DE Promotion Review Meeting

Sun held its biannual Distinguished Engineer promotion review meeting this week. All of the DEs and and Fellows convened in Menlo Park for a 1.5 day meeting to review candidate cases and to recommend promotions to Distinguished Engineer. We reviewed more cases in this session than in any other I've attended.

For those not familiar, the process works like this. First, a candidate's Vice President or Director decides to nominate an employee for consideration. A case is prepared without the knowledge of the candidate, following established guidelines that have been published on the DE website. Case materials are distributed to the DEs and Fellows in advance of the in-person review meeting. At the review meeting, each candidate's Director or Vice President spends about twenty minutes presenting the candidate and then spends about the same amount of time fielding questions from the attendees. Once the questioning is completed and the speaker has left the room, an internal discussion ensues, followed by a formal vote.

As a participant, I form an initial opinion based on the reading of each case prior to the meeting. That opinion can be affected (positively or negatively) by the case presentation and then again (positively or negatively) by the detailed private discussion prior to the vote.

At this session, I entered the meeting with a tentative determination that I would vote Yes on 30% of the cases being considered. After presentations, that percentage had risen to 60%. After discussions, I ultimately voted Yes on 75% of the cases. The presos and the discussions matter a lot in this process, as you can see.

Promotion announcements should begin rolling out soon.


It's no secret that this process is completely broken, for years upper management has used this promotion as a carrot for retaining senior engineers who are about to exit. And not necessarily because of their future potential, but to prevent competitors from hiring them. But all too often, it becomes a case of too little too late. Just ask those who escaped to Google, Sun's process of recognizing, compensating and rewarding talent is completely broken.

But rather than doling out titles that end up polarizing (ultimately neutralizing the staff their work with), rethink the entire process, today the title of DE is nothing more than a badge of honor but it comes at a price, animosity.

A couple of comments.
"A case is prepared without the knowledge of the candidate". Nothing further from the truth, It's not uncommon for directors to ask the candidate for material they would present at the review meeting.

"We reviewed more cases in this session than in any other I've attended". Isn't this the \*root\* of the problem?

Posted by The Observer on December 16, 2006 at 08:55 PM EST #

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'd like to address two of the issues you raised. First, you contend the process is used to prevent atttrition. While it may be the case that attrition is a factor in the decision of a manager to nominate a candidate, it's been my personal experience that 1) we rarely if ever are aware of this situation during the review, and 2) if we are made aware of it during the course of the review, it counts negatively against the presenter for mentioning it. We really do review the cases themselves on their merits. So, yes, you may be right (I don't know) that we had more cases than ever before due to retention concerns, but I am confident that the people we just promoted were promoted based on their achievements.

You are right on another point. While cases are supposed to be prepared without any knowledge of the candidate, in practice it seems most candidates do have some awareness, which I find unfortunate. It doesn't change the outcome of the case, but it can set a candidate up for disappointment should the case not be approved.

Posted by guest on December 17, 2006 at 12:48 AM EST #

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Josh Simons


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