

As a fundamental block for a strong recruitment strategy, Job levels is a meticulously designed system that determines the levels of authority in an organization and helps software engineers chart a career path at a company.

Managers and human resource teams define clear job hierarchies or levels early to ensure consistency in the internal mobility process and prevent problems related to pay equity and career growth.

Like any other industry, tech has a rigid job leveling system used to define the scope of responsibilities for a job level and the assigned salary band. 

According to a 2020 report published by Levels.fyi, Lyft and Stripe are among the highest-paying companies for entry-level software engineers. In contrast, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix are some of the top-paying companies for senior and principal-level software engineers. 

So, what are the criteria for leveling SWEs at tech companies? First, let’s find out Google’s approach to structuring — we’ll cover:

  • What Are Job Levels?
  • How Are Software Engineer Levels Decided at Google?
  • Factors Considered for Leveling at Google
  • Software Engineer Career Ladder at Google
  • Software Engineering Manager Career Ladder at Google

What Are Job Levels?

Levels in jobs or job grades indicate your seniority, experience, or scope of responsibilities. They also denote the salary band assigned to you. Typically, the higher the level, the more responsibilities, autonomy, accountability, pay grade, and independence are assigned to a software engineer. 

Structured organizations are better positioned to determine salary bands, assign responsibilities, and assess impact. They represent levels of authority in an organization and help build a fair compensation structure with consistent opportunities for progression. Job levels help companies streamline their hiring processes and allow for strategic decision-making regarding promotions, retention, or even dismissal of company individuals. 

Other Merits Associated with Structured Job Levels

Apart from the advantages listed above, there are several other advantages of structuring jobs into levels:

  1. Levels allow organizations to set clear goals and corresponding expectations, responsibilities, and qualifications to a job role.
  2. Job levels make it easier to identify skill gaps in teams.
  3. They help facilitate appropriate career development opportunities for candidates who have been chosen for higher levels. 
  4. Helps to clarify career paths and compensation for candidates. 
  5. They allow organizations to make consistent decisions on salary bands since job responsibilities and expectations are defined.
  6. Companies can improve pay equity when there is clarity on pay bands.
  7. Job levels enhance accountability in an organization, making it easier for companies to make distinctions between under-leveled and under-performing employees. 

While many organizations classify jobs roles into entry-level, mid-level, and senior-level, Google has its distinct organizational structure, which isn’t unlike job classifications at other tech companies, even though job titles differ. 

How Are Software Engineer Levels Decided at Google?

Google’s organizational structure is built on maximizing innovation. According to a recent survey, Google ranks at #4 in companies with the highest number of happy employees. 

Employees at the company are grouped based on function. For instance, there are different sales, engineering, design, management, product-based groups, and separate groups for employees working on Pixel devices and Google software. There is also a considerable amount of flatness wherein Google’s corporate structure facilitates a consistent flow of information and ideas across different levels of management. 

There are two important factors — ladder and level — that determine your job role and seniority, respectively. 

There are separate ladders for software engineers and software engineering managers, whose major difference is time allocation. This essentially means that even though SWEs have management responsibilities, unlike software engineering managers who spend 80% of their time in management, SWE’s are expected to devote at least 50% of their time to contributing engineering work. 

Performance evaluations are hinged on the expectations associated with your ladder, so if time allocation to respective job roles is found to be lagging, your ability to scale up suffers. For this reason, Google has “lagging promotions” in place, where it evaluates your performance for six months before promoting you to the next level. 

Recommended Reading: How Hard Is It to Get a Job at Google?

Factors Considered for Leveling at Google

Google’s leveling process, much like its interview process, is complex and rigorous; leveling decisions are quantitative and extremely diligent to avoid bias. Three primary factors determine the job levels at Google.

Experience and Past Projects

Graduates with no industry experience who possess a Ph.D. candidate or an MS/BA degree are assigned L4 and L3, respectively, both of which are google entry-level software engineer roles. 

There is no clear-cut rule for leveling for those who possess industry experience, and the decision-making mostly depends on interview performance and quality of experience. 

Even so, higher years of experience are not associated with higher job levels. In fact, it is considered to be more of a rule-out factor than a determining factor. For instance, if you possess 8+ years of experience but your interview performance falls short of expectations, there are greater chances of rejection than getting hired into a lower level. This is called “trajectory,” something that Google seems to rely heavily on while assigning levels. 

