Can You Negotiate Google Levels? (SwEng)

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Dec 14, 2018 45 Comments

After a successful onsite, the recruiter is trying to match me with teams. One of the managers I'd potentially be working with said I'd be level 4. Looked that up on levels.fyi and it seems like I'd have way more years of experience than most people at that level - I've been full time Software Engineering for 14 years (+internships, I had my first Sw Eng position more than 20 years ago), and been Senior or a Team Lead at my last few jobs - at my current one I'm on track to be a lead again in a few months. I look a lot younger than I am and don't list every job I've had so they might have misread my experience?

The same person said I'd need to first reach L5 before I can be considered for a team lead or more of a people role, which is my goal. Taking an L4 tole would be a big step back in terms of responsibility, growth, and cash comp, though the stock comp seems to make up for it. Any chance I can negotiate the level they're starting me at? Or should I reapply when I'm actually a team lead again? I care more about the career side of things than the comp one.

Also with these stock comp heavy offers, I assume nothing vests for a year... and given the cash comp might be a big drop, is there a way to bridge the gap financially? Some personal and medical stuff has depleted my savings.

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TOP 45 Comments
  • Pure Storage Ninjacat🐈
    Google is notorious for down leveling. They like to start you at 4 and make you work for the promo to prove your skills. In essence, they are saying that experience outside G is not as valuable as experience within. If you have a competing L5 offer at a major competitor like FB, maybe. Otherwise I wouldn't bet on being able to negotiate the level.
    Dec 14, 2018 4
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      I've got an onsite with FB coming up soon; should I stall Google until I figure out what level FB offers me?
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      Maybe Blind is the wrong place to have this attitude, but I care way less about TC than I do about the kind of work I do and my ability, most of all, to work with others. Mentoring is personally rewarding. Building and working with tight knit teams, helping to define process and help people overcome obstacles... I love that kind of thing. All the people side, more than pure tech side.

      I don't want to take a job where I have to consistently perform excellently in a purely technical role for several years before I could be considered for doing that kind of thing.
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Pure Storage Ninjacat🐈
      I think you have the right mindset. Regardless of level, no one is going to tell you to stop doing those things that you described. If you go in at 4 but prove you can contribute at a higher level, the promo will come in a year or 2.

      More offers for you will always be more beneficial from a negotiating point of view. If you can stall G until you get a decision and numbers/level from F, you will have more leverage that you can use to negotiate comp or level. Even then though, I think it is easier to get a match on comp with lower level. Which, is not necessarily a bad thing. Lower level == lower expectation. So, after a year of exceeds and a promo, you could be looking at more TC than if you came in now at 5.
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      I only had one report and for about 6 months, which ends the EM convo instantly when I've tried to have it.
      Dec 14, 2018
  • Google Uvor31
    Level is 75% based on your interview perf. Also lead experience at small companies isn't apples2apples equivalent at big companies. Eg, I've seen cto/directors from from small companies come in just as first level team leads at G or FB.
    Dec 14, 2018 8
    • Google Uvor31
      Yeah 1 report for 6 months doesn't count for very much. That's basically having an intern, which mostly every Google engineer, especially at l4, has done.

      You have two options.

      Stay outside. Focus however you can on M. Experience that Fang would consider worthy is when you have like 2y managing teams of 6-7. That's when they'll put a value on it.

      Or join. Keep in mind joining at l5 does not make you automatically ez mode
      to go to M. You need to do two things. Be a good enough SWE too earn the respect of your peers. You can't lead a team if they don't trust that you can understand their work. Second, show/develop the soft needed to manage people. Figure out how to plan work for the whole team. Who would do what? Who is performing well? Who is performing poorly? How do you fix that? How do you improve morale? Etc. These are all things you can do actually start doing as a respected IC without being the manager of a team. If you show these abilities, then you can transition from SWE to M if you want.
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      > If you show these abilities, then you can transition from SWE to M if you want.

      But if I get hired at L4, I need to demonstrate a whole separate set of things to show I can be L5, before I THEN can demonstrate that set of things to take the M track, right?

      I wasn't thinking L5 is ez mode to M, but it's a place where you might get evaluated on doing those things that I'd like to be doing anyway. Soft/people skills are no problem for me. If I'm evaluated purely on tech, though, I'll start to stagnate, especially with poor management.

