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Three Goals To Consider When Building a Career Ladder

Salary / Work Conditions
Handling Promotion

25 June, 2020

Julien Plee

Julien Plee

VP of Engineering at GitGuardian

Julien Plee, CTO at Synthesio, reveals how he built a career ladder guided by three goals: (1) providing engineers with a vision for their future, (2) justifying salary increases, and (3) providing engineers with a clear sense of understanding of what their mission is.


There were already forty people working in R&D when I joined my current company as a CTO and one of my first tasks was to build a formal career ladder within the department. Back then we only had rudimentary job descriptions -- employees were classified according to their area of expertise as data scientists, back- or front-end engineers, but without including their career level, key responsibilities, reporting relationships, etc. This was clearly insufficient and I was eager to change that by introducing a formal career ladder, first within the R&D department and later, throughout the company.

Actions taken

Building a career ladder fundamentally served three goals in our company:

  • To provide engineers with a vision for their future. A career ladder should help engineers understand which way to go to achieve success. Also, the career ladder would ensure their professional development, retain the talent, establish accountability mechanisms, and transparency of compensation. For example, a junior engineer would be presented with key competencies and requirements needed for his/her promotion to a senior engineer along with incentives and rewards for outstanding performance.

  • To justify salary increases. We had to provide a quantifiable explanation to the HR department why an increase in salary is required. In France, the R&D market is highly competitive and salaries are increasing year by year. To remain competitive and be able to attract the best talent we had to keep up with the trend and secure salaries that go beyond what our company would initially offer.

  • To provide engineers with a clear sense of understanding of what their mission is. The newly introduced career ladder not only listed down all the skills required to advance from point A to point B but placed that progression in the context of how it benefits the company.

Lessons learned

  • Though we initially launched this process to justify salary increases, we also confirmed that it strengthened employees’ engagement with the company. We also learned that many of our employees were staying with the company because of the numerous learning possibilities we were offering.
  • One of the key challenges was to encompass with one title the diversity of roles and responsibilities each individual was performing and to establish a comprehensive job title structure. For example, our ten engineers who worked in back-end engineering were either junior or senior developers but their job descriptions and roles and responsibilities laid down in contract were different. Therefore, we introduced grades; for example, senior engineers leader 1, senior engineer leader 2, etc.
  • We decided to include assessing core skills and competencies during monthly one-on-ones that provided our employees with an opportunity to discuss it multiple times with their manager before the annual performance review with HR. Also, that entailed that managers should share the responsibility of helping their employees progress on their career path. Managers should assign them projects and tasks that will validate their skills and help them transition from point A to point B.

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