Jacob speaks with Zuhair (co-founder of Levels.fyi) about careers in tech, starting MVPs, and negotiating salaries.
J: What motivated you to create and launch Levels.fyi
Z: Around 2 years ago, Zaheer, my co-founder, and I began chatting about what we would do after college. I was looking for companies to apply to, and I had just joined Blind (an anonymous forum to discuss the workplace). Zaheer was looking for a job and was complaining about the difficulty of comparing titles between companies. We noticed many of the same questions as in Blind. “At which level can a Senior Staff Delegate/Level 63 at Microsoft.”
This was a common question, so we decided to create a visualization to help us compare the titles of software engineers across different companies. We shared our link with Blind every time a similar question was asked. Traffic began to increase as people started sharing our site to answer leveling questions. After noticing the same knowledge gap, we started collecting salary data a few months later. As we added features to help career decisions, the site naturally grew. We’ve also expanded to Product Management and Software Engineering Management as well as Product Design career tracks.
What were your previous experiences before you started Levels?
I interned previously at Uber and graduated from UC Berkeley in 2018. In 2018, I started full-time work on Levels.fyi. Zaheer graduated in 2018 from UC Irvine and worked on the popular TagsForLikes app. He joined Amazon Web Services (AWS) after graduating from UC Irvine.
How did Levels start?
Levels.fyi launched as a static website that provided leveling information for only three companies (Google, Facebook, and Amazon). Crowdsourcing information was how we would scale and grow, which was quickly apparent. As users submit salary information, we developed a process for constantly reviewing and updating data.
We believe in shipping the minimum viable product (MVP) and then iteratively adding new features to the site. Recently, we created a page dedicated to compensation data. This allows you to slice and dice our data (ex., product manager salaries). Even though our website was very minimal, users loved it. If you don’t provide significant value to users, a beautiful website design is pointless.
Our goal is to provide transparency for both employers and employees when making career decisions. Companies are incentivized not to disclose information because the market is moving quickly. The employees have the advantage. Although Levels.fyi hopes to level the playing field for employees, our work is not done.
We are currently working to regionalize our data and visualizations. Although we have a large user base beyond the Bay Area, some users feel that we are only focusing on the largest tech companies. We do collect information about cities, but we have never normalized the data nor offered any filters. We are also working to source data for additional companies. I was once told that your best customers are those you already have. Although this was primarily motivation for up-selling, it is also relevant to traffic. Advertising is not as efficient as optimizing your landing page or maximizing conversions from existing customers.
Software engineering and product management are becoming increasingly popular career options. Do you have any advice for those who are interested in a career in tech?
It’s possible for anyone to do it! It doesn’t matter if you don’t have formal education. You can still get into tech by showing your skills and willingness to learn on the job. Fun side projects are a great way of doing that. Tech jobs are in high demand. As more industries are tech-enabled, the demand for tech workers will increase.
Any tips for negotiating a better offer?
You must also evaluate your own worth when evaluating potential opportunities. You can negotiate almost any employment offer and can often command higher compensation than you realize. In just 15 minutes, you can get 5% or more in compensation (hat tip to Geico). Negotiating is easier if there are other offers. However, even if there aren’t any, research salary bands and ask. Are you unsure of the salary range for your job? Levels.fyi.