Three traits of the software engineers that are promoted fastest[Storytime Saturdays]
What does it take to get to the very top at a big tech company? Insights from a former Staff Engineer at Meta
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Getting promoted can be a very frustrating process.
You have to compete against new hires and other team members, all the while negotiating with management that you will have the right impact going higher. This can be a very frustrating process. Especially in bigger companies, which have a lot more red tape, many more employees, and the impact can be much harder to measure. However, promotions in Tech are not something you want to lose out on. For example, Glassdoor estimates that the average Staff Software Engineer makes on average 313,469 USD/year. So what traits do you need to grow faster?
In this post, I will cover this excellent video by Rahul Pandey.was a staff software engineer at Meta and Pinterest, where he mentored many engineers. He also writes the phenomenal publication on Substack, where he mentors ambitious software devs (I’ve recommended this newsletter for a while). Thus, he’s an expert on the subject of career growth in software. As always, I will cover and then build upon the insights I found most valuable in that video. Use these insights to further your own career and hit your stride as a dev.
Top engineers integrate feedback-As should come as a surprise to no one, one of the pillars for fast growth is to integrate feedback. A lot. A top engineer seeks detailed feedback, integrates that feedback, and then follows up with the feedback giver in a few months (to assess impact). While Rahul mentioned this specifically for developers, I’ll cover how this setup can also apply to high-performing teams.
Top engineers are obsessed with their time- A recurring theme for regular readers, Rahul notes that the engineers that are promoted fastest are the ones that are most obsessed with their time. They assess everything ruthlessly and only pursue the avenues with the best returns. This is a very useful mentality to develop and one that will help you more than anything else.
Top engineers communicate effectively- Once again, this should not come as a shocker to any of you. Developing your communication ability allows you to influence projects, negotiate with stakeholders, and even effectively seek help. All of these improve your leverage, which is crucial for you to secure your promotion.
Time to take your career to the next level.
How to use Feedback to get promoted as a Software Engineer
The first common trait in fast-growing is their use of feedback. Using feedback to grow is a cheat code for various reasons-
They allow you to use the experience of others as a crutch- Since the feedback is being given to you by another person, it’s essentially a way for finding out what that other person values. If the person giving you feedback is someone you want to emulate (senior engineer, high-performing classmate etc). You can then start to integrate elements of their thought process into your own, allowing you to hit the next levels of performance.
They allow you to step outside your box- We all have biases, thoughts, and perspectives. Often, things you value will not be valued the same amount by others. It’s easy to waste time working on something that is ultimately not very valuable to others (refer to the meme below). Even if what you work on is valuable from a technical perspective, you won’t get very far if you don’t work on the things that are valued by your supervisors (it sucks but c’est la vie). Regular and detailed feedback allows you to work on the components that are most appreciated by others.
Feedback allows you to establish a connection- In my article, How to Use Github to Land your first software Job, I wrote about how GitHub open-source was only a way to establish a connection with experienced developers who could then guide you. A similar principle applies. Getting feedback from a senior dev/colleague allows you to develop a relationship that can then be nurtured into something more. These relationships will be very valuable to growing your career and impact.
Clearly, you want to work feedback into your work. There are 3 stages to using feedback effectively-
Working on the feedback.
The aftermath of the feedback.
Firstly, asking for feedback is a skill in itself. Keep in mind, most people are either very busy or very preoccupied with themselves (or both). Low-resolution questions like, “How did I do?” will elicit the bare-minimum response. This is not going to really be helpful. Instead, ask questions that are detailed and specific (“Do you think the way I wrote this feature is secure enough”?) This makes them thinking allows for much more specific feedback.
Once you have that feedback, here is how you do next-
Write down the feedback- This allows you to keep track of the feedback and not miss some crucial little details.
Address the concern quickly- You want to integrate this feedback quickly so that you can assess the impact quickly.
Once you have the feedback, you want to follow up with the feedback-giver. There are two ways to do so. Firstly, you can show up at the giver’s home at midnight and ask them how you did, 3 days after you have integrated the changes. This way you can show them that you are a sigma male and your grind never stops. To those of you who aren’t in that category, it’s best to ask for feedback a few months after you made the changes so that the giver has enough time to properly assess the results.
For best results, it’s good to have a very rapid feedback cycle. This is where async tools like Documentations and Coding Standards, and tools like code quality checks can all be useful. They can give you some feedback on structural design, reducing the need for human review (which can be expensive). Turns out that rapid feedback can also be crucial to development teams as a whole (managers take note). In exceptional his article- Shipping Fast Changes Your Life ⚡- maestrohas the following observation-
After surveying 2000+ companies between 2013 and 2017, Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble and Gene Kim proved that what separates elite engineering teams from average and poor ones, is mostly how fast and often they ship.
Rapid feedback cycles can be a boon for both individual devs and entire tech teams. Invest in this and you will see great results.
Moving on to another key personality trait of fast-growing engineers.
Top Engineers Prioritize
In my conversation with leading Data Scientist Ken Jee, titled How To Prioritize Work and School For a Data Career, I talked about how the only reason I was able to handle my competitive MMA, grow my newsletter, work, and handle school at the same time was due to me focusing my attention on very few things and discarding everything else. You’ll need to apply a similar approach to your work.
There are a lot of things you can do. Only some of them are actually worth doing. Generally, most of your results will be driven by a few actions/variables. You want to focus on these winners. How to identify those winners will be an article for another time.
One of the biggest time-wasters you encounter will be pursuing challenges that are ultimately not worth solving. It can be easy to get caught up in the trap of wanting to optimize everything and build the perfect technical product. However, there’s a good chance that you’re better off building up to a point, and then moving on to something else. The post- Avoiding the Billion Dollar Mistake Managers and Engineers Make [Storytime Saturdays]- covers this in more detail.
If you need something to prioritize, a good bet is to focus on improving inefficient tooling. This is something that you can get a lot of feedback on and will impact many people. Perfect to progress in your career. Fun fact- I inadvertently did this when building the AI that would eventually become the foundation for Clientell. I wrote a script to automate many of the common decisions I’d seen Machine Learning Engineers make. That automation script became the foundation for Clientell. I even made a playlist showing the very early versions over here. And that worked out very well for me.
Now onto the last part of this piece.
How Top Engineers Communicate Clearly
This is no shocker. Remember, whatever you develop is made for people. It is reviewed by people. And the solutions you build will also be changed by people. Great communication skills can severely reduce the friction you encounter.
Communication deserves a whole post of it’s own, but here are some good first principles-
Communicate the Why- Talk about why you chose certain actions, cover the detail on how decisions can help your audience etc. A good adage to remember is- Don’t sell the mattress, sell a good night’s sleep.
Cut the Jargon- Big words and jargon have their place (where precision is key). But in most communication, clarity is the most important principle (you care about communicating overarching ideas and not nitty-gritty details). Keep your communication direct and concise.
Tailor to your audience- As the proverb goes- Don’t talk about ropes at a hanged man’s house. Tailor your communication based on the person you’re targetting.
Communicate often- It is best to communicate your developments regularly. Create a document of things you’ve tried, results etc, and share interesting developments. This keeps people engaged with your work.
As an engineer, you will need to have technical communication as well. I have done dedicated pieces on documentation, daily standups, and commenting your code. You can find them in the recommended reading list of older articles here.
Use these techniques to Balloon your engineering career. If you think I missed any points, let me know in the comments below.
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