Titles, Inflation and Down-levelling


If you're confused about career ladders in different organisations, then this post will help you understand semantics of job titles (or job roles, or designations, or levels). There are many stories out there where people switch from a large service-based company to a product company (or one of the FAANG companies) where their titles are different or down-levelled. If you don't have this understanding, you might think - Why would someone move from a current role of Tech lead to a Senior Software Engineer?

Understanding Titles

Titles are not standard across companies. And the reason is very obvious - you could open your own company and call yourself a Director/CEO. That might not have any significance unless you have some clients who pay you for the services you provide. As the company grows, you hire more people and/or get more customers. Only then the titles start making some sense. Applying the same example to the scenario where you might join a small company as a Founding engineer/Lead Engineer/VP of Engineering. Here, your initial title doesn't matter because people in startups are generalists: You might be a Software developer by title but at times you could also be setting up servers, doing testing, and even doing customer support. Startups have flat hierarchy where most of the employees are less focussed on titles and more focussed on the mission.

On the other end of this spectrum, we have medium to large organisations where leadership defines specific designations and salary bands. Here, people are very much concerned about their titles because their work and pay aligns with their bands. But that doesn't mean that a Senior Engineer in one big tech does the same work and gets the same pay as the one working in another big tech. Although titles have a range of pay and not everyone on same title gets the same salary (even in a single company) but I hope you get what I'm saying - work and pay differs across companies. This is due to the variations in leadership styles, the complexity of work, and the specific skill sets and experience levels needed to attain a particular job title across different companies.

The closest example in this concern is of my own. I work as a Staff Engineer at LocoNav that has a small engineering team of ~ 100 people. The complexity of my work is not at par with someone who is a Staff Engineer at Google, Stripe, or Meta. So if I had to compare myself with a title in such companies, the closest one that aligns is of a Senior Software Engineer. But the question is - how did I infer this, and how you can do the same for yourself?

Understanding levels

If you want to understand where you currently are w.r.t big tech organisations, simply search something like "Google Software Engineer levels" (or Meta, or Uber). There are many articles already written by ex-employees that describe the responsibilities and expectations of each level. You can match the same with your current responsibilities and understand your level. This is helpful, specially if you're targeting a role at that company.

I hope the above explains something around titles.

What is Title Inflation?

There are some organisations that have a defined career ladder but you get promoted to the next level sooner. As an example, I've seen people in small companies that have title of Principal Engineer which is a really senior technical position if we compare the same title to people in large organisations. This is majorly for two reasons:

  1. Although the median tenure in the industry for software developers is ~ 4 years, there are people who do not change job for a 8-10 years. Organisations create new positions for such people so that they can be promoted (I've seen this myself). In small teams, people with ~ 10 years of experience could be Principal Engineers, while large organisations usually consider people in the range of 12-15 years eligible for this position (although exceptions are always there).

  2. Sometimes, organisations inflate your title in order to retain you when you quit. This may or may not include a hike in your pay (based on your negotiation) but moves you to the next level. Not debating if this is right or wrong, fair or unfair but it is what it is :)

The second scenario is a typical case of title inflation. Advancing to the next level can boost your confidence, but it might not benefit you in the long term, especially if your current skills don't align with that level. This situation could even lead to being down-levelled in your next position.

Down-levelling explained

As the name suggests, it's like getting a demotion (moving to a lower level). We need to understand when it actually concern us:

  1. If you're in the same organisation and you're getting down-levelled, then it might be a serious concern. You can talk to your manager to understand why this happened. If this is due to some performance concerns, then you might already be expecting this. Incase there is a major restructuring happening in the organisation and all the job roles are being redefined, this might be fine. It all depends on the situation and how you negotiate.

  2. If you're moving to some other organisation, you must learn about their levelling (as already explained above). If you are getting down-levelled while changing the organisation, it might not be wrong because of different role expectations in the next organisation. Although in all cases, you must negotiate with the hiring manager and understand the expectation of next level to see if you can move to the next it :)


I hope this clears up any confusion about different companies and their job titles.. It's mostly about the organisation, their expectations, and their team's size that defines the levels. If you're moving to a different organisation and are being considered at a lower level, don't get sad. Understand their job role expectations. At the same time, if you feel that you meet the expectations of a higher level, never settle for less.

Thanks for reading

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  3. Multi-tasking can lead to loss of productivity if done in the long run and not done correctly. Read to know.