Lesson #2: A career path is not a ladder, it's a jungle gym
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A career path is not a ladder, it’s a jungle gym.
You may have heard the story before: a software engineer starts their career, and as they gain more experience in the workforce and move into a more senior role, they start to think about the next step. Is it time to become an engineering manager? Thankfully the opportunity presents itself, so our friend here is now an EM for the first time.
And they hate it.
Who would’ve guessed their job would mostly turn into a day full of meetings and putting out fires? (Side note: an EM does much more than this, but stay with me here.)
After six months to a year, they realize this just isn’t for them. They’re burning out, they don’t enjoy their work anymore. So they start considering a new role elsewhere - back to being an IC.
In a world where we aren’t seeing thousands of layoffs per week, the opportunity to move back into an IC role once again presents itself, and our friend is now thriving as a Staff Engineer.
I write about our hypothetical friend here because this is a very real scenario for so many engineers. We often spend our time envisioning our career as a ladder - up and to the right. Junior → Mid → Senior → EM → Director → world domination. A career ladder is a misleading visual, though.
I can’t take credit for the visual of a jungle gym here (I’m not sure where I heard it), but I feel like it’s spot on. We all go through so many chapters in our lives where our needs and desires change - from what you need in terms of stability, to your career goals, your financial goals, your personal goals - and with that, we have an opportunity every time to change direction with our careers.
If you’re currently in an EM role and realize it’s not for you (or perhaps no longer for you at this time), it’s completely acceptable to move to an individual contributor role. It’s not a demotion. (I’ve actually heard recruiters call it as such, and this is an absolutely incorrect view on engineering career progression.)
If you’re currently in an IC role and you’re considering moving into an EM role, remember that this move doesn’t have to be permanent if you realize it’s not the right fit for you. (It’s also worth noting that an engineering manager’s work experience and expected day-to-day is going to vary from company to company - some still code, while others stop touching the codebase altogether.)
My best advice to be to lean more into the skills you’d like to build in your career with less emphasis on a job title. What’s considered a Director at one company is an Engineering Manager at another. We all know there’s no true global standard when it comes to engineering titles, so instead we control what we can - which is the skillset we hone.
What I’m reading
I just got back from Spain on Monday, so I spent most of my time reading fiction (if you really want a list of the romance novels I read, reply to this email). I did start reading The Coaching Habit, though!
Check out the full book list for recommendations and an ever-growing reading list.
Note: Links to books in this section are affiliate links to help support the purchase of the rest of my books :)
What I’m working on
I’m currently working on filling 5 roles at my company (check out our careers page!) so all of my time is now dedicated to interviewing, ensuring our candidates have the best interview experience they can, and training my engineers to become great interviewers.
I highly, highly, highly recommend the book Who by Geoff Smart and Andy Street if you’re a hiring manager and have input on the creation of job descriptions.
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