Using a Tech Career Ladder Template to Map Growth

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Rafael Timbó
Rafael Timbó
Chief Technology Officer

Table of Contents

Learn how creating a tech career ladder can help you plan for individual, team, and organizational growth in this step-by-step guide.
Published on
November 17, 2022
Updated on
April 11, 2024

As the tech industry constantly evolves, tech experts must continuously develop skills and experience to progress in their careers. They also must keep up with the latest trends and technologies to successfully map out a clear path for career growth.

Engineering managers encounter similar difficulties in their jobs, as identifying the essential skills and experience their team members need to advance in their careers is no easy task. Fortunately, a tech ladder can help with all of this.

A technical or engineering career ladder is a skills and experience roadmap that engineering managers use to map out employee progression, which employees then follow to advance in their careers.

Regardless of company size, a career ladder is a must-have if you are a decision-maker and want to maintain a high-performing tech team. It will help you create a clear career path for your employees, with defined roles and responsibilities at each level, and ensure everyone knows what you expect from them and what they can achieve career-wise.

Benefits of Using a Career Ladder In Tech

Using a career ladder can prove beneficial for both tech employees and employers. First and foremost, developers can use a career ladder to:

  • Get a clear roadmap for career growth: A tech ladder gives developers insights into career steps they can use to determine what skills and experience they need to get promoted. This type of information will help developers move up the corporate ladder smoothly.
  • Identify training and development opportunities: As career ladders outline employee training and development opportunities, developers can use them to navigate their career development prospects more efficiently.
  • Avoid stagnation: A tech ladder can help developers avoid career stagnation by always giving them the next steps for personal development. The tool promotes continuous career growth so employees have endless options and opportunities.

On the other hand, a career ladder can help employers:

  • Identify skills and experience gaps: With a career ladder, you can see at a glance what skills and experience your employees have and what they need at each level and pinpoint potential skill and competency gaps early on.
  • Create training and development plans: Once you identify skills and experience gaps, you can use a career ladder to create training and development plans for your team. Such an action plan will ensure your team members can acquire the skills and experience they need to progress in their careers.
  • Determine succession planning opportunities: A technical ladder can also aid you in better determining who has the potential to progress to the next career level and who doesn't.
  • Build a team that functions at its highest potential: A company that relies on a tech leader can create more successful and productive internal teams by delegating tasks and opportunities on merit. With all members having clear goals and constantly sharpening their skills, the team can record better performance over time.

How to Create a Tech Ladder That Works

Once you understand the most significant career ladder benefits, it's time to craft one for your dev team and organization. Before you start drafting anything, however, consider taking the following steps.

Define Your Goals

The first thing you need to do when creating a technical ladder is to define your goals. What are you trying to achieve with this tool? Do you want to help your employees progress or solely identify skills and experience gaps within your team?

Your goals will determine the structure of your career ladder, so you must clearly identify them from the start.

Consider Your Company's Culture

When drafting a tech ladder, consider what kind of environment and culture you seek to promote. Do you want to encourage lifelong learning? Do you strive to create a more supportive work culture in which employees will feel motivated to progress in their careers?

The answers to these questions will make all the difference in creating an effective or ineffective tech ladder and, consequently, achieving or failing to achieve business goals.

Ensure Compatibility With Existing Systems

If you already have career planning, educational, or succession programs in place, double-check whether your technical ladder is compatible with them. Otherwise, you may risk duplicating programs, stirring confusion, or even developing an unsuccessful new program.

Craft According to Company's Size

You will likely need to create a more detailed and comprehensive career ladder if you own a large company. If not, you can get away with a more straightforward template. But regardless of the company size, your tech ladder should be scalable and ready to grow with your teams and operations.

Involve Stakeholders

Stakeholders will use your technical ladder, so you should involve them in the creation process and get their feedback. Familiarize your stakeholders with the benefits of creating and using tech ladders so they understand how this tool fits your company's systems and procedures.

Decide on the Structure

Finally, you'll need to decide on the structure of your career ladder. Two main ways to do this are by role or skill set.

If you structure the technical ladder by role, each level will represent a different role within the company. For example, the first level may be "associate software engineer," and the second level may be "senior software engineer."

If you structure the tech ladder by skill set, each level will represent a different skill set. For example, the first level may be "beginner," and the second level may be "intermediate."

Once you decide on the structure of the tech ladder, you need to populate it with roles or skill sets. To do this, consider the following factors:

  • The skills and experience required for each level
  • The training and development opportunities available for each level
  • The succession planning opportunities available for each level

After gathering this information, you can fill the tech ladder with roles or skill sets accordingly.

What to Include in a Tech Ladder

To craft a tech ladder that works, ensure you have the following sections in your template.

Well Defined Tracks

You create tracks by grouping your engineers by skill set or role using established KPIs. Such grouping allows you to see each group's commonalities and goals.

It's crucial to remember that even though your staff might all be software engineers, they will most likely have different working styles. Therefore, having separate tracks for management-level versus entry-level employees is key to success.

For example, you may have a "management track" and an "individual contributor track":

  • A management track works for employees in management positions or those who want to move into them. It typically includes roles such as software engineering manager, director of software engineering, and vice president (VP) of software engineering.
  • The individual contributor track works for employees who contribute to the company's goals and software development projects. It typically contains roles such as associate software engineer, software engineer, and senior software engineer.

Once you define the tracks, you must assign roles or skill sets to each. It will help you to ensure that each role or skill set aligns with the company's goals.