      I have a tendency to constantly advocate new processes and ideas, observe friction points within teams and try to solve them (both tech and people problems), etc. If my efforts in those areas are treated as a thorn in the side of management who would really rather I just write the code and not rock the boat, I do, but the cost to my motivation is too high and it tends to result in mediocre work. If otoh management lets me run with whatever ideas I might have the results are consistently evaluated as stellar.

      I really don't know the management culture is at Google and I'm sure it varies by team, but starting a whole step lower and thus having to meet two separate sets of expectations is asking for a lot. Then I'd really need somebody who could treat me as more senior instead of constantly expecting me to need handholding and constantly turning me away from attempts to tackle larger projects or work across teams or things like that.
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Google Uvor31
      To be clear, all the things you described above about what you like to do at Google are things every engineer does. They are not the purvue of managers. In fact they are less the things managers do, and done by more by ICs.

      I think you need to rethink a bit what exactly you're looking for in your desire to go into management. I get the impression that you don't quite get what it really means, what the differences in responsibilities are between a strong IC vs an M, and how you show that you excel in each.

      Honestly speaking L4 might be the right calibration here.
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      You're not the only one who's said Google is different. I'm getting the feeling that feeling that what is considered a strong IC at Google is what's considered a fairly senior EM at my current job; maybe that's the confusion. The breakdown looks like:

      Anything under senior (L4): you get the tickets. You complete the tickets. You don't get invited to any planning meetings or otherwise be expected to have any input into design or planning. You can email people ideas, but be prepared for that to be interpreted as "you have extra time, you must need more tickets"

      Senior (L5): you might invited to some of the meetings where your manager plans the tickets and you get the opportunity to offer feedback as to how long they might take. If you really complain a lot, you might get to sit in the meetings with product, but not have much input in them. You can offer some new ideas, but it's a very fine line before you are seen as overstepping your boundaries.

      Staff/Etc (L6): you might get to work on some small but entirely independent things. Otherwise you're senior.

      EM: you have a little bit of input into process, though you're mostly ignored. You are leading interaction with product, though. You fight with product and push back on the things you don't think are feasible. When the dust settles you create tickets for your team. You have 1 on 1s but mostly use them to talk about specific work goals and timelines, making sure tasks proceed like you imagined them. You wish you could write more code, but you do more reviews. You wish you could answer employees questions about career growth, but nobody tells you anything.

      Only at the EM level are you seen as managing a project independently, even a fairly small one.

      Director: You have a lot of voice in process now, you don't just fight with product. You work with the other senior managers to occasionally come up with process changes and communicate actual info from the exec team. You have rare 1-on-1s with the ICs under your managers, but this is where career growth talk can happen; EMs don't have insight into hiring, etc, so they can't really offer any real info; a director can. You review code and drop into slack conversations when the mood strikes, but have no real responsibilities in those areas.

      VP Eng : you're coming up with new processes and buzzwords. You hardly ever interact with product or look at code. You're in the best position to talk to ICs about their career potential. You also spend a ton of time thinking about restructuring the teams and new team structures. You go to exec team offsites and grease the wheels between the exec time and engineering - getting headcount for your teams, setting realistic expectations, etc.

      CTO: You're the technical cofounder and wish you could write code again. You like the prestige of the title but hate dealing with people, so you only really concern yourself with high level technical matters, offering expert guidance on those things and keeping an eye on all things tech. When your reports have a non technical disagreement you refuse to be involved - in fact, you tell them you don't want to do any management at all! You openly disclose this and try to promote people into a structure where only one or two people report to you.

      Also, when there's a new hire and she's cute, she sits next to you. There's no logical reason for this - especially for an entry level hire - but it's a perk of being a CTO, so you do it anyway.
      Dec 15, 2018
    • Google Uvor31
      Yes G is different. You can be a tech lead at level 4 easily if you're a strong performer. In fact you're expected to show initiative and the ability to druve stuff if you want to promote to l5 swe.

      Pure EMs at Google are very much focused on the people management aspect. Hiring, perf management, morale, resource allocation, making sure the long term plan is viable, etc. They will be involved in the tech work, but in a lead aspect. The driving of specific tech projects is very much IC led.
      Dec 16, 2018
  • This comment was deleted by original commenter.

