Career Ladder

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What is the difference between a Junior Developer and a Principal Engineer?

(the following analogy was copied from a post on LinkedIn by Alexander Chiou)

A lot of folks don't understand the differences in engineering levels (hint: it's not about working harder), so here's an analogy I like to use. Imagine that we have this simple project: Drive a car from point A to point B.

  • The junior engineer gets a map and the entire route plotted out. They successfully drive to point B by following the directions.
  • The mid-level engineer gets the map but only 50% of the route. With some clever planning, they fill in the blanks and successfully drive to point B.
  • The senior engineer doesn't get a map, because the company dog ate it. After doing a lot of research and talking to several locals, they are able to map out the route from scratch and get to point B.
  • The staff engineer is confused as to why we're going to point B at all. After discussing this with project stakeholders, they realize that point C has more of the benefits of B but is also 25% closer. They convince the team to go to point C instead and get there well before project deadline.
  • The principal engineer is horrified that we're using a car to get to point B. It gets stuck in traffic and isn't scalable to doing many trips. They build an elaborate train system that reaches point B and many other destinations of interest. Everyone is able to travel more efficiently in the future.
  • The distinguished engineer balks at the idea of slogging yourself across space and time at all. They invent teleportation.

As you can see, there is a huge mindset shift across levels. Raw execution becomes less important while innovation and leadership become crucial.

If you're having trouble getting the level you want, focus on behavior change instead of just trying to deliver more of what you're currently doing.

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