How Postlight Levels Up Engineers — Postlight — Digital Strategy, Design and Engineering


From the moment that co-founders Paul Ford and Rich Ziade stepped blinking into the sun, Postlight’s core ethos has rested on our ability to ship great software. We’re an agency, which means we parachute into other organizations to solve complex problems and build large platforms. Engagements vary in length, but it’s not unusual to be on an entirely new team with a new stack every six months or so. As such, typical leveling frameworks that emphasize growth as a measure of skill in specific tool sets and languages didn’t cut it — so we wrote our own.

Postlight’s Engineering Growth Framework focuses on an engineer’s ability to grow vertically, building depth in tooling like a traditional product organization would, but also horizontally. Can you learn new tools quickly? Can you teach others? How effectively can you size up a platform architecture that you were introduced to last week? These are questions our framework seeks to answer, as they’re top-of-mind for our engineers in their daily work.

Shipping platforms and moving on to new ones has a lot of interesting side effects on our work, and our framework reflects that. For example, always building new things means we tend to live on the bleeding edge. Technologies that are very new and show a ton of promise (like, for instance, Phoenix LiveView) are easily adopted on new projects, evaluated during build-out, and either incorporated into future work or not, depending on our experience. An engineer’s ability to turn a critical eye on the technical landscape appears across our framework’s core competencies.

Our six core competencies

Like our colleagues on our digital strategy and product management teams, we prioritized six competencies that describe the skills an engineer at Postlight needs to succeed, some of which mirror (but do not necessarily match) the strategist or PM competencies by design. And for each competency, we created a heat map to show how those skills develop as Postlight engineers become more experienced. 

Our core competencies are:

  • Technical Ability: Ability to write, rewrite, and study code.
  • Systems Thinking: Ability to envision, evaluate, and build complex platforms.
  • Time Management: Ability to estimate work and manage your own time.
  • Communication: Ability to deliver the right message with the right level of detail to the right audience.
  • Collaboration: Ability to properly empower and leverage the right people to move a piece of work forward.
  • Growth Mindset: Ability to understand and own your development, along with helping others do the same.

Each competency is then further broken down into sub-competencies that emphasize concrete skill sets we value in our engineers. For example, Technical Ability is divided into Programming, which measures one’s raw ability to solve problems with code, Refactoring, which tracks how one takes the measure of new or unfamiliar codebases, and Breadth of Knowledge, which corresponds to how an engineer keeps up with the state of the industry and the cutting edge.

We weigh skills like good communication and ready collaboration as equal to what a person might consider traditional measures of software engineering, like technical ability. Our engineers are constantly talking with clients, tackling new integrations, and reaching outside of their day-to-day teams for help or pairing. Our mentorship program, a recent addition, emphasizes cross-team communication and is incorporated into the growth framework in the form of expectations around being a mentor and mentee.

Although we believe the Engineering Growth Framework is a strong resource for our department, it’s also the first draft of a living document — we intend to make yearly edits as our engineers demonstrate what does and doesn’t work for them. We look forward to building a system that gives Postlight’s engineers an array of paths forward — IC or manager? Flexible generalist or highly-focused specialist? — while helping engineers here think critically about their future.

Kevin Barrett (he/him) is a Partner and Director of Engineering at Postlight. Reach out at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @kevboh.

Work for Postlight! Love making exceptional digital products? We’re hiring engineers, PMs, designers, and strategists. Let’s grow together. See openings.

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