The thread I wrote at the start of perf season at Google seemed to resonate with lots of people, so I decided to put a slightly extended version of it in blog-post form.

Original Twitter Thread

What is perf?

In brief, “perf” season at Google is when we evaluate our performance over the last few months, in the form of a self-assessment, and our peers provide their assessments on how they perceive our performance. The general purpose of this exercise is to receive feedback on how to grow as an engineer/researcher/employee, but it is also the process through which you can get promoted (by nominating yourself).

As one would expect, this can be a big source of stress for many of us, as it’s a lot of work and not all nominations for promotion will be accepted. I’ve stressed about this process many times, and I’ve had both successful and unsuccessful attempts at promotion.

Why am I writing about this?

Currently, I’m a Staff Software Engineer (L6), which is relatively senior, but I wouldn’t consider myself as having a traditional “leadership” role. In particular, I’m nobody’s manager, mostly by my own choice.

A few months ago I had an epiphany (of sorts) that got rid of pretty much all my perf anxiety. I decided to share this with others in case it helps.

Why do I want to get promoted?

Last fall I was brainstorming with my manager on how i could get to the next level in my ladder (L7). I’m in a bit of a strange situation because I’m officially a Software Engineer (SWE), but my day-to-day is more like a Research Scientist. To be able to get promoted to L7 as a SWE I’d typically need to be leading a fairly large software effort and/or managing people to unequivocally demonstrate performance at the next level.

My manager and I came up with a few ideas to do this, but they all required changing my research direction (the research I’m currently focused on does not require new large software systems) and/or starting to manage people. Although I’d be fine doing either of these, and would very likely enjoy them, it felt weird to me to think of making these changes with my promotion as the motivating factor.

I went for a run and asked myself:

“Why do i want to get promoted?"

I love the research I’m currently leading and the freedom I have to choose its direction, I love the people I work with, and I love the flexibility I have with my schedule. My salary is more than enough for my lifestyle, and no one is really pushing me to try to get to the next level.

So why change my day-to-day, which I’m very happy with, just to add a number to my level?

CME is A-OK

My new modus operandi became:

“How I learned to stop worrying and love CME (consistently meets expectations)"

I’m doing exactly what’s expected of me at my level, and enjoying every day of it!

I think society (or at least the society I’m working in) places an implicit expectation that if you’re not striving for higher, you’re somehow underperforming.

You’re not!

Caveat

I recognize that everyone’s personal circumstances can be very different, and I am in a privileged position to think like this. Some people really do deserve promotion even if they’re not actively working towards it, and some people may truly want it for a variety of reasons.

I’m “senior enough” for my standards. Would I be just as satisfied if I were one or two levels lower? Hard to say, but likely not. “Senior enough” will vary from person to person, but I think it’s important to be honest with yourself about what it is.

Parting thoughts

Leadership and impact can come in many different forms, not just management. I’ve been mentoring people within and without Google for a number of years, and find it a very rewarding experience. Some of the people I’ve mentored have gone to obtain full-time positions at major research labs, started their graduate studies, and/or been able to generally advance their careers.

Within Google, having gone through promo a few times and perf many times, I now prefer helping others perfect their promo packages as opposed to worrying about my own. I love seeing colleagues get promoted, but I also love seeing those that are happy at their levels.

The banner image was taken from Wikimedia Commons.