Career Lens for Software Engineers — Part 2: Market Realities

Swathi Sundar
5 min readJun 13, 2021


A non-prescriptive way to think about your career

Courtesy: gonitsora

The job market keeps evolving especially with the changing landscape of the global economy. In-addition to understanding your motivations, having a grasp of trends in the job market for particular skill sets is equally essential. If you haven’t watched “Humans need not apply”; I would highly recommend it!

Layoffs have almost become a norm today. In 2014, when many Software Development Engineer in Test (SDETs) at Microsoft were let go, it was a rude awakening moment personally. When Uber laid off 8% of its total workforce in 2019, it was another nail in the coffin. It went from bad to worse when Covid-19 hit in 2020 and brought a reckoning of layoffs, furloughs and reduction in pay for many in Silicon Valley. Through these years, I have learnt one important lesson, to always level up and upskill, if not you are easily replaceable by automation or by workers in other countries.


“Automation is inevitable. It’s a tool to produce abundance for little effort. We need to start thinking now about what to do when large sections of the population are unemployable — through no fault of their own. What to do in a future where, for most jobs, humans need not apply.”

If you are currently a software engineer specializing in a single domain like Frontend or Backend, make sure to build all relevant skill necessary for that role. Today, there is an abundance of options to learn without paying tooth and nail for it : Coursera, Udemy, Pluralsight, O’Reilly Safari Learning, MIT Open Courseware, Khan Academy and Kanopy are some of the sites I have used in the past. Especially considering that most of these are either subsidized or reimbursable by companies and offered for free by public libraries, there’s no excuse not to make use of it.

Image Courtesy:

If you aren’t sure which skills to pick up for your role, looking through the job descriptions from different companies will provide great insights. If you are an expert in your current domain (eg: frontend engineer), trying different roles (eg: mobile development or backend engineering) will help you build different skill sets. You can also try different teams in your current company which will provide you an opportunity to work in a new environment with new people, new products and new codebase.

The experience of working in a bigger enterprise company is very different from working in a consumer focused start-up. You get exposed to different operating models and different constraints that exist when you work across different companies in varied domains. Be sure to explore them all!


Everyone loves a promotion. However, getting promoted needs conscious effort from you as an engineer. It’s crucial to understand levelling systems in companies. Every company would have a career matrix (ask your manager if you can’t find it) that defines the competencies at your level. If your company doesn’t have one, companies like Square, Better and Carta have made theirs public and accessible to all.

Most companies would require you to perform at the next level for a minimum of 6 months before you could get promoted. So, if you are aiming for the promotion, make sure to evaluate yourself against the expectations for the next level in your career ladder.

There’s a huge band for senior engineers and the levels and skillsets might vary drastically from one company to another.
Courtesy:, shows how levels across companies might be different. Skillset match across the industry is key.

Please note that levels in your company might not map 1 to 1 to levels in other companies in the industry. On one hand, you might get promoted, but might still not have relevant skills or experience that other companies might be looking for. On the other hand, even if you aren’t getting promoted, you might still be learning a lot of new skill sets that are valued higher and might place you at the next level in some other companies.

Even if you are doing everything you can and still not getting promoted, remember: “there is only so much oxygen at each level”. However, the world is a very giving place and the opportunities are plenty once you start looking around!

Outside of levels, if you are always focusing on impact for the business and keen on growing your skill sets by learning and pushing yourself, you are guaranteed to stay relevant in the industry.


The software engineer job market is expected to grow by 30.7% between 2016 and 2026. Currently, the software engineering job market in the US is hot and the compensation packages provided by companies are very competitive. It’s crucial to understand if you are paid on par with industry for your current role and job responsibilities. There are many websites (, Glassdoor) which provide visibility into what the market rate for your role is. It’s prudent to be aware of it and evaluate your current situation against it.

Negotiation is key in any compensation discussion. If the term “negotiate your job offer” makes your squirm or if you aren’t sure how to approach it, then read through this blog. It will help you accept the reality and provide you with guidelines on how to approach a negotiation conversation.

Career Pathways

Levelling up is only one way to success. However, careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.

Career Pathways for Software Engineers

Opportunities come up in different ways: by changing domains or teams, by moving up a level, by reorgs in the company, when people leave the company, when your team grows, following your mentor or manager etc. So be open and flexible to embrace it.

There is so much to learn from a new sector of industry like FinTech, BioTech or EdTech you have never been in. Transitioning from an IC role into a EM/PM/TPM allows you to pick up a whole new set of skill sets that you couldn’t probably master being an engineer. Specializing deeply in areas like security or self-driving cars also sets you apart.

Some career changes might seem like a level down initially, but given time it might provide an unexpected opportunity. You can follow any of the paths and directions as shown in the diagram. Depending on where you want to reach and what your goal is, some paths might be accelerated.

Develop competitive advantage — combine three puzzle pieces into a coherent whole: your assets, your aspirations, and the market realities. — The Startup of You.

Now that you have an understanding of where you are and what you want to do, in the next blog, we will cover how you can optimize your path to reach your career goal.