Atlassian Engineering’s Journey to Mapping Out Growth Profiles

Atlassian's company mission is to unleash the potential of every team. Aligned to our value, Build with Heart and Balance, we're focused on fostering an engineering culture of openness, equity, and excellence. That's why we developed our career framework and growth profiles. They outline clear role expectations and share how every engineer can grow long-term at Atlassian.

In an effort to unleash the potential of other teams, we wanted to share our journey, including our results, lessons learned, and key takeaways that we think others can incorporate to improve their own growth profiles. Later this year, we look forward to sharing a detailed template of our career framework for teams to build from.

If you're interested in starting your next chapter with us, be sure to visit our Careers page.


The origin of our engineering career framework

Three years ago, we didn’t have well-defined engineering roles or accompanying growth trajectories, so we embarked on a journey to create them as we scaled our engineering organization. Today, we’re sharing how we developed a detailed career framework to power our engineering organization, enabling us to grow from a team of hundreds to a team of thousands.

Our career framework:

  • Outlines the expectations of each of our engineering roles, allowing engineers to understand and assess how they are performing, and to build a career growth plan
  • Defines the differences and qualifications of each role and level
  • Establishes a career ladder for technical contribution roles, which mirrors our management career ladder

Now, our managers are equipped with the tools to have better growth conversations with their team. They use the job profiles to deliver specific, actionable feedback to help identify areas of growth and to make improvements.

A growing engineering team without clear responsibilities

Prior to 2017, as our engineering organization quickly grew, we began to see certain repeated challenges crop up:

  • Our team members were looking for more clarity on how to rise to the next level in their careers, but we didn't have streamlined internal resources to reference.
  • Our engineers shared feedback that promotions sometimes felt arbitrary. At times, engineers felt they weren't provided with specific feedback as to why they weren't promoted. As a result, they needed specific promotion guidelines that provided a clear overview of their growth opportunities.
  • We also noticed that many managers were looking for guidance on what types of assignments each engineering level should be expected to solve and how to help their employees grow.
  • Our managers were also looking for clarity on how to be better coaches. Many looked to external resources and blogs to bridge the gap.

Many of our first-level engineering managers weren't clear about their role expectations and how to allocate their time. They had questions on how much time they should focus on coaching employees, participating in development activities, attending meetings, acting as project leaders, and engaging in administrative tasks. In tandem, we heard that some engineers felt that the only way to grow was to start managing people. We knew that many of our engineers wanted to continue on a technical career path, rather than take on management responsibilities, which led to some concern about their future growth opportunities at Atlassian.

While we were incredibly proud of our rapid growth and engineering successes, we knew we had to more clearly communicate expectations to our organization. So we did what we always do at Atlassian when we’re faced with a difficult challenge – we formed a team, set an objective, kicked off a project, and started asking questions.

Internally, this project was known as Pascal. The objective was to define the expectations and behaviors for a successful engineer at every level within Atlassian.

Defining Project Pascal

The Pascal team was made up of a highly experienced group including our human resources partner and senior engineering leaders who took on the firsthand challenge of helping their staff grow. They served as career mentors, engineers, and people leaders at various levels. After researching work on the topic and conducting interviews with internal staff and peers from other companies, the Pascal team established four pillars for the framework.

The four pillars of the career framework formed the basis of the expectations and behaviors for being a successful engineer at Atlassian and were underpinned by the foundation of our company values.

Atlassian’s company values

The four pillars are:

Lead and InspireMaster the CraftDrive OutcomesHave Customer Impact
– These are the aspects of an engineer’s role that involve guiding their teammates toward our collective goals. It involves:
> Being a role model
> Raising the level of performance of your team
> Creating opportunities for others to grow
> Contributing to an open and diverse culture
– Mastering the craft means becoming an expert engineer who is able to efficiently develop and operate amazing products, while continuously learning from past experiences to hone your skills.
– The best engineers produce simple, effective solutions that are maintainable and accessible.
– They are also able to break new ground and create innovations for our customers and industry.
– Engineers stretch themselves by taking on increasingly challenging assignments.
Outcome-driven development is our term for prioritizing and measuring customer value over the act of completing tasks.
– For example, we believe highly impactful and measurable changes are worth more than simply shipping features.
– We expect our engineers to always use pragmatism, while stretching to reach for product and operational goals with measurable results.
– They must always work on the right things and deliver on commitments by collaborating to maximize the impact of their team.
– The best employees are exceptional at serving customers, whether those customers are external or internal.
– They remain focused on solving real customer problems and delighting them with experiences that exceed expectations.
– They do research to understand our customers’ needs and prioritize that work.
– They consider business metrics and align their personal and team goals with those of the larger organization.

Creating our job profiles

With these pillars in place, the Pascal team began creating and refining detailed job profiles for every level and role. Leveraging their extensive research and internal interviews, they developed detailed guidelines for each role to outline the expectations and behaviors of each level.

