Inside Shopify's Leveling Split: Exclusive
A deep dive into the e-commerce giant’s change to its levels, including a look at the levels before and after the revamp, and how and why the concept of "mastery" could benefit the company.
Shopify is one of the biggest online retail competitors to Amazon, employing around 10,000 people. Unlike Amazon, which is a centralized marketplace, Shopify offers businesses a platform for building their own online stores and websites. The company is one of the largest tech organization to operate as full-remote, after shifting to this model in early 2020. It’s one of the last companies of its size not driving employees back to the office – at least not yet.
Shopify is in the middle of making a big change to its software engineering and engineering manager leveling system, based on a concept of “mastery” that subdivides existing engineering levels into granular layers. The company planned to roll out these new mastery levels in May, but is a bit behind schedule. Even so, the leveling changes are going ahead.
I talked with several current software engineers and engineering managers there to get answers to the questions of how leveling works at Shopify, what this “mastery” thing is, and why would the company make this change, now? In today’s issue, we examine:
Individual contributor (IC) levels at Shopify. What the new levels look like, what each one’s expectations are, and why are software engineers called “crafters?”
“Mastery.” What is this concept, ranging from zero to 50? How do mastery “scores” compare across levels?
Mastery calibration sessions. What goes on in these sessions and do they differ from performance calibration sessions? What does the “wizard” level mean that managers can also make a case for?
Manager levels and flatter middle management. How do these compare to the IC path? And why has Shopify merged two engineering manager levels? Does it follow the trend for fewer middle managers at tech companies, or something else?
Compensation, levels and relocation. What is the compensation approach, and what happens to pay when people move countries?
Why might Shopify be making these changes now? Is there a link between re-levelling and recent job cuts, and do these levels mean Shopify is growing and maturing?
1. Individual contributor levels at Shopify
Most tech companies refer to individual contributors as “ICs,” or name the discipline something like SWE (software engineer,) or SDE (software development engineer) at Amazon, or “engineer” (Meta’s E3, E4 and similar levels.) Alongside the new levels, Shopify also introduced a unique name for non-managers: “Crafters.”
“Crafters” refer to ICs at Shopify. This is how the company summarizes it, internally: