Square’s Updated Growth Framework for Engineers and Engineering Managers

Square’s Updated Growth Framework for Engineers and Engineering Managers

Our next major iteration of our engineering levels

Four years ago, we shared the Block engineering levels in Square’s Growth Framework for Engineers and Engineering Managers. Right now, four years feels like a lifetime ago! It is probably unsurprising to hear that our levels have seen significant change over the last four years as well to better suit our growing company.

Engineering levels are fundamental guidelines for us, from hiring to promotion, and they encode our most important values as a company. We’ve always worked to update levels and we’ve made some large changes in the last 4 years: Reinforcing the foundations, adding missing clarity, and crucially ensuring that the flow from level to level was sensible and obvious. You can check out our updated levels here, and keep reading to learn more about the reasoning behind our changes.

We hope this glimpse into our levels provides some insight into what it is like to be an engineer at Block!

What are Engineering Levels?

The engineering levels are a crucial part of Block’s success, and our success as an engineering organization. The levels provide a clear and consistent way of describing the growth trajectory for engineers, which has two primary benefits. First, clarity around growth helps to build a culture of growth within our organization, where engineers feel encouraged to challenge themselves and build new skills. Second, it helps us to ensure that we evaluate all people in engineering consistently and fairly. This helps us to build a culture within engineering where people can do their best work, supported by their peers, leads, and Block overall.

How we use our Engineering Levels

The levels are used consistently to measure growth and performance in any situation. We use them to evaluate candidates in the interview process to make a decision about what level role they should be offered. We use them when evaluating performance during promotion cycles, where we ask engineers to demonstrate their work against the level criteria. We use them as a growth framework to help coach and guide career growth and to set personal development goals. Suffice to say, as an engineer at Block, you become intimately familiar with these levels!

We know everyone has their own set of strengths and weaknesses, and we don’t expect everyone to satisfy 100% of the criteria in each level in exactly the same way. We expect engineers to be able to demonstrate they’ve broadly satisfied each criterion, knowing that some criteria will be stronger and some may only be partially met. For example, Team Building is important to us, and at a certain level we expect engineers to contribute in activities to attract and retain talent. Some may accomplish this through campus outreach, others may engage in developing interview questions. All are ultimately working on building community in and around Block.

Guiding principles for our updates

In tackling a holistic rethinking of the levels, we needed a set of tenets to help guide the process and determine what's in and out of scope. Some of these tenets were conceived before we started, others materialized as the work progressed.

  1. Retain the essential meaning of the existing levels. An L6 in the old levels is an L6 in the new levels. Our objective is to clarify the requirements, not move the goalposts.
  2. Explicitly enumerate expectations. We seek feedback after every promotion cycle, and look to improve and clarify areas of uncertainty. This mitigates the risk of unwritten expectations creeping in.
  3. Describe outcomes, not tactics. The levels are used in a variety of organizations across Block and should apply to engineers regardless of specialization (backend, frontend, mobile, platform, etc.); at the same time they allow teams the latitude they need to operate in novel ways that best fulfill their needs.
  4. Clarify connections between levels. Criteria for each level build on one another, reflecting and supporting the expectations from previous levels, with increased scope and deeper impact as they progress.

For readers of our past blog post: In our last published levels, each level's criteria were built upon the criteria of the previous level (i.e., an L5 IC was expected to meet the requirements of L3, L4, and L5). In practice this made the levels difficult to comprehend and did not accurately reflect level progression.

Other items of note

We have two explicit tracks, IC (Individual Contributor) and EM (Engineering Manager). This is to allow you to continue to grow your career without needing to become a manager.

These levels apply to the entire company, with some modifications for specific business units (TBD/Tidal/Square/Cash). For example, Square has requirements around team size for the EM levels.

With all that out of the way, please check out Block’s Engineering Levels!


The Eng Levels Working Group

Thanks to Willem Ave, Tess Winlock, Joel Levin, Annie Zhou, Randy Wigginton, Shawn Welch, Meghan McNeil, Tom Carden, Alan Paulin, Kate Deutscher, and Jed Parsons for their work to refine and improve our engineering levels.

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