Incorporating detailed job profiles encourages an open, fair, and equitable approach by clarifying the guardrails of each role and helping to manage job expectations. It also outlines which work is appropriate for each role level. And, as engineers reach each new level, their responsibilities and expectations expand. We want our engineers to be able to leverage their skills and continue to grow, without feeling like they aren't equipped to handle certain projects.

Our challenges and learnings from launching Pascal

Change can often be difficult, and launching our career framework at Atlassian was no exception. Many saw it as a positive change, while some engineers were concerned that our job profiles were overreaching.

There were concerns that managers could use the job profiles as a checklist without context, or to establish reasons not to promote someone who was deserving. We also heard feedback that the job profiles didn't account for the different dimensions of being an engineer – like those who were exceptional at certain elements of their role, but less interested and skilled in other aspects.

Additionally, the Pascal team didn't take an incremental approach to announcing these changes and pushed to update the engineering job titles at the same time. We saw some concerns over these new job titles take away from the intent of the new career framework. In hindsight, our approach was too fast. We learned that an incremental approach with clear communication is the most effective method for our engineering organization.

How we addressed these challenges

In advance of announcing the career framework to our staff at large, the Pascal team enlisted help from HR and our engineering leadership to organize training sessions for our people managers. The goal was to help them understand the background of the project and be prepared to lead discussions and answer questions from their teams.

During these sessions, we trained our managers on how to use the framework to provide better feedback. For example, our managers used mock conversations to become familiar with giving specific performance feedback and career coaching, using content directly from the job profiles. The profiles provided strategies to discuss expectations for each given role and level, as well as outlined the necessary steps to continue growing.

To provide more transparency we:

  • Shared an internal blog post outlining the effects of these changes and our thinking behind what prompted them.
  • Stayed true to our Open Company, No BS value, by addressing questions and comments within the blog.
  • Scheduled an engineering-wide town hall and Q&A to discuss the changes, key elements of our research, and details about how the changes would impact our team.
  • Set up smaller, more informal Q&A sessions (with an average of six to ten employees per session) to create space for people to ask more questions in a smaller setting – we know not everyone is comfortable speaking in a town hall with over 1,000 attendees and we wanted to create space for everyone's voices to be heard.

From this input, we found that the biggest point of concern was our proposed title changes across roles and levels. We recognized that they were detracting from the overall goal of the career framework, so we elected to hold on introducing the job title changes for six months. During that time, we reassessed how to communicate these changes to ensure we were aligned on the objective behind these changes.

Additionally, there were engineers and people leaders who felt there were still too many ambiguities in our career framework to make it effective. To encourage them to live our value Be the Change You Seek, we set up a working group and encouraged them to participate in the process to further refine our career framework. With this group, we gathered feedback and data over the next year; 12 months after the initial launch, we incorporated further improvements and adjustments.

Positive outcomes post-launch

Several months after we launched the career framework and job profiles, we began seeing positive outcomes. Many employees started working with their managers to request assignments and tasks they hadn't previously been challenged with that would help them grow. For example, engineers primarily known as expert developers sought more opportunities to increase team efficiency, measure customer impact, or develop leadership and communication skills. Others pushed themselves to get more involved in reliability, security, or compliance tasks. Overall, our engineers started taking more ownership of their career development.

Another positive output was we saw a spike in employees shifting from being individual contributors to being interested in people manager career tracks. After seeing clear expectations and career progression for their current role, some were more interested in pursuing other career paths. And, in our next employee promotion cycle, we saw managers provide more specific rationale for why a given employee should be promoted to the next level, backed by examples aligned to the four pillars of our Pascal framework.

Three years later, here's how Pascal has evolved

It’s been almost three years since we launched our career framework and we've been through several rounds of iteration. We learned some initial lessons, made adjustments, and reflected on the positive impacts of this effort.

The most impressive statistic was a significant increase in employee satisfaction with regard to career development. In our internal survey data, employee satisfaction increased by more than 30 points.

Project Pascal has since been a big part of our engineering culture and continues to be referenced in nearly every career development conversation. This was exactly the type of cultural change we were after when we began work on the project.

In summary, we learned some important lessons on our journey to scale up quickly from a growing organization to a high-performing, globally distributed engineering organization of thousands. The key takeaways from our story are:

  • When employees understand the expectations of their role, they are empowered to take more ownership of their own careers and reconsider their career trajectory.
  • Well-documented role expectations foster a culture of openness, equity, fairness, growth, and excellence.
  • Organizational change management can be difficult but is invaluable for both individual and team growth.
  • Changes should be focused and incremental and the project owner must create an open dialogue to best serve the organization.

Where to go from here

Our goal is to unleash the potential of all teams and we hope this will help other teams to thrive. We're working on externalizing our career framework and growth profiles and will share them later this year, so you can adapt some ideas and learnings for your organization.

We know every organization is different, but we hope these ideas can spark change and help level up the career development conversations within your team.

If you’re interested in joining our engineering rocket ship, make sure to visit our Careers page to learn more about our open roles.