I'm a little frustrated at my current work in terms of promotion. Hope to get some advice here.

Context: I have been at my current company for about 1 year as entry-level software engineer. Prior to this current position, I have been a software engineer for 3 years and promoted once. I moved to my current position because of more interesting work and better career.

Now it's has been a year, and I brought up promotion with my manager recently but got rejected. I tried to express that I'm delivering at the next level comparing to other people on the team. My manager mentioned that I shouldn't compare myself to others, and the fact that I bring up the comparison shows my incompetency. I'm frustrated because there is no clear definition of the expectation at each level. My manager mentioned that I should "own a product" for the next level, but I don't see that's case for the other engineers at the next level in the team. When I asked what doesn "own a product" mean, he mentioned product X and Y, which are not finished by a single person at my next level. I am convinced that I'm taking the same amount responsibilities as the folks on next level in the team, and I am eager and are trying to take more.

My questions are: 1. Should I compare myself with the folks at the same and next level for asking promotion and reward? Isn't the reward/promotion determined by horizontal comparison? Isn't the expectation at each level determined horizontally as well?

Maybe at the end of the day, I'm not the person to do the comparison, but rather it's up to my manager. How can I convince my manager that I am really delivering at the next level in future, besides being hardworking and really delivering?

  • 1
    Hello and welcome to the site! Questions here are generally expected to be a little more concrete. Because of all the personal details of your story, it becomes difficult to understand what exactly you're asking. Could you try to reword some things to focus on a single question?
    – Cronax
    May 16, 2018 at 8:15
  • Sure. Let me do that. Very new to the site
    – checai
    May 16, 2018 at 8:22
  • 4 years and still "entry-level"? Frankly, you broadcasted that you don't value yourself by accepting an entry level job with 3 years of experience. The fact that they offered it to you despite knowing how much experience you had shows they intended to exploit you from the start, and will squeeze as much as possible from you for as little compensation as possible, for as long as possible.
    – Dom
    Aug 20, 2021 at 10:54

3 Answers 3


You Manager is kind of right about the comparison thing, although not very nice if he really called you incompetent.

The thing is, if you compare yourself to others in your company, there are always things you may not know and may very well end up unfavorable in that comparison. Especially since your manager may value things differently than you (for example he may think it is more important that work is predictable, you may value quality higher)

What you should compare to is against your opportunities (what you could do/earn elsewhere)

Also as a rule of thumb responsibility is rewarded more than knowledge when it comes to wages. So your manager gave you a good hint in stating that you should make yourself product owner - It means you take full responsibility for a product and thus lessen the burden of things your superiors have to manage.

Follow his advice, and also explore your opportunities. Only when you know what you can get elsewhere, you can negotiate with real confidence!

It is also a good move to clearly state the goals and expectations of your further career development. Your manager should tell you if this is realistic within this organisation and tell you what is needed from you to get there. This should give an indication of the way forward.

  • Thanks Daniel! I am fully aware of the fact that reward/promotion should be based on outcome rather than effort. When I asked my manager what does he mean by "owning a product", he asked me if I can deliver product X or product Y that my team owns from end to end. I answered no. The thing is, product X or product Y at my team is not delivered by a single person at my next level in the team. I feel like my manager is using a high bar to make the case of not promoting me, to which I brought up the comparison.
    – checai
    May 16, 2018 at 7:58
  • 3
    Owning a product does not mean you have to do everything yourself, it means you are responsible for it and arrange that everything is done.
    – Daniel
    May 16, 2018 at 8:25
  • That... would mean learning skills for an almost completely different role than software-developer, imho. Aug 19, 2021 at 16:30

Quick answer: compare yourself to the general expectations for the different roles (junior, intermediate, senior, engineer, project-manager, product-owner, etc..).
And compare only to your previous self, in order to not get insane in imposter syndrome or overestimation of your abilities.

Other considerations:

What do you mean with "entry-level"?
In my interpretation it means somebody without real experience. A "junior" has some experience but still needs directions and help. After 3 years you are definitely at least a junior; I don't see why you'd be "entry" (although definitions change from company to company).
And a Junior (or an Intermediate, after that) is definitely not required to have responsibility as a product-owner (imho).

Together with the fact that your manager called you incompetent (seriously??? He wasn't able to find any better word?!) I see red flags here:
passive-aggressive manager trying to bully your ambitions down, raising too high the expectations (that you also said aren't clear at all) so that even if you get the promotion you'll still be squeezed and he wins in any case.

(that's what looks to me; I might be wrong)

  • I don't think most places differentiate between junior and entry level. Usually they're synonyms. Aug 19, 2021 at 19:57
  • Yes, I mentioned it's different for different companies. However, even if he would start as entry/junior, the next level should be intermediate; that is not to be expected a full management of a project. Maybe that company is not even using intermediate and knows only senior as next role (is how I remember to be common for companies 10/15 years ago). But even if the manager meant "senior" role, it's a misuse (and probably misunderstanding) of the "product owner" title. Looks like a company (or at least a manager) with unclear views and limited knowledge of modern IT organization. Aug 24, 2021 at 9:58

I will answer a bit differently than Daniel.

I think that before asking a promotion to your manager it is a good idea compare yourself with others. However it is a wrong move to bring the fact to your manager.

If you perform better work than others, bring it in a way that you're doing more than what is initially expected of you and that you'd like to avance, not like "I worth more than them".

For the "product owner" thing, I will reference the following comment :

Thanks Daniel! I am fully aware of the fact that reward/promotion should be based on outcome rather than effort. When I asked my manager what does he mean by "owning a product", he asked me if I can deliver product X or product Y that my team owns from end to end. I answered no. The thing is, product X or product Y at my team is not delivered by a single person at the level

There is two possibilities here :

  • He is really expecting you to doing a full project on your own. This is not what a "product owner" is.
  • You have misunderstood what meant your manager : for me "product owner" is not a so clear word, maybe a project manager, or technical lead.

So you should first clear what your manager meant by that before accepting anything.

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