Google Software Engineer Levels and Salary | Complete Guide

Google Software Engineer Levels and Salary; Complete Guide

Introduction | Google Software Engineer Levels

Have you ever seen some cool software or app that blew your mind, maybe because of its simplicity or whatever captures your imagination or senses? Yes? No? Maybe? A software engineer most likely wrote that software or program. Major (smaller ones too) companies like Google employ a ton of them at different levels of experience, which this article is looking to answer today. What are the Google Software Engineer Levels, and how much are they paid? But before we get to that, I feel I owe it to my readers to build up this article from scratch and tell you:

  • Just who a software engineer is,
  • What they do,
  • The tools they use to accomplish their jobs, and
  • How you can become one.

Only after this will we look to the different levels of software engineers at Google.

Who is a Software Engineer?

Software engineering is a computer science field that deals with computer programs that perform defined tasks. Examples of such software include operating systems, electronic games, web applications, mobile applications, and many more. A software engineer is a skilled individual tasked with building these products to meet the end-user’s needs. They apply engineering principles to the development of computer programs. This field’s importance has continued to grow, especially with mobile technology’s proliferation and the ever-evolving nature of modern technology. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the job market for this role in the U.S.A. will have grown by approximately 22% between 2019 and 2029.

The ideal software engineer is a problem solver and critical thinker as the role requires these two soft skills as well as some other more technical ones like:

  • Good Programming ability
  • Strong understanding of data structures and algorithms
  • Design and architecture of computer systems
  • Development of high-quality software
  • Knowledge of operating system functionalities
  • Testing, debugging, testing…

There are two categories of software engineers. They are:

  • Application engineers focus mainly on delivering software products based on users’ needs by interacting with the end-user. They act as a conduit in the communication between customer/end-user and software engineering teams to ensure that the user’s requirements are met.
  • A systems engineer often oversees the lifecycle of the design of a technical product, constantly interacting with the various team members to ensure everyone is in alignment with the project’s goals. They also oversee development and testing and the operationalization of the product to meet the requirements outlined by the project’s stakeholders.

So, even with this categorization, it is clear that the goal is ultimately to produce software programs in line with best engineering practices that meet a user or stakeholder’s needs, thereby solving the business problem. They are not to be mistaken for software developers who mostly are product managers in the sense that they work with both the clients, to define their requirements and understand the business need, defining metrics for success, then work with the engineering team to ensure that the software is built, tested, and verified to meet those metrics.


The exact responsibilities or job description of a software engineer will vary depending on the type of organization they work for, whether or not they tow the contract-work line or their level of experience. However, there are still tasks that are largely common amongst them regardless of their specific field or level, some of them have been mentioned in the second section of this article, they include:

  • Writing clean, concise code in line with best practices. A software engineer must be skilled at writing bug-free programs that not only run but meet the prescribed performance standards and solves the defined problem.

  • A software engineer must also be good at writing documentation. This is important as it helps both the engineer and future ones understand the code, especially during testing and maintenance of the codebase.

  • Occasionally, software engineers are also tasked with re-writing legacy software to a new language. This could be done because maybe the software doesn’t meet industry standards, maybe performance(speed) isn’t good enough anymore. Whatever the reason, this is usually a very tedious job and one that most software engineers don’t often enjoy. This means that a software engineer must be fluent in more than one language.

  • A software engineer must also be ready to interact with key project stakeholders like their bosses and clients. This is because client feedback is a great way to discover possible bugs as well, even after you’ve done a seemingly thorough job in testing or debugging. In certain cases, the engineer could also be required to constantly communicate with the client to ensure that the specified requirements are being met and if the client may have requirements to add to or exclude from the original requirements.

  • Test-driven development is a hot topic in this field at the moment. In straightforward terms, a software engineer is expected to be a good tester and must be prepared to test the product at every stage of its development cycle to ensure that critical bugs are caught and addressed quickly and as early as possible in the project’s life cycle. Now, I must add that whilst this is important. There is a balance to be had with taking oodles of time in testing. Products can always be iterated according to the user’s demands because no matter how thorough one is, testing, verification, and validation don’t certify the total absence of bugs.

  • A software engineer must also carry out regular maintenance checks and analysis of current procedures and policies and suggest possible ways to optimize product performance.

What Do You Need to Become a Software Engineer?


To become a successful software engineer, there are certain technical skills one needs to acquire to help them accomplish their tasks. Before we get into these tools, it is important to note that one doesn’t need to master all of these tools at once, or at all, just to get started in software engineering. Avoid getting overwhelmed and take them little by little, starting from the basics.

  • A good software engineer is required to have a strong working knowledge of data structures and algorithms. These are fundamental, and in almost every case, you wouldn’t be able to pass the interview process without successfully showing evidence that you possess these skills.

