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30+ Engineering Career Ladders

Before jumping into the list, let's quickly discuss software engineering career ladders. We can extract common traits from those career ladders; understanding those characteristics allows us to connect the dots more easily and compare different career ladders efficiently.

What Is a Career Ladder?

A career ladder, or career path, is a progression framework. It allows an organization to describe the different job levels and the expectations for a given position.

It enables the assessment of a software engineer's skills and to work on her career progression. It provides a shared framework to identify the different aspects to improve to reach the next job level.

The ladder can also be mapped with employee's compensation, increasing salaries transparency, and fairness.

Expertise Path and Manager Path (Dual-Track)

Most of the software engineering career ladders are dual tracks ladders.

They have a joint base for the first positions, and at some point, two paths are possible the expertise path and the people management path. The expertise path is often named the individual contributor track, the people management path is often called the manager track.

The career path depends on the stage of the company and the size of the team. New positions will usually appear while the engineering group is growing.

Example for a tiny team (up to 10 engineers)

You'll rarely find ladders at that scale; it's still very early stage, the team is a handful of engineers working with a CTO or a Tech Lead. In startups, the engineering lead is often the technical Co-founder and CTO.

Single TrackNotes
EngineerCreating solutions to business problems
Senior EngineerHandling most complex parts and mentoring
Engineering LeadShe may handle people management aspects

At this stage, it's pretty common to have one lead developer or engineering lead who owns technical guidance and organizes the team's delivery. She is often more focused on delivery and does not handle people management which a founder still handles.

Example for a small team (~20 engineers)

At that point, the company will introduce middle management positions, usually an Engineering Manager (EM) position. The EM supports a group of 5 to 10 engineers, especially on human resources and project management aspects (ex: hiring, onboarding, organizing, coaching, delivery plan, reporting).

In some companies, EM can be very hands-on on the system part and provide technical and architecture guidance, playing both technical leader and people/team leader. Usually, the company starts to split tech guidance and people management; both require significant and specific expertise.

Individual Contributor (IC) TrackPeople Manager Track
Senior Engineer-
Tech LeadEngineering Manager

Example for a medium team (50+ engineers)

You'll start to have more levels and more expert positions at that stage. The company has usually introduced the role of Head of Engineering, Engineering Director, or VP Engineering. This role is about leading the whole engineering department; the engineering managers will report the person having this role.

Leadership has usually introduced another new role to support the technical guidance at a broader scale, for the whole system or a large part of the system. This role can be named Staff Engineer, Principal Engineer, etc.

Individual Contributor (IC) TrackPeople Manager Track
Senior Engineer-
Tech LeadEngineering Manager
Staff EngineerVP Engineering

Example for a large team (100 to 1000+ engineers)

At this stage, the engineering department will create a lot of new intermediary positions to capture the level of expertise and area of ownership and impact. Welcome to Senior Engineer I and II, Engineering Director, etc.

Individual Contributor (IC) TrackPeople Manager Track
Engineer I-
Engineer II-
Senior Engineer I-
Senior Engineer II-
Tech LeadEngineering Manager
Senior Tech LeadSenior Engineering Manager
Staff EngineerEngineering Director
Senior Staff EngineerSenior Engineering Director
Principal EngineerVP Engineering
Senior Principal EngineerSenior VP Engineering

Public Engineering Career Ladders

Here is a curated list of 30+ public software engineering career ladders; in those resources, you can also find some explanations about why and how those ladders have been introduced.


I formerly gathered and reviewed this extensive list of engineering career ladders to get inspiration to craft the first version of our career framework at Akeneo. I hope this list will help you design your own or better understand your existing career ladder. Do you know a great career ladder not present on this list? DM me on Twitter, and let's keep completing this list!

I wrote a free guide to help engineering managers to overcome challenges you may face when stepping up into this position. This guide explores the critical aspects to tackle to succeed in this transition, such as changing your focus, managing your time, and leading and growing a talented team of software engineers.