Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Being a Tech Professional

After three and a half years, I just left my job for a new company. When I originally started my last job, I planned to spend a couple years before pursuing a new opportunity. Luckily, I was blessed with an awesome team, continuous education opportunities, and solid company culture, all which convinced me to stay longer.

At the beginning of this year I found myself frustrated with my career growth. After voicing my concerns to my manager and failing to be satisfied by the steps taken to address the issue, I started looking for a new position. As I went through the process of looking at other jobs and announcing my resignation I realized that there were some steps I could have taken to meet my goals at my previous company, most of which were maneuvering.

So I decided to put hands to keyboard and codify the lessons I learned for myself and other technical professionals who don't want their technical aptitude to be limited by management's perception. To be clear, I loved (and still love) my job. I think these lessons are universally applicable and a part of working with other human beings with natural biases and limits of perception.

  • Make sure your team, managers and upper management all like and value you.
    • This starts by being honest and taking your time to help those around you. Just make sure you are finishing your work, it's okay to say no as long as you suggest other resources!
  • Find out what your department's management values (technical achievement, mentor-ship, etc) and make sure they are aware of your achievements in those areas.
    • I discovered in my last week that one of my department's heads highly values technical achievement and measures it via specific indicators (which I had discounted). I only learned this by directly asking him.
  • Make your own goals for where you want to be in one, two and five years. Otherwise, other people will make them for you.
    • If you don't have goals, engage your manager in coming up with these along with you.
    • Don't be afraid to share your goals with those close to you for feedback.
    • Id recommend writing your goals in a journal.
  • Think about how you are performing towards your goals periodically (once a month).
  • Keep a log of your achievements and your failures (as well as how you corrected them).
    • Use these when having annual reviews, and to guide your growth.
  • Keep track of what annoyed you about your company.
    • Bring these up with you manager
    • The list will also help you identify what to look for in a new company.
  • Take opportunities to share your achievements with team members and your department (with modesty).
    • My department had a forum in our monthly all-hands to share these projects.
  • Don't be afraid to tell you manager what you are looking for.
  • Update your resume every year with your achievements.
  • If you are frustrated, talk to your those who respect you and have leverage with upper management.
    • I was very uncomfortable with applying this approach and chose not to, but multiple people suggested it as a path they took when I shared my story with them.
  • If you realize that you cannot align with what your company values and talking to your manager doesn't help, consider other opportunities.
The way to actually exercise some of these lessons will vary based on the structure of your company. Eg, who is responsible for promotions and career development, what is the company culture, how do people share their free time projects? Engage your manager and upper management to get this information straight from them.

If you are a manager, I recommend making the promotion expectations and available mechanisms clear to your direct reports. It is your responsibility to ensure they are making their career decisions with an understanding of the company and themselves. Moreover, you should give them candid feedback when their are slipping in some of these regards and lobby upper management with your reports' achievements. I would go as far to say that managers should recommend paths beyond the company when the company can't meet an employee's goals (not just vice-versa).

What are your lessons on being a software professional? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. Next week I'll be following up with some lessons on my interview experiences, stay tuned!


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