  • Another important skill a software engineer must possess is working knowledge of multiple programming languages like Java, C++, python. At the most fundamental level, knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is required.

  • Working knowledge of database management systems is also important for a software engineer. Languages like SQL (for Relational Databases) and NoSQL (for Non-Relational Database systems) are the standards for interacting with databases (which is where data is stored).

  • Recent advancements in technology have made it important for software engineers to become conversant with cloud technology to deploy and manage software products and databases.

  • Experiential knowledge of computer architecture and design, as well as operating systems, is also a requirement.

In addition to these technical skills, there are some other fundamental “non-coding” skills that a software engineer is expected to possess.

  • Excellent communication skills are a must because, in most organizations, major projects are executed by cross-functional teams. This means that you’ll have different people from different technical backgrounds working on the same project. In such scenarios, constant communication is key to ensuring a smooth development process. Because this process often involves people from different backgrounds, including the customer, the engineer must also be capable of translating “big” tech language to a form that the team members easily understand.

  • Another key quality that is desirable in a prospective software engineer has an analytical, problem-solving mindset. A software engineer must think through and solve complex problems, be it problems with programming logic (this refers to how the program is designed or structured to solve a problem) or issues with a bug. It is an important skill that separates a top-class engineer from a run-of-the-mill one.

  • A strong sense of curiosity is also quintessential to one’s success in this field. A programmer must be curious about development, new techniques, uncharted territories. This ties deeply with a couple of other desirable qualities of a software engineer, creativity and continuous/self-learner (you must be humble, willing, and open to learning new things). A deep sense of curiosity often leads one to seek new, unknown information, which is often a vital process in sparking creativity which is important for creating innovative and impactful solutions. Curiosity also leads one to experimentation. There’s this common theme in the machine learning process (you’ve surely heard of machine learning, right??) that I find to be funny but also true. It goes like this; how do you know if your chosen algorithm or process is better than another? You don’t. One can only know if they try out different algorithms and compare their outcomes. So, curiosity, which can often be overlooked, is a vital trait for a software engineer.

  • A prospective engineer must also possess a keen eye for detail. The importance of this cannot be overstated, especially in this era of Test Driven Development (TDD). A software engineer must be alive to any bugs that may hinder their programs’ efficiency and correctness. They must be able to spot it quickly and act accordingly.

  • Even better than being reactive is proactivity. He/she must anticipate possible hitches in the process or program and set up fault-tolerant processes to shield against those prospective issues.

Pretty easy, right? One more thing that I feel the need to point out here. It is so often a controversial topic of discussion among current practitioners and newbies. Whether or not a CS degree is important for one to get a software engineering job is a question. The answer is yes, and no. With the rise of coding boot camps, individuals can still pick up skills and knowledge of the necessary tools to become a good engineer without going through the regular 3 or 4-year computer science or engineering degree program. However, a good degree will teach you a lot of excellent principles that will help you write better software, improve your knowledge of operating systems, computer architecture, and algorithms (which are important for passing coding interviews). So either way, you’re good to go. Just do what works best for you based on time and financial commitment.

A couple more other tips. This first one is significant. It is to build personal projects or contribute to open source projects. Not only does it help you apply the skills you’ve learned from books or tutorials, thereby solidifying your knowledge, but it also helps recruiters assess your level of competence. This is particularly important if you don’t have a degree or certification and/or work experience. The second tip is to network. Communicate with other software engineers in your online and offline community, collaborate on projects, and learn from more experienced engineers. If you make a good impression and show your value, you could get information about job or internship opportunities and get referrals which could heighten your chances of securing employment.

It’s been quite the ride debriefing you about what software engineering is about and who a software engineer is, and what one needs to become. I’ve saved the “best” for last, and that is what the next and final section is about.

Google Software Engineer Levels and Salary

Now it’s time to get down to the business of the day. Now, I don’t know why you’re here, maybe just for school or personal research, or maybe you desire a software engineering role at Google. The previous sections were designed to assist you in understanding what this career broadly requires of you. If you’re looking to work at Google one day, it’s a good start. However, if you’re a bit more grounded and want to know just where you’d stand at a corporation like Google, follow me as we attempt to deconstruct the different levels for software engineers at Google.

The software engineer ladder at google has 10 levels. These are represented by L + {a number} signifying the level of experience running from L2 (lowest) to L11 (highest). We’ll go through each of these roles.

L2 – This is a Software Engineering Intern usually still in the university (last year)

L3 – This is an entry-level position. The role is a Junior Software Engineer or Software Engineer II. This is the level for new graduates. The experience requirement for this level is 0-1 year.

