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Chapter 11:

Making a Career

Next: Our Internal Systems

Advancing your career at Basecamp doesn’t mean giving up on your craft. Whether you work in programming, design, ops, support, or whatever, you can become better at the work itself and level-up that way. This is especially important since we’re a relatively small company with just two layers of managerial cake: executives and team managers. And both the executives and managers still spend the majority of their time doing actual product work!

Within each of our job functions, we’ve mapped our trajectory of mastery to five different levels. That title structure is shared amongst all departments, but the particulars of what characterizes one level from another will of course be different. Here’s an example of the titles for programming:

While this is how we recognize mastery, it’s by no means an expectation that everyone will start as a junior and end up as a principal. Basecamp needs people and perspectives from all levels of skill. And for those who do end up progressing all the way through this path, it may well be a journey of many, many years, if not a decade+.

But these titles make it clear to everyone where someone is in their career progression at Basecamp. Note that these titles are about a particular role at Basecamp. Someone may well have been a “Senior Designer” somewhere else with a different assessment criteria and a different workflow, and then still start at Basecamp as a “Designer”. We recognize mastery and titles at Basecamp for the work done at Basecamp.

Day to day, though, these titles aren’t really much of a factor. But they do give newcomers another way of orienting themselves at the company and it gives everyone a clear way of tracking their personal career progression at Basecamp.

You can see the specific titles and proficiencies expected for: Designers, Ops, Programmers, Support, Data.

Pay & Promotions

Basecamp pays at the top 10% for our industry at San Francisco salary levels, regardless of where an employee lives. The comparison data is provided by a company called Radford that polls compensation data from all the major companies in our industry and plenty of our smaller peers as well. Because we don’t pay bonuses, we match our base compensation to the base + bonus of our peer group.

Some jobs at Basecamp are not matched to Radford comparison data. Compensation for common technical roles like programming and design is reliably competitive in a market like San Francisco. For non-technical roles, compensation is much lower, much less competitive. To compensate for that industry disparity, we instituted a $70,000 salary floor.

The Radford data is reviewed once per year at the end of November. If it’s warranted, that is if the market rates in the top 10% have gone up, we’ll increase pay on January 1st to follow suit. We don’t decrease pay, even if the market rates may have dropped. If that happens, we’ll hold them steady until they come up again.

In addition to raises based on Radford market data, we’ve also in the past given raises in excess of those based on core price index inflation numbers, if the market didn’t move upward. (This is not a guaranteed practice.)

Everyone in the same role at the same level is paid the same at Basecamp.

When someone gets a promotion, that goes from one level to the next, they’ll get a corresponding pay raise effective on their next pay cycle.

Performance Feedback

At least once a year, employees meet with their manager for a formal performance check-in. It’s up to each manager to determine how best to approach that meeting, but we ask that whatever process they use, they use the same process for every team member. Managers should have a conversation with teammates about:

This is a two-way street! Employees should be offering thoughts on these topics, and managers should be giving feedback about employee performance in these areas. Managers document performance reviews along with any action items with deadlines that come out of the meeting. The timing and cadence of performance reviews is up to each individual manager with input from People Ops.

Performance Plans

If an employee’s feedback relationship with their manager and team is where it should be, nothing too surprising should be coming out of performance reviews. Managers should be addressing performance successes and problems in the moment, throughout the year, not waiting for a formal opportunity. If some unforeseen negative feedback does come out, managers could decide to initiate our formal performance plan process.

We don’t just make Basecamp, we run our entire business on it too. It puts all our project communication, task management, and documentation in one place where everyone can work together seamlessly.