What It Takes To Rise The Ranks At Google

Advice from a senior staff engineer.

On Quora, the social question-and-answer site, a user asked: "How hard is it to make Senior Staff Engineer at Google?" One of the most popular answers is by senior engineer Carlos Pizano. His advice is about Google, but can be applied to many aspects of life. Read answers from other Google engineers here.

*  *  *   

I am a senior staff at Google. I started programming (as a hobby) age 15 and I got promoted to this level age 43 so one answer is ~30 years of experience with probably half of them working hard at it.  It took me 7 years at Google to go from L4 to L7.  About one level per 2 years is typical of successful engineers at Google.

But that answer would be simplistic. I joined Google before Android and Chrome so the sheer success (and luck of being in the right team) lifted me and others, but not all others.  Yet my point is luck is definitely a factor.

I have an EE [electrical engineering] degree and a CE master degree. I worked in several small companies plus consulting before joining Google. One thing I have seen on others that hit the wall at level 5 or 6 is that they joined Google early on their careers so they don't have the nose for bad situations, hopeless products or toxic people, or are not thick skinned enough.

That also feels incomplete. I happen to be a believer of specialization, so becoming "the person" on a given subject helped me a lot. Huge swaths of core technology key to Google's success I know nothing about, of some things I know all there is to know ... or at least my answers on the particular subject were the best to be found at Google.

Finally, I never focused on my career. I tried to help everybody that needed advice, even fixing their code when they let me and was always ready to spread the knowledge. Coming up with projects but giving them to eager, younger people. Shine the light on other's accomplishments. All that comes back to you when performance review season comes.

*  *  * 

Sophia is a project to collect life lessons from fascinating people. Subscribe to get our updates directly via Facebook or email, or share your own wisdom.

sophia project