Promotion to Amazon SDEII — What I learned.

Zijing Zhao
Apr 3 · 5 min read

After working in Amazon for one and half years, I have been promoted to SDE II, which level I was told “You almost meet” during the interview.

I am writing this article to summarize what I have done to get promoted and share it with you all. Hope you enjoy it.

Background

I joined Amazon in July 2019. Before that, I had worked as a full-stack developer in China for 3 years. My major responsibility was Android development, I also had rich experience in React/React Native/PHP/Java Backend, etc.

Firstly I was interviewing for a job as an Android Developer SDE II, but I was told I did not match the criteria. Fortunately, another team offered me an opportunity to work as an SDE I. Till today, I am still grateful to the manager. Not only for his offer but also for all his help in the last one and half years. I will explain that later.

What I Have Done

When I joined our team, the team had just initiated a refactor on the whole tech stack 4 months ago. I was lucky because there was such a lot of work to do. In the following sections, I will state what I have done in chronological order.

2019 Q3 Start

By the time I joined our team, no one in the team was proficient in the frontend area. Then I took over two frontend projects. One is our Product UI, another one is a Test Tool for internal developers.

Test Tool was so outdated — the last commit was from 1.5 years ago — that I had to re-design and implement it over. I had been working on this Test Tool full time for the first 3 months. In the process of building it up, I had to debug some old backend services to make the Test Tool able to communicate with them. Thus I extended my reach to the backend services too. In 2019 Q3, I also did a couple of demos to showcase the milestones of Test Tool development.

At the same time, I also made some progress to re-establish the Product UI. As a result, by the end of 2019, the team was able to give a POC demo to the leaderships with both Test Tool and Product UI. I felt that I have gained some recognition in the group through constant bug fixing, internal demo, and communication.

2020.1 Proposal for Promotion

In one 1 on 1 meeting, I proposed to my manager that I would like to start preparing for promotion. My manager took out the SDE Guideline, compared it with me one by one, and then told me that I still lack some examples to support the promotion, such as Team Productivity Improvement, Design, More Meeting Speaking, etc. In short, there are A LOT OF them. Then we set the goal at 2020.6 and would work together to match the gap.

2020 H1 Busy

Our team was super busy in the first half of 2020 because we were targeting at Production Launch in June 2020. So the rhythm of the half-year was to fix the bugs, do the demo, fix the bugs, do the demo, it was a non-stop cycle. During this period, I completed one Design task, but its scope was too small to be used for the promotion.

While I was in charge of two UI products and partially one backend service, I had worked on these areas:

2020.6 Promotion Check #1

In another 1 on 1 meeting, my manager and I checked the list again. We agreed that I still lack one strong example for Design. It was impossible for my promotion to happen in June, then we changed the goal to 2020.10.

At the same time, our original client was delayed and we had to shift to a new client, which required a brand new functionality from our team. The new task was a bit challenging and I felt it would fit in my promotion doc perfectly, so I hinted to my manager that I would like to take the job. Based on my delivery of the UI products and backend service stabilization, my manager assigned the task to me.

2020 Q3 New Project

Here is a brief list of what was involved in this project for our new client:

We spent two months on the project. Although it was exceptionally busy, we delivered before the due date for the Production Launch. Through the cooperation with the small team, I learned a lot about writing good design documents, making effective communications, and ways to push forward a project.

2020.10 Promotion Check #2

Based on the experience of the last meeting in 2020.6, I have prepared all the work I have done in a document for this time’s check. After reviewing all of my work examples, my manager agreed that I should be good to initiate the promotion. My manager suggested me to aim at the promotion in 2021 Q1, so we could collect some metrics from the production environment in 2020 Q4. I thought that was reasonable.

2020 Q4 — 2021.1 Promotion Preparation

In 2020 Q4, my manager had to leave our team and I had a new manager. I really appreciated my new manager’s help with my promotion. The new manager took over my half-reviewed promotion documents, and managed to complete the review and submit them in January 2021.

In March 2021, I received the email of successful promotion.

What I Have Learned

Writing

Many people may have heard that writing is vital in Amazon. After working here for 1.5 years, I can feel that I am doing a better job than before. It is important to elaborate on problems and show your solutions in a concise document. A well-organized document not only shortens the time for communication but also is a brand of yourself.

Communication

Lengthy and tedious conversations will make your audience lose patience, and more importantly, it will become harder for you to lead people if you cannot make effective communications. I come from a non-native English-speaking country, I am still trying my best to improve my communication skills.

Prepare Beforehand

As you noticed, it took me nearly one year to get promoted after I proposed to my manager. Looking back I felt lucky that I did not take the step any later, otherwise, the promotion may not have happened by now.

In The End

My next goal is to grow myself to meet the standard of SDE III, that would be another exciting journey.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to leave questions and comments below.

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