Amazon SDE 1 offer now vs. SDE2 later?

Someone recently asked me: “I have 1.5 years experience, and I got an offer at Amazon as SDE 1. How long approximately will it take for me to get promoted to SDE2? Should I wait another year and try again as SDE2?”

My advice would be to take the SDE1 role now and not wait for another year to reapply as an SDE2. Here is my rationale:

  1. When Amazon promotes an employee internally, she needs to demonstrate that she functions AT the new level. In contrast, when Amazon hires an external candidate, she needs to demonstrate that she functions ABOVE the bar for the level. This is a very key distinction, which (on balance) makes it easier to be promoted to a level than hired at that same level.
  2. Based on your offer, Amazon has calibrated you as raising their SDE1 Hiring Bar, and as not raising their SDE2 bar. Unless you have a very unique opportunity to dramatically improve your engineering skills, it’s unlikely that Amazon will determine that you raise their SDE2 bar when you reapply a year later.
  3. You will get a much clearer picture of what skills and pedigree it takes to become an SDE2, while inside Amazon than while outside. Then you can work more effectively towards achieving your SDE2 goal, without having to guess. You can also read your interview feedback about what held you back from becoming an SDE2 at the interview and focus on shoring these areas.
  4. The pay between an SDE1 and an SDE2 is not all that different, so you will not have to make a financial sacrifice while working towards your SDE2 promotion.

Having said the above, it’s highly unlikely that you will be promoted from SDE1 to SDE2 in your first year at Amazon. I have been successful in promoting some of my new hires within a year, but it usually takes a ton of commitment by your manager. And it takes an even more incredible amount of accomplishments by you as a new hire, to justify such a rapid promotion. You can expect to be promoted in about 2 years (unless you are an exceptionally skilled engineer, which might make it possible to be promoted more quickly.)

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