A Manager’s Secret for Engineers to Advancement and Promotion

13 minute read

TL;DR

  • Managers are busy and can not see everything even if they try, thus
  • Shape and also complete your own personal goals to make it easier for your manager to prove your progress
  • Win-win for you; getting paid to improve or learn new skills, and get promoted for it!

The Busy Manager

After have being an Engineering Manager for a few years I’ve started to reflect on some topics and summarize my learnings and experiences though those years with different teams and colleagues. One of these is around one of the manager’s most important task; supporting the development of their team members!

The issue that I’ve been reflecting on is basically this, a manager

  1. can often be very stressed: by having too much responsibilities, context-switches, too big team etc.
  2. may at times not be able to follow the progress of the team members as deep as she/he wants to. This could mean not being having the time to converse or engage in the actual code but just on a level of expected/actual outcome, coordination across members/teams etc.

Typically an engineering organization has some career framework/ladder which will need input from the manager in order for the engineer to advance. It could be that the salary increases are directly or indirectly tied to this as well. Thus it’s of the most important that the manager will give correct and representative feedback about her/his team members, and a good manager is going to strive to do that always!

Given the two outlined manager issues above though, I made an observation on how to be the most likely as an engineer to make progress towards career advancement, promotion and salary increases. And it’s simple: make it easy for your (stressed) manager to track your progress!

As said, ideally the manager should be able to see most development process done in the normal engineering duties (story creation, estimation, pull-requests, testing, feedback a.s.o), but it is not unlikely that a manager (at times) will miss some progress even if she/he tries to not.

Making it Easy for the Manager to Support You

When it comes to make a decision about promoting an engineer or on how much salary increase to argue for (with the one that holds the budget) a manager is likely to some calculations. Either indirectly and unknowingly in their heads, or even with a standardized Excel sheet used within the organization. A calculation might look like

EmployeeScore = c_1 * Perf(codeQuality)      + \
                c_2 * Perf(responsibilites)  + \
                c_3 * Perf(productivity)     + \
                c_4 * Perf(personalProgress) + \
                ...

for some set of balancing constant factors c_i

Maybe the average of individual factors are taken. Maybe a more advanced Excel sheet would put weights on different factors to balance the formula out.

Either way, the manager will look at some factors, add them up somehow, then use this as an input for promotion or salary increase recommendation.

The Observation

The observation is basically a cost-benefit analysis of the simple math: the easiest way to improve the score for many Engineers will be to do their personal goals set up together with their manager! (Given that basic expectations like code quality and productivity are met, those should of course be addressed first)

Why do I believe this is the case?

  • You as an Engineer can often influence the subject and scope of your personal goals
    • => does not have to be super hard to make progress/achieve
    • => you can focus on skills that you want to use also in future companies
    • => bonus: it will be fun for you as you can chose/influence the subject!
  • For the stressed manager, who might miss your progress in other areas, will have the hard fact that you set a personal goal and achieved it.
    • => you guaranteed to get some more points in that EmployeeScore calculation, and for cheap probably
  • When an Employee gets a new Manager within the same organization, the managers try to hand over all past and current progress, but it’s really not guaranteed that this will happen. What is guaranteed though, is that this personal goals tracking document where it says that you constantly set and achieve meaningful goals is being handed over!
    • This will be very important for those that strive to advance high up in the ladder which can take even years at the more senior levels. Having a track record of progress will only benefit you.

Personal Goals are for You

I know that many Engineers sees the personal goals like a distraction mandated by management. Yet another task to do outside the normal responsibilities, just so the manager can check this box on their list of duties. As shown above in this post, personal goals can and should really be to your advantage.

To draw an analogy to Clean Code. You can “guarantee” that your code is correct, but you can’t guarantee that the reader will understand it. Write clean and readable code to make it easier for the reader to get the points. The same goes for the Manager-Employee relationship; you might be doing good progress on your development, but the manager might not see this. Thus, take a little extra effort to make it easy for the manager to see this as well, and it will reward you.

Thus, I recommend every engineer to take the personal goals to their advantage. Even if your motivation is not promotion or salary increases, hey you are getting paid time for improving your skill set (with decision/influence on which skills and how to improve them), and you will additionally get promoted for it (with the help of it)! Most companies will also have set aside budget to support personal development like online courses, books, etc. Quite a deal if you ask me :).

I don’t think this is a shortcut to boost your salary, but I do think personal goals are an underutilized opportunity that most (all?) tech companies gives you to support your career. Make use of it!

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