Another noteworthy consideration with respect to experience is that previous job titles do not determine your level at Google. For example, you could have served as a Director at your precious company, but at Google, your experience and skillset may map you to a Level 4/Level 5. 

Interview Performance

During a software engineer interview at Google, interviewers grade your performance on a list of attributes which include general cognitive ability, role-related knowledge, leadership traits, and Googleyness (cultural fit). Based on this feedback form and the final recommendations made by interviewers, Google’s hiring committee assigns you a Google software engineer level that determines the scope of your responsibilities and the salary band you will fall into.

For an L3/L4, coding skills and expertise in writing algorithms are the primary considerations, whereas, for an L5, role-related competence, system design knowledge, and communication skills are determining factors. For higher levels, the impact of your skills and experience in handling highly complex projects and situations is evaluated. It is rare for L6+ software engineers to be new hires irrespective of past experiences and skills.

Skill sets

Google seeks out innovative and smart candidates with a focus on excellence. Their leveling process measures the impact a candidate with a well-rounded skill set can create while making technical contributions to the organization. They seek talented individuals with a willingness to upskill themselves and proactively respond to the global market. Apart from role-related competence or technical acumen, Google also judges a candidate’s Googley-ness and problem-solving abilities. 

Therefore, whether you are assigned a senior software engineer Google level or an entry-level, how well you perform in your interview and the quality of experience you bring to a job in handling projects of significant complexity and scale help decide your precise job level. 

Recommended Reading: How to Get Software Engineering Jobs at Google

Software Engineer Career Ladder at Google

Here’s an understanding of the software engineer career ladder at Google:   

Software Engineer I (Level 2)

SWE-I refers to a fresh out of college software engineer or an intern still pursuing a four-year bachelor’s degree in an engineering program. 

Software Engineer II (Level 3)

Google entry-level software engineer is a designated Level 3 coding engineer with an undergraduate degree in a computer-related field. It is also common for an SWE-II to have a Master’s degree. However, since they possess 0 to 1 year of industry experience, they are assigned an entry-level position. On average, they earn a base salary of $130,041 per year. 

Software Engineer III (Level 4)

Level 4 software engineers at Google are expected to have a minimum of 2 to 4 years of experience or a Ph.D. The average base salary of an SWE-III is $155,820 per year. 

Senior Software Engineer (Level 5)

Google senior software engineer level is a software engineering Manager I equivalent. A software developer at level 5 enjoys autonomy and has greater responsibilities. They are assigned complex tasks that require attention to detail and demonstration of impact. A senior software engineer is expected to bring six to ten years of experience to the job level. They earn an average base salary of $185,239 per year. 

Staff Software Engineer (Level 6)

This is where software engineers begin transitioning into leadership roles with 10+ years of experience in the domain. They belong to the top 10 percent of highly capable engineers and typically dictate the success of a project. 

A level 6 software engineer is considered a software engineering manager II equivalent, and performance evaluations are comprehensive at this stage. Staff software engineers generally manage engineering teams by this point, earning a salary of $228,436 per year. 

Senior Staff Software Engineer (Level 7)

Senior staff software engineers usually carry the responsibilities of a Level 6 software engineer and are considered equivalent to senior managers. There are greater expectations and responsibilities associated with their job role even though they possess 10+ years of experience (similar to L6). Greater involvement and demonstration of impact results in L6 SWEs being promoted to L7.

Google senior staff software engineers earn $261,769 per year on average.  

Principal Software Engineer (Level 8)

Level 8 engineers play an instrumental role in driving technical strategies for large-scale products or pieces of infrastructure while coordinating massive teams of engineers. Software engineers at level 8 or above are hard to come by as they already assume managerial and leadership positions by now. Level 8 is associated with relatively high compensation as SWEs begin transitioning into corporate governance.

Level 8 software engineers earn $269,243 per year. 

Distinguished Software Engineer (Level 9)

Just like L8, L9 SWEs are relatively rare and highly revered. Even so, their primary responsibility is to devise effective technical strategies and impact large technical areas.

Google Fellow (Level 10) 

The L10 equivalent of the software engineering manager ladder, also known as Vice Presidents, typically leads a few thousand engineers in driving technical contributions. It is an honorable position reserved for the world’s leading software engineering experts who usually stay in the position for the remaining course of their careers. 

