One of my readers asked me this question recently: What are the best ways to advance my career?
And I thought to myself… hmm… good question… This bears some reflection…. The more I thought about the more I realized that this was a perfect thing to write about in more length and here we are!
I’m not going to tell you to build a portfolio, start contributing to open source, write a blog, be active on social media, speak at user groups and conferences. Nope. We’re going to dig deeper.
The first thing that nagged at me about the question was the advance my career bit. Why? Because advancing my career is very ambiguous. What is advancing your career for you? (What is advancing my career for me?)
Is it earning more money?
Is it leading a team? Is it becoming a manager? An architect? A CTO?
Or is it working at one of the big tech companies?
Or perhaps at an exciting startup?
Is it working on a amazing product that will change everything?
Or is it being famous? Admired and recognized by your peers?
Is it having the freedom to decide what you work on? Be your own boss?
All or many of the above?
I think the first thing that you need to do is to ask yourself about what you value in life. What makes you tick. What exactly advancing your career means to you. Answering all these questions, which in the end, means to know yourself will enable you to steer your career in the right direction and make the right decisions when opportunities arise. (Where right means in alignment to your values)
You’re a very senior software engineer and a great leader within your team. Your boss offers to give you a promotion, a higher salary, a team and the role of manager. Some people will see this as an awesome opportunity for growth and as an advance in their career, whilst others who really, really, really enjoy coding would be torn to accept such a promotion.
Or, you’re the same person but this time they offer you a job at Google or Microsoft as a Test Engineer or as a Customer Solutions Engineer who doesn’t necessarily develop software actively. What do you do? Do you value working at a big tech company? Or do you value even more being able to continue developing software?
Or you have this amazing idea you’re working on your free time. It is shaping up great and you’re about to quit your job to start your own company. But just before you do you get an offer to work as a Software Engineer at Spotify (one of your favorite companies of all time)? What would you do?
I hope these examples make my point. Advancing your career isn’t the same thing for everyone. Knowing yourself can help you understand what exactly advancing your career means to you.
How to Advance Your Career
Once you know yourself a little bit better and know what you want out of life (or have an inkling about it), this is what I really think is important. It’s not contributing to open source, talking at conferences, writing books or building a portfolio website. Those are mere tactics, it goes deeper than that.
There are the three principles I’ve always followed (or aspired to follow):
Be A Leader (a.k.a.) Make Everybody Else Awesome
Seek excellence in everything you do. Whenever you work on something put your heart and soul into it. Try to do the best job you can and have pride in your work. Continuously seek ways to improve. Aim to awe, aim to put that little extra that makes a world of difference. Care about your work.
Be the kind of person people want to have around. Be nice and caring to people. Be empathetic. Listen and appreciate the people around you. Aim to add some more light to other people’s lives. Truly care about people.
Be A Leader
Make everyone else around you awesome. Lift them up. Inspire them, support them, fill them with energy and enthusiasm. Make them believe they can do anything. Again, truly care about people.
Follow these principles. Build up from them. And success will be a side effect.
And More Random Thoughts:
Blogging, speaking, portfolios are great. They amplify your reach and scale your impact. They are also awesome tools for learning. Austin Kleon has a lot of interesting ideas about this in Show Your Work.
That been said, I know a lot of successful and happy engineers who don’t use social networks, don’t blog, don’t speak, don’t have a portfolio, don’t contribute to open source.
People often underestimate the human factor. 80% of the jobs I was offered in my career were in no small part due to the fact that I knew someone at the company and they recommended me. How did I know these people? Random friends, friends of friends, people I meet at meetups, twitter, etc.
Don’t be afraid to own your wins. Let people know what you’ve achieved and be ready to praise and appreciate others for their achievements.
What do you think? What is the best way to advance your career?