After a Promotion
Many successful, talented, experienced tech industry professionals have written at length about how promotions work in the industry, and how one can go about leveling up in their career. I’ve read a lot of those blogs, LinkedIn posts, Twitter threads, and books over the last year as I navigated the process of being promoted from Software Engineer to Senior Software Engineer at Robinhood. I don’t think that I have a lot to add to this discussion that hasn’t already been described, so I won’t try. Since I was so plugged-in to these sources of information as I sought promotion I was surprised to find that most of them don’t offer much (if any) advice for the recently-promoted engineer. I haven’t done anything radical since being promoted, but sharing the small things that I have done hopefully will help someone else who is also feeling a little bit of that “dropped off a cliff” syndrome that my recent promotion has left me with.
The first thing that I did after “getting promoted” was nothing. I did nothing after my manager told me that I had gotten the promotion. Why? I hadn’t seen it in writing yet. I didn’t have the letter, so I didn’t post on social media. I avoided telling family, friends, or colleagues until I saw that title change and got the confirmation in writing that the process was finalized. I encourage anyone who is at this same point as I was to take the same approach; you’ve waited a while for the promotion in the first place, you can wait a few more days to save yourself any potential issues and embarrassment that might come from announcing something prematurely. After the letter is in your hand and you’re sure that it’s all said-and-done I encourage you to take a moment and celebrate. Do whatever is meaningful to you to acknowledge your hard work and the recognition that you’ve achieved. Share in that joy with the people that are important to you.
Part of sharing my excitement in having received my promotion news and celebrating that occasion was thanking the people who helped me to get to that point. I started by thanking everyone who directly contributed to my promotion case: coworkers, my manager, and mentors within the company. It is really important to me to acknowledge that I didn’t get to where I am today without others investing their time and energy into my success. Expressing gratitude for these people and their efforts makes it more likely that you’re going to be able to rely on continuing that relationship into the future. Promotions are also a great opportunity to reach out to people in your network who you might not have talked with recently: share your success with them and thank them for being a connection that contributed in some way. I found that everyone I sent a message to, especially former coworkers, were very receptive to the outreach.
I think that a crucial step after the celebration dies down a bit is to reflect on what led to your success. Were there things that worked particularly well for you in addressing challenges that arose in projects that you completed? Were there technical techniques that you used to save time, energy, and make your work more reliable? Collaboration techniques that you have come to believe in? Remember those behaviors and practices, make sure that you maintain them. Find areas that are still challenging for you at the same time that you’re auditing the elements of your success. In my experience you don’t have to excel in everything in order to be ready to take on the next level in your job ladder, you just have to meet a minimum threshold and have some of your strengths stand out. Look for opportunities in whatever you’re working on to practice and improve on your shortcomings as you lean in to your strengths.
I had the opportunity to do this audit with the help of a career coach provided to me by my company. I’m really thankful for that and look forward to continuing to build a relationship with my coach. Even in the first introduction session I found value in the process of providing him the background that he needed to begin to understand where I’m at: the free-form opportunity to summarize where I stand right now to a complete outsider revealed to me that I am still working to fully understand the ground that I stand on and also that I’m not totally sure where I’m interested in going next.
That decision of what to do next is one that becomes important to ask yourself not too long after the promotion event. In my case, having achieved what Will Larson calls the “career level” (see his book Staff Engineer) in engineering, I now have the option to take a few different branching paths should I choose to pursue higher titles: I could dip a toe into people management; I could deepen my domain understanding and become a more senior individual contributor in one of my areas of interest; I have the opportunity to pivot my career should I want to into a parallel area that I might not have significant working experience up to this point; I could do any of a large number of things. Exploring which of those I want to open myself up to and which are not exciting to me will mean that I need to sit down with people in those roles and discuss what they enjoy about their work, what they don’t prefer, and examine how I might feel about those responsibilities were I in their shoes.
As I am navigating whatever path seems most exciting to me in the coming months I believe it is critical to establish expectations with the people I’m working with: does my manager expect something different from me now that my title is more advanced? Are there any responsibilities that the team or company I’m in reserves for those at the level that I’m entering? What doors open up to me to have greater impact thanks to the recognition of my hard work in the recent past? What are the things that really stay the same? Managing interpersonal expectations is key to keeping relationships healthy both in personal and business life; you have nothing to lose by stating what you are hoping that the new title you are assuming will offer you and simultaneously will make sure that nothing unexpected creeps up on you: the last thing that you want is to have an opportunity pass you by because you were uninformed, or for a deadline to creep up on you and surprise you in a way that could have been avoided.
I’m still learning what it means to have the title of Senior Engineer. I’m finding that the post-promotion phase is less defined than the previous time; still the positives far outweigh the negatives. I’m looking forward to continuing to grow as a professional, whatever direction that growth takes me, and remain as committed as ever to doing the hard work that brought me to this milestone and will carry me towards the next. I’m open to opinions and thoughts from others who have walked this road before me or are in similar positions themselves: what might I be missing? Is there something that I can do during this period that will set me up for more success? Let me know, my email and messages across social channels are always open to advice.