Roles and Responsibilities 

Next, assign roles and responsibilities to each level, as it will help identify the progression path for different positions or skill sets. Your tech ladder's structure will guide this process.

Career Ladder by Role

If you have structured the career ladder by role, each level will have different responsibilities based on the role and career paths. For example, the associate software engineer role may involve writing code and unit testing, while the senior software engineer role may involve design and architecture.

Career Ladder by Skill Set

If you have structured the technical ladder by skill set, you should define the roles and responsibilities based on the skills required at each level. For example, your career ladder may demand people in beginner-level positions to excel at technical skills like programming languages, data structures and algorithms, testing and debugging, automation, and object-oriented design. Alternatively, the intermediate level may require employees to have skills in analysis, software design, testing, software architecture, and more.

The roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined and documented so everyone knows what the management expects.

Leadership and Collaboration Roles

It can be helpful to assign leadership and collaboration roles so everyone is on the same page.; appointing leadership and collaboration positions will depend on the structure of your career ladder.

If you have structured the ladder by role, each level will have different leadership and collaboration roles. For example, the software engineering manager role may involve leading a team of engineers, and the director of software engineering role may include working with other directors to manage the engineering department.

If you have structured the engineering ladder by skill set, you must define the leadership and collaboration roles using the skills needed at each level. For example, your career ladder may require the intermediate level to demonstrate skills such as self-motivation, results-oriented thinking, multitasking abilities, and experience working in an agile environment. On the other hand, the advanced level may require employees to excel at mentoring, innovation, and management.

Experience and Education 

The next step is to define the typical experience and education for each level, which the structure of your tech ladder will guide again. If you have structured the ladder by role, each level will have different experience and education requirements.

For example, the software engineering manager role may require five years of experience in software engineering and at least a bachelor's degree in computer science or programming. The director of software engineering position may require up to 10 years of experience in software engineering, significant managerial experience, and a master's degree in business administration, information systems, or computer science.

If you have structured the tech ladder by skill set, the experience and education requirements will be based on the skills required at each level. For example, entry-level roles may require employees to have a bachelor’s degree in information technology and some experience in programming languages, simple coding, and algorithm development. The advanced level may prioritize employees who have been in a managerial position for over five years and obtained a master’s degree in IT—or a certification in relevant administration courses.

Clear and Concise Level Names

When crafting levels in your tech ladder, ensure all get clear and concise names. You want your employees to know what each level represents.

Level names will vary depending on the structure of your career ladder. If you have structured it by role, name the levels based on the positions at each level. For example, you can label the associate software engineer level "entry-level" and the senior software engineer level "mid-level."

If you have structured the tech ladder by skill set, name the levels based on the skills required at each level. For example, tag the beginner level as "novice" and the intermediate level as "competent."

Progression Criteria

Including progression criteria for each level in your career ladder is crucial to success as it will help you ensure everyone can progress in their career. For instance, you can conduct formal performance reviews and assessments or have an open-ended system where employees can request a promotion when they feel ready.

Conducting formal performance reviews, performance improvement plans, and assessments will help you identify the employees performing well and those needing improvement. You can do this by setting targets for each level and conducting regular appraisals to assess progress.

An open-ended plan where employees can request a promotion when they feel ready may be more appealing to employees. However, you'll still need a formal system to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity for career growth.

For instance, you can set a minimum number of years of experience for each promotion level or have a probationary period for new employees. A formal system such as this will help you identify high-quality employees who are performing well and are ready for a promotion, those who need improvement, and those who are not yet prepared to advance in their careers.

Training and Development Opportunities

The final step is to include the training and development opportunities at each level of your tech ladder. If you have a role-based ladder, ground the training and development opportunities on the roles. Aside from regular code reviews, coding boot camps or online courses may be better suited for associate software engineers, as well as conferences and advanced certifications for software engineers.

If you have structured the ladder by skill set, ensure you base the training and development opportunities on the skills required at each level. For example, beginner-level positions may require employees to attend programming courses or practice problem-solving and algorithm development with the team. Intermediate-level roles may require employees to take certification exams to stay up to date with industry developments or attend conferences on software architecture, design, testing, and more.

Maintaining a Tech Ladder

It's essential to note that your work doesn't end once you craft a tech ladder for your organization. You also must update and maintain the ladder over time to ensure the best results.

Collect Feedback From Employees

You can collect employee feedback on the tech ladder by conducting regular surveys. This will help you ensure the template meets employees' needs and identify areas that need improvement.

Benchmark Against Other Companies

You can benchmark your tech ladder against other companies to ensure it is competitive enough to attract and retain the best talent. When doing so, you should consider the tech ladder's structure, the names of the levels, the training and development opportunities available, and the progression criteria.

Review the Career Ladder Regularly

Frequent reviews of your tech ladder template will also ensure you have everything up to date. You can check the ladder every six months to confirm the information is correct, relevant, and following your company's growth based on the shifting economic and industry circumstances.

Find Top Tech Talent to Grow With Your Business

A tech ladder is a valuable tool for any tech company or startup. Not only does it help existing employees progress in their careers, but it aids employers in attracting and retaining the best talent. 

To find top tech talent to join your team and grow with your company, consider partnering with Revelo. Our talent marketplace allows you to access a vast tech talent pool in Latin America that is pre-vetted for the expertise, experience, and skills your team needs. We handle onboarding tasks like payroll and benefits administration, taxes, and local compliance so you can focus on team and company growth.

Contact Revelo today to learn how we can help you expand your tech talent team.

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