I have had a very interesting career so far. And for that I am very grateful. My journey spans from engineer, team lead, and project manager, to customer advocate, partner engineering manager, and product manager. How did I travel this path? Many younger career people ask me if I had a plan, if I asked for promotions, or if it was random.
Well, I think it was all of the above. I didn’t really have a plan, but I knew I wanted to grow and challenge myself. I thrive in uncomfort-zone. And best way to get there is by adding new assignments, changing jobs, get a promotion, etc. In my opinion. Below are some sample experiences from my journey around “promotions”, or rather shifts in jobs.
The step from team lead to engineering manager was a big nag to my boss at the time. I kept on asking over and over again for “more responsibility” and “new challenges” and “motivation”. I told him I was ready. Now, you have to understand that I was much younger then, more fierce, less patient (is that possible?), less mature, and really believed everyone was holding me back, so I just had to carve out my own path. I used all the code words I had learned lead to promotion (see the quotes above). But for what might have been a year, nothing really happened.
I don’t really remember why I felt this way, why a promotion was everything to me at the time. Maybe it was the slightly sarcastic, yet warm, but still very male environment I worked in? Maybe that made me feel like I needed to prove myself? Maybe it was that I had been brainwashed by media that girls had to fight their way forward much harder, and that I had a responsibility as a woman in male tech environments to take the stride, to make way for women after me, etc. Maybe I had low confidence in myself, thinking external cred was a better truth of my worth than working internally on my self esteem? Whatever reason, it was almost like life or death for me. It was so important to get promoted and recognized, like my whole worth was in that title.
So I didn’t stop nagging. Then the day came when my manager went on parental leave. He finally said with a tired sigh something like “if you think you can do it better than me, why don’t you try take on the team while I am out?”. That was my sort-of promotion. I said yes without hesitation.
The next six months were the most exhausting in my life. 25 direct reports, 3 releases, and a bunch of other crisis items that happens continuously when you try to build a Java Virtual Machine an ocean away from the mother ship in Silicon Valley, and at the same time deal with 25 Swedish super-engineers who refuse to adapt to a large corporation culture of an American company. It was tough.
Although I wanted the promotion above anything else, I got more than I could chew, and it left a bitter taste of management. So when my manager returned, I became a project manager instead. Still dealing with people, but not responsible for their entire well being and future development.
Half a year later or so, I felt ready again. A management position opened up, and this time I went for it with eyes fully opened. I actually was ready this time. However, I was bypassed by a guy to the full time management job. A job I had looked forward to, especially when my manager had told me I would be the one taking the role. And then it ended up being this other guy, completely random! And no one told me. You can imagine that I was angry – by the surprise, the disappointment, and the unfairness. I resigned a few days later, as I saw no further growth for me. That is when a couple of VPs in the US reached out (from the mother ship) and offered me a quite different position in CA. I was to represent strategic customers’ roadmap needs across the entire company’s product stack. I said yes without blinking, and landed in CA a few weeks later, ready for my new job. There was very little thinking involved. I just took it. Sometimes you just need to jump!
For the first three months in this new country, new position, and new language I had no idea what I was doing, but somehow over time – and with help from kind coworkers and managers – I figured things out. Slowly but surely I felt ground under my feet again, and less like I was drowning. I learned on the job, but also was provided a lot of training through the company – something I hadn’t realized how helpful it would have been in the Stockholm office years earlier. I grew not only as a person, but also as a professional and as a manager – yeah, I had a team again. I had been assigned a team of partner engineering. This was just assigned to me. So more of a random promotion I guess?
Then we got acquired by Oracle. That was an interesting story in itself, and I choose to leave that for another blog. But I ended up with responsibilities of enabling product suite sales, spending most of my time educating sales, while capturing customer use cases and showcasing them to the rest of the company. Not really my dream job, so after a year I went to a startup as a Senior Product Manager. I was recruited for this position, and it came with a promotion. Worked as a happy product manager for a few years. I really enjoyed product management. Yep, it took this many years and positions to figure out what I actually wanted to do. Sometimes a journey filled of random banana peels is the best path to your dream job!
And then long story short, I got recruited to Cloudera, and worked very hard to again find some stable ground for my drowning feet within this completely different technology space, building an enterprise platform from an emerging open source technology, bringing in new products to meet rapidly changing market needs etc. After hard work and some great ROI projects, and some additional personal growth on that, I was recognized and rewarded by a promotion to Director. This time I did ask for the path to promotion a year earlier, and it was not easy to get there, but in the end it felt like the most deserved promotion and the role I was most ready to shoulder in my career so far. So I am very proud of it.
Takeaways, take’m or leave’m:
- Make sure when you strive for a manager position that you are sure you love people problems more than technology
- Please be sure that you are mature and self-analytical before you start managing people who are not
- Be careful what you ask for, it might just come true – and it is NEVER what you expected it to be on the other side of the fence
- Be a rookie as long as you can
- You either win or you learn
- Your direct manager, or his/her manager, isn’t the only way to promotion – always network sideways too!
- Nagging is a bad approach to promotion. Do your job, work hard, and show results instead!
- When you don’t see a growth path, resign. You are wasting your time to fullfil your largest potential. Now, growth path doesn’t have to mean a title promotion. It means what it means to you at that particular time in life.
- Enjoy and celebrate rewards and recognitions and promotions. It is what you worked so hard for!
- It doesn’t hurt asking for the path to promotion – get concrete metrics you can show for later, also set timelines for when to have the conversation again
- As a manager and leader (see previous blog post) your responsibility is to help people fulfill their greatest value to the company – not stand in their way!
- Just do it. You can do it!
- And if not, ask for training!
- If you don’t feel like you are drowning at least a couple of days a week, still learning how to swim, you are not on the steep learning curve anymore and at risk of stagnating – hence you need to find a job that makes you feel like you drown three to four days a week.
- Remember: Sometimes a journey filled of random banana peels is the best path to your dream job!