Question: We're growing steadily and are starting to see a need to clarify the career progression path for individuals on the Engineering team. Anyone have an approach they think works well?

Answer (public company CTO): Yes. First, we put together a detailed ladder for generic “Software Engineering” with six levels to align with compensation surveys. Then, we gradually made more specific ladders for other specializations as we hired enough people to justify them.  Put differently, pre-creating ladders for specializations with 0-1 staff is a lot of work, especially if you don’t want to fill it with meaningless boilerplate phrases. The first ladder below is our generic SWE ladder. The second focuses on engineering managers.  The reason the second is separate is because there are specifics about each level describing the additional autonomy, scope, etc.

Our Generic Software Engineer Ladder

Our Software Engineering Manager Ladder

Dropbox also recently released their framework for Engineering Career Ladders here.