    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      /What I saw on levels.fyi made it sound like most people with more than a decade experience aren't at L4?
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      Caliber being Google vs. Not?

      It feels like a big step down because the title is a step down, and more importantly responsibilities are. It's a big drop to go from being close to leading a team (like, it essentially will happen when the hiring does; I've lead a team before) to being years away from even being considered for that.

      Maybe I misunderstand L4? How is it not a step down?
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      I think it's quite possible to lead people who are more skilled than me.

      I'm not shooting to be the pinnacle of technical excellence. It's not my core strength, it's not my passion.

      Unlike most of those people who are shooting for that, I'm perfectly happy being in meetings all day. I'm happy arguing with product and dealing with conflict. I really love helping people grow and figuring out what's standing in the way of their work.

      I can't really say much about "Google Level" engineers since I haven't worked there; I have had several as friends and nothing about them tells me I couldn't lead them. One is probably a more talented engineer than I am - he eats, sleeps, and breathes computers - but he can barely manage his own career, let alone that of others.

      Do I think I could consistently outperform most L4 engineers at whiteboard coding? Uhhh...maybe? My handwriting is truly terrible (I had special accommodations in school for it) and it's a physical struggle at times, not gonna lie. Even without that, I'm not some master-tier leetcode hacker.

      Do I think I have more soft skills, more experience and perspective on things at a broader level, etc, that lets me lend a lot more value than an average line engineer? Absolutely. I think I'm more valuable when I am involved in planning and tasking than I am in just producing code. Nothing in the interview evaluated any of that though. They didn't even give me a design question, which struck me as bizarre - and really makes me think L4 is a junior type role.

      If that is what they're expecting - that I will not be involved in any design, planning, or tasking, and instead I'll just complete tickets as they're given to me, it won't work for me or them.
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      Right, I say line engineers because of how non-senior (and sometimes even senior) engineers have been treated at companies I've worked for. Nobody would use the term, but there was a very clear understanding and a structure that constantly pushes back when you try to take additional responsibility.

      It's *possible* Google is different, but that's my experience. I'm a bit wary of being underleveled as a result.

      I read young, I'm friendly and outgoing, I'm female (and present on the feminine side of that) - this combination can often mean people assume I'm very inexperienced if I don't have the direct credentials. I'm quite used to nobody else in the office looking like me and having to constantly prove myself. Titles help a lot with that.

      Then again, most places I've worked at have very high attrition rates for women and poor management. I consider it typical of the industry; again, Google might be different. But the stories I've heard from friends also follow that trend.

      If an L4 engineer is actually treated equivalent to a Staff Engineer at the places I've worked, that might work.

      I mentioned leetcode because that was the only thing I was evaluated on. There was no behavioral or system design interview, all were whiteboard coding, half in a language I don't use anymore. I spent a week to brush up, but I'm sure it showed.

      If my level is based on interview performance, then it's based on my leetcode-type coding challenge skills.

      Also it's possible my interview went off the rails; at least one session had to be completely re done because the interviewer was interviewing me for the wrong role due to an email mixup
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      To be clear - I'm as much trying to figure out what L4 means at Google as I am trying to figure out how I can get a higher one. I assume I'll ask and they'll say no. If so, I need to evaluate L4 as such.

      My experience tells me that the position won't offer me the independence and opportunity i'm looking for in my next role.

      But you're telling me my understanding of the L4 role is way off, and I'm open to that if true.
      Dec 14, 2018
  • Uber fvgk87d
    I guess they have considered you for both l4 and l5 during the interview, and the feedback indicated you did not meet the bar for l5.
    For g, stocks vest every month about two months after your join date. For fb, I believe it’s every 3 months. No 1 yr cliff for either company.
    Dec 14, 2018 8
    • Oracle / Other idunn0
      Lol if you don't perform well in the interview there is a chance you might not get the job

      Anyone who says they will fast track you for promotion is lying. It happens very rarely so don't have much hope
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      Yeah but I have other options. I have my current job, and FB is interviewing me for an L5, possibly L6 position (as they just directly told me)
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Oracle / Other idunn0
      If you are not happy with the offer then move on. Not worth taking something which you are not happy with

      I have heard that you can come back to Google within an year if you end up not taking the offer. So having a backup option like that will help in making your decision?
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      BTW thanks for your info on the vesting, that really helps me out. If there was a cliff and a big drop in cash comp, i'd be pretty squeezed for a year+.