Google Senior Fellow (Level 11) 

A Google Senior Fellow is the L11 manager equivalent of Senior Vice Presidents. Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat are the first and only two Google Senior Fellows at Level 11. 

Software Engineering Manager Career Ladder at Google

Google software engineering managers earn an average base salary of $221,461 per year. Typically, the average base salary ranges between $49,532 to $309,796 per year, depending on the job level, location, and experience. 

Software Engineering Manager I (Level 5)

The software engineering manager ladder begins at level 5 when a software professional has gathered a few years of experience in leading small teams comprising 5 to 10 engineers. 

Software Engineering Manager II (Level 6)

With ten years of experience as a prerequisite, Manager II is responsible for managing a team of up to 20 engineers and lower-level managers.  

Software Engineering Manager III (Level 7) 

A software engineer manager III is typically referred to as the manager of managers, and team size ranges between 20 to 40 employees. 

Director (Level 8)

Software engineer managers at Google transition into an executive position associated with significantly higher compensation and corporate governance. Directors mostly manage managers, and team sizes range between 40 to a few hundred, with an average base salary of $315,564 per year.

Senior Director (Level 9)

 Level 9 is largely a secret position at Google, with formal announcements regarding the promotion only made within the organization. There aren’t many differences between job responsibilities at levels 8 and 9, except that L9 directors lead slightly larger teams. 

Vice President (Level 10)

Vice Presidents at Google typically head a few 100s to 1000s of employees. They have directors reporting to them. 

Vice President II (Level 11)

Like Senior Directors, vice president II is an internally recognized position. It essentially exists to create a gap between a VP and SVP. 

Until level 8, software engineer managers at Google can be new hires. For level 8, employees within the company are promoted to the role; new hires for these levels are rare.

Recommended Reading: Google Engineering Manager Salaries

How to Prepare for a Software Engineer Interview?

Here are a few useful tips to help you prepare for software engineer interviews: 

Know Your Choice Company

Tech companies have a wide range of criteria and distinct leveling factors for evaluating candidates, inevitably evolving with changing times. Therefore, it is important to gather as much information as possible about a company, its values, vision, evaluating attributes, and hiring process. This will help you prepare accordingly to a company’s expectations from you.

For instance, Google seeks candidates who can contribute progressively to their vision which is centered on innovation. Furthermore, their interview process is highly technical, and candidates are expected to solve complex coding problems.

Generally, interview processes at FAANG companies are focused on testing your knowledge of Data Structures and System Design apart from getting a sense of your coding skills. Interview rounds typically involve a phone call with a recruiter, a technical phone interview, and onsite interviews. 

Build Role-Related Competence

Google works on a hard philosophy of “Python where we can, C++ where we must.” In addition to this, Go, and Java are popular server-side languages used at Google.

Expertise in multiple popular programming languages, programming frameworks, tools, and database systems can help you bag a lucrative job and level at top tech companies. Research the technologies your choice company works with, their current projects, and imminent challenges, etc. 

It is good to build proficiency in frameworks like ReactJS, AngularJS, NodeJS, Django, Flask, etc., and database technologies, such as MySQL, Cassandra, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, and Redis.

Research The Most Frequently Asked Interview Questions 

From technical questions based on system design, architecture, and data structures to situational and hypothetical scenario-based questions, there is a long list of interview questions you should prepare for. 

You also need to practice coding problems extensively to build proficiency in solving problems quickly and efficiently. Coding bootcamps and competitions can help you in this regard.

Measure Your Interview Preparation

It is important to test your preparation to know where you stand. However, theoretical knowledge and practice are not sufficient to assess your readiness. To perform to the best of your potential, it is necessary to be part of mock interviews sessions so you can rehearse your answers, identify your weaknesses, and receive feedback from industry experts and hiring managers to improve your interview demeanor. 

Recommended Reading: Google Interview Guide

Ready to Nail the Google Interview?

We hope this article gave you the necessary insight into software engineering job levels at Google to channel your interview efforts appropriately. Are you still confused about how to start your prep? Don’t worry; we are here to help!

Interview Kickstart offers interview preparation courses taught by FAANG tech leads and seasoned hiring managers. We have trained thousands of software engineers to crack the toughest interviews at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and other top tech companies.

Register for our FREE webinar to know more!

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