9 Top Career Tips from a Google Director of Engineering Making $1.5 Million by@rickchen

9 Top Career Tips from a Google Director of Engineering Making $1.5 Million

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A director of engineering at Google explains that demonstrating impact and soft skills, such as managing up and strategic thinking, matter most in advancing your career.
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Rick Chen

Rick Chen is the director, head of public relations at Blind. He writes about tech culture and the workplace.

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Google often ranks high as a top employer in annual company rankings and surveys, and a big part of it is because of the high salaries and company culture.

A verified director of engineering at Google recently hosted an “ask me anything” session on the professional social network Blind. In the interview, the 16-year veteran with stints at Amazon, Apple and PayPal who makes $1.5 million in total compensation explained how engineers could advance their careers and more.

Here are the top nine career tips the director had for software engineers:

  1. You don’t need to solve coding challenges.

Many technology companies ask engineers to complete one or more problems on a virtual or in-person whiteboard or take-home assignment when interviewing. The goal of the technical interview is to gauge the understanding of concepts, such as algorithms and data structures.

But directors may not have to complete a coding challenge at Google.

“I add much more value by setting strategy and roadmaps,” explained the verified Google professional.

While there are systems design rounds, the director added coding problems might be more common in entry and mid-level roles.

  1. You usually can’t apply.

Some of the best positions and career moves will come from networking, and engineering leadership is no exception.

Candidates generally do not apply for leadership positions.

“Either your network recommends you or a recruiter comes across your LinkedIn,” noted the engineering leader. “Keep your LinkedIn up to date and relevant with high-level details only.”

  1. The interview process can take months.

Do not expect a quick interview. Look out for a very involved process, as other leaders at the company need to vet senior hires.

“It’s drawn out over months as you’re meeting several VPs and Directors,” said the verified Google professional.

Leadership roles are some of the most consequential decisions for a company, and Google takes the responsibility seriously.

  1. You may be “down-leveled” when you receive a job offer.

Sometimes, technology companies “down-level” candidates. The job may require experience or responsibility that has not been demonstrated in the interview. Other times, companies want someone to grow into a role over time.

“Your level or scope will get down-leveled by most Big Tech,” the director said in response to a question about whether it was essential to have managed large teams previously.

The Google engineering leader explained they were once responsible for 100 people, but the scope shrunk to just 20 when they joined a Big Tech company. However, their responsibility soon expanded to managing a team of 100 after delivering solid results consistently.

  1. It’s crucial to be a team player.

A “brilliant jerk” is still a jerk. While technical expertise is necessary as a baseline, it may be more valuable for engineers to manage up.

“A good engineer is not the smartest, but the one who uplifts the team, understands what managers want, and is a great peer and report to work with,” advised the leader at Google.

So-called “soft skills,” including demonstrating empathy, communicating effectively, and working proactively, are essential to success.

  1. Being a generalist as an engineer may be best.

Engineers may focus on specializing, but it may cause more harm than good.

“Unless you are really deep into a particular technology (AI, ML, hardware, etc.), it’s almost always better to be a generalist,” the director said, referring to artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Engineers should gain a solid foundation in skills that are shared across many teams, companies and industries, such as planning, talent management and leadership principles.

  1. It isn’t necessary to be irreplaceable.

The best leaders are often the best delegators.

“I used to be proud of the fact that my team cannot function well without me,” recalled the director of engineering. However, the engineering leader now believes it was the wrong approach.

“I try to make myself redundant by getting my teams to the point of being self-reliant,” added the director.

Leaders can then use the new time to scale functions and processes across the company. The director said it is more valuable to coach others, create repeatable processes, and identify additional scope in responsibility.

  1. You can enjoy a good work-life balance as a director.

Senior leaders at a company do not have to work the longest hours. It is more important to work quality hours, such as making consequential decisions or unlocking others to do their best work.

The director of engineering said he works about five to six hours of “quality time” a day.

  1. Most of the compensation is in stock.

Google pays directors of engineers, sometimes called “principal” engineers, base salaries of $300,000 or more.

The verified Google professional reports a total compensation package of $1.5 million, split between a $400,000 base salary, a 30% cash bonus, and stock-based compensation.

It is not uncommon for directors of engineering at Google to vest approximately $1 million in restricted stock units every year.

Despite the eye-watering pay, the director said it is on “the low end of externally hired directors at FANG,” referring to Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google. The Amazon alum added that leaders at the e-commerce giant generally earn less than their colleagues at other top technology companies.

The bottom line

Professionals seeking management or leadership positions should understand that it is vital to be strategic and build up their soft skills.

In an “ask me anything” interview on Blind, a director of engineering at Google recommended professionals recognize where their product and market is headed, understand their customers, and be a great teammate. Communication is likely more valuable than technical expertise alone.
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