Promotion to Senior Engineer isn’t a default. It requires strategy, and you need to start thinking about it early. You can get stuck as a good mid-level developer if you don’t establish yourself as a leader in very specific ways.
Where is Your Opportunity?
Ask yourself 3 questions when evaluating your career development opportunities.
- Does the company need more senior engineers?
- Does the company’s timeline fit yours?
- The company can’t promote everyone. Why you?
Answering these 3 questions will help you keep your promotion strategy clearly in context.
1. Do They Need More Senior Engineers?
Senior engineers typically lead projects.
YES: If the company is creating new products, or scaling their existing products significantly, then the company will be looking to hire and promote senior engineers.
NO: If the company is more focused on refining the business and maintaining its core technology, then there’s going to be limited opportunity for promotion.
Ideally, this should be discussed in the interview process. Don’t bother asking HR or the recruiter. Once you’ve made it past the technical interview, be very clear that you’re growth-oriented and intend to promote to senior within a certain timeframe.
Talk with your current manager about the growth of the company, future initiatives, and your ambitions. Don’t be afraid to go elsewhere if they aren’t excited to talk about the opportunities that are available to you.
2. Does Their Promotion Timeline Fit Yours?
The fastest way to get a promotion to senior engineer is to get hired on as one. If you’re truly ready, switching companies is a totally legitimate way to be instantly crowned Senior Software Engineer.
If we’re being responsible, we should be planning two years out. If you haven’t been working explicitly with your manager for at least the past year, it will be difficult to get a promotion when that time of year comes.
What is the company’s promotion process? The smaller the company, the easier it is going to be to get that promotion. A big company is going to have their process set in stone. It doesn’t matter if it’s theoretically in their best interest. That’s the process, and we follow it.
3. They Can’t Promote Everyone. Why you?
If you’re in a good position, thinking things are just going to get better if you work hard and do a good job, you’ve got another thing coming. You have competition. Other people are getting promotions and raises, and you have to stand out against them.
Not only does your performance have to be exemplary, but you have to be visible. Those are two completely different things. Ideally, they should be linearly correlated, but in some perverted cases they’re inverse.
Visibility will come from good leadership. That’s what truly separates a mid-level engineer from a senior.
How do people perceive you? Are you seen as a leader? The number one way that you can know if you’re ready to be a senior engineer is if other senior engineers see you as their peer.
I’ll show you how to establish yourself as a senior. The first post is done, and the rest are on their way. We’ll go in depth with clear, actionable advice on learning to:
- Tech Lead Other Tech Leads
- Create a constructive environment for your team.
- Take initiative on helping new engineers ramp up.
- Work independently to find facts and solve obscure problems.
- Organize and participate in team discussions, inviting diverse view points.
This 5-part series on Career Development Strategy and Leadership will be coming out over the coming weeks.
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You’re probably not going to be perfectly ready when the time comes, but you have to ask yourself honestly if other people perceive you as a leader. If yes, you’re probably ready. If not, why not? That’s your path.
1. Ensure your current employer is interested in promoting senior engineers in a timeframe that fits your ambitions. Talk to your manager, and be eager to switch companies if they can’t offer you a clear path.
2. Ask your manager for a defined career ladder and promotion process for your company so that you know what is technically required of you, and by when.
3. Cultivate your leadership skills as an engineer so that you’re the right person when the time comes.
a. Watch our 5-part series on Career Development Strategy and Leadership.
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