      I can get all the interviews I want, and I don't hate my job. It's not like I really need a backup.

      The real question is what's good for my career. If a couple years at Google gives me the street cred to actually manage outside of the FAANG world, then I'd take it.

      If 4 years at Google isn't going to get me anywhere because I won't be doing what I really want to be doing and so doing kinda average work, well...

      I really don't know the FAANG world, do you jump between them often if you want promoted... how is it supposed to work?
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Oracle / Other idunn0
      Well no one can give you answers to these. It all depends on your team and manager

      Take calculated risks and if things don't pan out fail fast

      So if you think you don't mind testing the waters in Google for couple of years then go for it. Do your best and see how things pan out
      Dec 14, 2018
  • Microsoft ramare
    I would suggest going for FB E5 if you get it instead of Google L4. I have 9 yoe and was downleveled to L4 with a L5 comp offer.
    Internally i see freshers with 1.5-2 yoe being promoted to L4. Doesn't make sense to get L4 with 14 years.
    Dec 14, 2018 4
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      I just got off the phone with FB and they're looking to put me at L5. (Maybe L6 if I do really well).

      It's not really about TC for me - I'm more about overall responsibility and career trajectory. I'd rather be L5 with L4 comp than L4 with L5 comp.
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Microsoft ramare
      They would most likely not budge on level, though you should try your best.
      And promotions are not the easiest at Google, I'm thinking about getting out myself in 2 years if I don't get promoted.
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      Aren't you at MS?
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Microsoft ramare
      No I was there.
      Dec 14, 2018
  • Amazon outoforder
    Yes, you can always ask for a lower level (like L3 in your case).
    Dec 14, 2018 0
  • Booking.com BwLd38
    TC || GTFO
    Dec 14, 2018 3
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      They haven't made an offer so I don't know what TC would be, but they did give a level which is what I'm asking about.
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Booking.com BwLd38
      your current TC.
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      $175K cash + options. Options are definitely in the money in IRS terms but pre-IPO so hard to value. Optimistically $30K a year? So total $205K?
      Dec 14, 2018
  • Microsoft / Eng Barrence
    I think you made the mistake of going from non-FAANG to Google - e.g: the Zenith.

    FAANG companies don’t really respect experience from outside the loop unless you are a grad, so will always look to downlevel.

    So what can you do? I expect FB outcome to be the same, but I would try Amazon who don’t seem to play that game as much and respect outside experience more. Get L6 (Senior) there and then transfer in a year or 2 to Google at L5.
    Dec 14, 2018 2
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      Amazon has a reputation of being a sort of trash place to work, and on the phone FB said they're targeting me at L5; I haven't had that interview yet though.

      Speaking of FAANG, is Netflix really in the same tier? I got some interest from them
      Dec 14, 2018
    • Microsoft / Eng Barrence
      Amazon is great - I work there now. Definitely not trash. Also yes Netflix is same tier - and likely higher TC.
      Dec 14, 2018
  • Google topCon
    What's your level and TC currently?
    Dec 14, 2018 1
    • Poshmark star1
      OP
      I'm not at Google, so I don't know how the levels compare. I'm a Senior Software Engineer and on track to be a lead soon, so I'd say at least L5 (which is Senior SWE on the Google chart) . I usually work at small companies that don't have well defined levels and I've mostly reported to the CTO (though I don't atm because I couldn't get along with him and requested someone else)

      My comp is $175K cash + options. If I'm being optimistic the value of those options as they're vesting is about $30K/yr. The valuation has increased considerably since I've been at the company and they are definitely in the money as far as the IRS is concerned, but there isn't a public market so I can't turn them into cash easily.
      Dec 14, 2018
  • Wish tc250
    Just do well in you fb interview. You are all set
    Apr 16 0
  • PayPal y0y0y0y0
    OP what was your final TC and level with Google?
    Apr 16 0

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