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Recently I was approached by my company (very large) to transition from a support to an engineering role. I am a recent CS graduate from a well-known university and have a few years of programming experience within academia. Much to my surprise, the HR representative handling the case informed me that the move was being considered "lateral" - implying that there would be no change in compensation.

While I understand that it's my responsibility to negotiate the terms of the proposed contract, I'm wondering ...

  • Are these types of transitions (lateral moves) usual for large companies / the technology industry as a whole? (I'm presently in financial services)

closed as primarily opinion-based by Masked Man, gnat, Alec, Jim G., scaaahu Sep 2 '15 at 11:42

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Are you sure that's what they mean by lateral? Companies can interpret that in many different ways. If you use a grade system it might mean that you're not going up a grade. It might mean that it's still a technical role and you won't be managing anyone. Frankly, I would be very surprised if this kind of transition didn't come with a raise. – Lilienthal Aug 27 '15 at 18:22
  • Hi, I edited your question to focus it on topic. The other two questions you have are really not answerable out of your specific company, but I think that the question about lateral moves is definitely answerable and on topic here. Feel free to edit if you want to clarify your question (keep in mind what is on topic here). – enderland Aug 27 '15 at 18:32
  • @enderland - I don't really see how they're "unanswerable" even if I'm seeking general advice but OK :( – user40489 Aug 27 '15 at 18:55
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    Well, we don't know what company you're at, and it's pretty company-specific. – Joe Aug 27 '15 at 19:58
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    2. asked if it was common for engineers to start in support roles, which is incredibly broad and subjective, particularly considering we'd have to define what a 'support' role means. 3. asked what would happen if you decline, which is only something you can work out with your manager and HR. – David K Aug 27 '15 at 20:03
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I'm going to answer the question you are more-or-less asking, I think: "How do I evaluate if this is good for my career/compensation/self."

It's hard to say how support compares to engineering in terms of compensation and even career potential at a specific company; a lot of that depends on what the company does. But it's not hard to say that development/engineering is a better long term move for your career as a whole. Even at identical compensation (today), support will have a lower ceiling than engineering; that's because support doesn't take as much creativity and intelligence (or, is seen not to - creativity and intelligence can benefit you very strongly in support, but that's another story.)

For you, though, the easiest thing to do is to look at what information you have about your company's career paths. Look at other not-new engineers, and other not-new support staff. How quickly did they move along their career paths (if you have defined ladder roles)? You probably can't find out their compensation, unless your company is more transparent than most, but you may be able to ask about compensation for the general ladder roles (ie "Support Tech II" etc.).

More important than salary for each role, though, is how easy it is to move up. Engineering typically gives you more of a chance to stand out than support; while both have some opportunity to stand out from the crowd, engineering has a higher ceiling in terms of making radical improvements or even new products - and a more obvious link to profits. As such, if you're really good, you have a good chance to move quickly up the ladder; in support, it would typically take you longer.

Support also - except at very mature companies that are no longer shipping new products - typically has a harder time getting additional resources (in terms of salary raises, for example).

More than likely, what they're thinking is moving you to engineering to let you show what you can do. It's a lateral move for now - perhaps no salary bump - but if you show you're good, you will move up and get bigger raises; so for your future, this is a good move.


All that aside, what you should do: talk to your immediate boss, or someone you trust at the company. Ask him/her what the prospects are for improvement. Maybe even see if they can get you a meeting with one of the folks who decided to move you - ask them why. Make sure to do it politely and without challenge: you just want to know why they picked you. Asked with appropriate humility, odds are you'll get an answer that is along the lines of:

We see great potential in you, and want to give you a better chance to grow. We can't pay you more right now, but if you succeed the rewards will come.

Of course, if you do succeed and the rewards don't come, don't be too surprised; it's business. Figure out how much experience you need at this position in order to apply for a better one elsewhere; 3-5 years is usually about right, but even 2 years is sometimes enough. Give them that long to show you they care; if they don't, move on quietly to a new position elsewhere at that point.

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Are these types of transitions usual for large companies / the technology industry as a whole? (I'm presently in financial services)

Every company will have different ways that lateral moves work.

Many have "pay grades" of some sort where each job is assigned a grade. Maybe I am in a grade 10 job, and if I take another job which is also grade 10 it is considered a lateral move. If it's an 11 it is a promotion.

Each company will also have different policies for how raises work when moving positions.

Your other questions are going to be specific to your current company and aren't really answerable.

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I think it's difficult to answer your question because it is unique. The question I have is what reason was behind this lateral move? Is your present job something that's going to be removed in the future? Did they feel you were better suited to some other position? A bit of a background information would help.

At my last company, I would say I did a lateral shift a few times. We had a single brand A, then as time went on management saw fit that brand A can be split into brand A-1, and A-2 under the same umbrella A. With the split, we got the same pay and title, but now our titles changed to reflect that we're working for either A-1 or A-2 instead of just A as it once was.

So yes, it is typical but I would say it's hard to determine if you're worried. If you are, then a bit of background as to why you were moved would be helpful in giving better answers.

For now though, it sounds like a typical move when a job is either reclassified or the company is splitting things around internally. You staying around is a good sign.

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I started in Tech Support and got into Engineering a year later. They gave me a small raise, but it didn't matter. I got the job I wanted, and I've gone on to a fine career. It was the best possible outcome for me, because I was completely self-taught, and it would have been a lot more difficult, if not impossible, to get into Engineering the usual way.

Support is typically an entry level job. Taking the support job got you in the door, and now they want you to move to the big show. Unless you wanted to remain in support forever, that's a good thing. It's what you want. Take it and run with it. Try to negotiate a raise of some kind, but if you don't get it, don't worry too much about it. If you are good, the raises will come.

The reality is that you will never earn what you want at this company. Corporate accountants have created a structure that works against you. When your salary is low, even a maximum percentage raise is a small amount. If you get a bonus, your max-level bonus could be less than the minimum-level bonus that awful guy next to you gets. Bottom line, if you want to make more money, you will have to leave. So consider this move to be a stepping stone to somewhere else. Get as much experience as you can, then move on to another company, and get a bigger salary.

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