The beginning of your career at a tech company is focused on not drowning. You need to figure out how to do your job competently. Work to understand what is important and what can be ignored. Discover your way to impact your team and beyond.

Assuming you are successful getting past the filtering stages of your early career, you will also begin to understand what processes are behind career advancement. I’m not referring to career development, or ‘how do you improve yourself’. I’m referring to how you get promoted.

I’ve enjoyed coaching others on this, and beating myself up for the mistakes I’ve made on my path. Similar to interviewing, there are two main areas measured to determine if someone should be promoted.

  • Functional skills — Do you have the skills necessary to lead at a higher level?
  • Leadership — Do you lead as we’d expect from someone at a higher level.

People are often so focused on proving their functional competency that they shoot themselves in the foot when their leadership is assessed.

I had two engineers at the same level working on a project. Lets call them Sally and Fred. The more senior one (Sally) was getting close to promotion, and she and I were regularly discussing functional and leadership gaps for her future promotion. One day, Sally and Fred were presenting a design review for the leadership team. During our Q&A, it became obvious that Fred hadn’t considered the scaling impact on a couple of key decisions. In the meeting, Sally essentially said “Fred, I considered the scaling impact on my part of the design, I’m surprised you didn’t. I’ll help you later on it.

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