Engineering Career Development

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The Three Components of Career Development

There are three important components of developing one's career:


GitLab is a fast-growing startup. As such, there is no shortage of opportunity for advancement along either the individual contributor or management tracks. We're fortunate that this is the easiest component. And internal promotions are generally our first option.

Sometimes a position must become available on the management track before a promotion can occur. But at our rate of growth in 2017 and 2018, it is usually only a matter of 6 months or less before something opens up for a prepared candidate.

Individual Initiative

Most career opportunities involve stepping into a positive of informal or formal leadership. As such, the initiative of the individual is a necessary component, as well as a qualification. However, for the sake of inclusion we do ask that managers periodically bring up the possibilities for advancement so that individuals know the avenues available to them and receive encouragement to pursue them. Managers and team members should strive to have a career development conversation at least once a quarter.


Team members who are (or want to be) on track for promotion should be engaged in a career coaching conversation with their manager. Some basic information about this process can be found in the People Ops handbook. Specific coaching plan templates are listed here to help start the conversation:

We ultimately want to build these documents around a clearly articulated career matrix for Engineering, but for now they are based on the job family requirements. We hope to provide a career matrix and update these documents soon.

When a team member is deemed ready for promotion, their manager should follow the promotion process outlined by People Ops.

Remember that the coaching process helps team members understand what they need to do in order to prepare for a more senior position on the team. The promotion process documents what an engineer has already done to deserve a more senior position on the team. The two processes are related, but they are not substitutes for each other.

Individual Contribution vs. Management

Most important is the fork between purely technical work and managing teams. It's important that Engineering Managers self-select into that track and don't feel pressured. We believe that management is a craft like any other and requires dedication. We also believe that everyone deserves a manager that is passionate about their craft.

Once someone reaches a Senior-level role, and wants to progress, they will need to decide whether they want to remain purely technical or pursue managing technical teams. Their manager can provide opportunities to try tasks from both tracks if they wish. Staff-level roles and Engineering Manager roles are equivalent in terms of base compensation and prestige.

Trying the Management Track

It's important that people interested in the management track have opportunities to try it out prior to committing themselves. Managers can provide multiple opportunities to Senior and Staff Engineers who want to consider moving into an available or upcoming manager role. Examples include hosting a Group Conversation, acting as the hiring manager for an intern position, or running a series of demo meetings for an important deliverable. These occasions for trying out management functions are useful and can provide good coaching opportunities for the individual looking to move to management. Some engineers may find through these experiences that they are better suited to remain on the technical path, and this gives them the ability to decide before investing a significant amount of time in the transition.

In order to facilitate this transition, we recommend any person moving from an Individual Contributor role to a Management role work with their manager to create a focused transition plan. The goal is to provide a concentrated look into the responsibilities and challenges of management with the understanding that, if the role is not for them, they can return to the IC track. A good example of how to build such a plan can be found in this article. Another good resource for when you are ready for the critical career path conversation is this 30 mins video.


  Staff Backend Engineer Distinguished Backend Engineer Engineering Fellow
Junior Backend Engineer Intermediate Backend Engineer Senior Backend Engineer
Engineering Manager Director of Engineering VP of Engineering
  Staff Security Engineer
Security Engineer Senior Security Engineer
Security Engineering Manager Director of Security
  Staff Test Automation Engineer
Junior Test Automation Engineer Intermediate Test Automation Engineer Senior Test Automation Engineer
Engineering Manager, Quality Director of Quality
Staff Services Support Agent
Intermediate Services Support Agent Senior Services Support Agent
Services Support Manager
  Staff Support Engineer
Junior Support Engineer Intermediate Support Engineer Senior Support Engineer
Support Engineering Manager Director of Support


We normally don't offer any internships, but if you get a couple of merge requests accepted, we'll interview you for one. This will be a remote internship without supervision; you'll only get feedback on your merge requests. If you want to work on open source and qualify please submit an application. In the cover letter field, please note that you want an internship and link to the accepted merge requests. The merge requests should be of significant value and difficulty, which is at the discretion of the manager. For example, fixing 10 typos isn't as valuable as shipping 2 new features.

Junior Engineers

We will occasionally hire a Junior Engineer if we feel that they are capable of quickly becoming an exceptional member of our team, but lacking in some of the necessary skills for being hired at an Intermediate or higher level position. There are clear expectations and support provided to help ensure that they gain these skills as efficiently as possible.

Note: We are currently focused on rapid scaling and are not likely to consider internships or junior roles at this time.

Senior Engineers

Note that we have a specific section for Senior Engineer because it's an important step in the technical development for every engineer. But "Senior" can optionally be applied to any role here indicating superior performance. However, it's not required to pass through "senior" for roles other than Engineer.

Senior engineers typically receive fewer trivial comments on their merge requests. Attention to detail is very important to us. They also receive fewer major comments because they understand the application architecture and select from proven patterns. We also expect senior engineers to come up with simpler solutions to complex problems. Managing complexity is key to their work.


We strive to set the clearest possible expectations with regard to performance and promotions. Nevertheless, some aspects are qualitative. Examples of attributes that are hard to quantify are communication skills, mentorship ability, accountability, and positive contributions to company culture and the sense of psychological safety on teams. For these attributes we primarily rely on the experience of our managers and the 360 feedback process (especially peer reviews). It's our belief that while a manager provides feedback and opportunities for improvement or development, that it's actually the team that elevates individuals.

Transfer Options

The following table outlines the lateral transfer options at any level of the role. Experience factor might differ per individual to determine leveling for each of the positions listed.

Starting Role Lateral Options
Frontend Engineer UX Designer
UX Designer Frontend Engineer
Backend Engineer Production Engineer
Production Engineer Backend Engineer
Backend Engineer Support Engineer
Support Engineer Backend Engineer
Support Engineer Solutions Architect
Support Engineer Implementation Specialist
Automation Engineer Backend Engineer
Backend Engineer Automation Engineer

Specific backend teams can also be looked at for a lateral transfer. Those teams include Distribution, Create, Verify, Release, Geo, Monitoring, Gitaly, etc.