L4 – This role is Software Engineer III. The experience requirement for this level is often 1 or 2 to 5 years. This role could also be offered to new Masters or Doctorate graduates. From this level down till L2, the criteria for assessment are often their knowledge of programming fundamentals like data structures and algorithms and their raw coding ability.

Unlike their less experienced counterparts, they tend to need less shadowing or hand-holding but are still not as skilled or knowledgeable with the higher-level software engineering principles. 

L5 – This level is the Senior Software Engineer. Often with over 6 years of experience, he/she is expected to successfully work through complex tasks independently, understand the intricacies of the software development life cycle, and display strong adherence to fundamental software engineering principles in the production of software. He or she must also possess a deep understanding of the computer’s architectural design and other issues like testing and scalability of software products.

L6 – Staff Software Engineer, L7 – Senior Staff Software Engineer

The Staff Software Engineers often possess over 9 years of industry experience. They are regarded very highly, so much so that they could often be given “small” engineering teams to manage and are often tasked with ensuring a high level of discipline and productivity. This individual expects that they possess strong leadership and team-building skills as so often, the engineers working under their leadership will still need some level of guidance or mentoring. In addition to this, just like the Senior Software Engineers, they are also concerned with the performance and scalability of software products and process optimization. Due to the nature of this position, recruitment often happens internally.

L8 – This level is the Principal Software Engineer. This individual possesses deep and wide knowledge in the industry, spanning several years and impressive accomplishments. They are also expected to possess a keen analytical mind, oodles of creativity, and a strong leadership sense. They are responsible for the technical aspects of a product. They ensure that these products are developed, tested, and verified, ensuring that they meet the user or stakeholder’s requirements. They will often oversee the technical aspects of the projects ensuring high-performance levels and optimization. The ideal individual for this role is proactive and on top of the industry’s latest trends. They’ll so often be the ones to recommend new technologies and processes that will help eliminate performance bottlenecks in current processes and the optimization of business processes. Just like the Staff Engineering roles, recruitment for this role is rarely carried out externally.

L9 – This level is the Distinguished Software Engineer. This is a highly accomplished individual who has made major technical and professional strides in the industry. A leader who excels at steering major, impactful projects and developing members of his/her team. They lead various projects, but they are also involved in others, often serving in a guidance capacity. In essence, they are the software engineers other software engineers look to as they often possess deep and strategic knowledge of the business. This allows them to be aware of the “big picture” in ways a Software Engineer probably wouldn’t. Their ultimate focus is delivering products that meet the needs of business customers.

L10 – Google Fellow, L11 – Senior Google Fellow

Safe to say that these guys are in a league of their own. This role is the climax of a Software Engineer’s career. Often holding advanced degrees, Fellows are the elite class in the software engineering world. Often armed with remarkable accomplishments in their fields, they can be trusted to run major projects (and research) independently. At Google, an individual at this level is a vice or senior vice president.

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for software engineers as of 2019 is $107,510. It is one of the best-paying jobs in the USA. Without a doubt, a company like Google will compensate its workers handsomely as well.

Below is a table showing the available average salaries for the different levels at Google:

Level NameTotalBaseStock (/yr)Bonus
L3SWE II(Entry Level)$188k$129k$38k$20k
L4SWE III$264k$156k$80k$27k
L5Senior SWE$353k$188k$127k$37k
L6Staff SWE$481k$223k$207k$50k
L7Senior Staff SWE$693k$260k$348k$84k
L8Principal Engineer$1.19m$326k$746k$121k


The next infographic shows the expected trajectory of salaries as one climbs the Software Engineering Ladder at Google:



The Base Salary is the ground level/initial compensation given to employees. The Stock options on offer are Google Restricted Stock Units (GSU), a 4-year vesting schedule. In each year, an employee is entitled to 25% of their stock options. This schedule does vary depending on how many GSU’s an employee holds. One with less than 32 GSUs will receive theirs annually, those with 32-63 GSUs will receive theirs every 6 months, one with 64-159 GSUs will receive their quarterly (every 3 months), and those with 160 GSUs and above will receive theirs every month. Bonuses are offered on an annual basis and vary among employees, and the Total is the sum of the values.

Other benefits come with being a Software Engineer at Google, from unlimited sick leave, to 12-week paternity leave, to 18-week maternity leave and $500 after the birth of one’s child to take care of needs cleaning, and other expenses. It is safe to say Google is a great place to work. The software engineering role, without a doubt, is one of great importance, especially in this “digital” age, and the job opportunities, be it at Google or anywhere else, are predicted only to go up, The Bureau of Labor Statistics, further highlighting said importance.

Thank You.

Also read My journey to getting a Digital Marketing job at Google

Google Software Engineer Levels and Salary | Complete Guide

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