Below is an article originally written by John Pfeiffer, Senior Manager of Engineering at PowerToFly Partner Helix, and published on May 28, 2019. Go to Helix's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
As a manager, it can be unclear where someone's career was before they met you and how they view their long term ambitions. And when the work is getting done now, it is easy to understand why continued career development is one of the overlooked aspects of management.
When you understand their ambitions you can more effectively align their interests with those of the company. This has the positive effect of engaging the employee and may be more important to them than a simple "salary focused" career discussion.
Hopefully the following ideas provide some topics to cover during your next career development discussion.
When and why to discuss career development
One of the best tools for building relationships between employees and their managers is the one-on-one. (To learn more about one-on-ones, I recommend "Manager Tools," one of the longest running and most informative management podcasts.)
At least once a quarter, a 1:1 session should cover career development (i.e., a regular opportunity to align company, or team, objectives with the individual's career goals before they drift too far apart).
Great managers grow careers, even when it leads the individual to another team or organization.
One of the first questions I generally ask is, "Where do you want to be in two years?" Two years is just long enough to be aspirational but near enough that we should be planning for it.
"Where" should not be reductively just about salary—instead, it should encompass talent, experience, and direction. After a certain point, people need more than money to achieve happiness (as described by Daniel Pink in "Drive" and studied by Kahneman and Deaton). From this perspective, a career can be thought of as the arc of daily work aggregated into some meaningful vector.
As a caveat, no company, not even the largest ones, can have every possible role. A good manager will provide guidance about what is immediately available, help them research future possibilities, and find ways to expand their current role.
Career development is not just about getting the next position, it should also be about discussing and developing the qualitative skills that lead to success. By proactively discussing the following "soft skills" with your direct report, you will ensure they have the right tools to succeed in their current and future roles.
- Listening: Hearing what others (users, stakeholders, teammates, etc.) are saying is one of the most important parts of identifying the right problems and finding a way to solve them.
- Communication: Proposing good solutions, asking hard questions, raising concerns, writing in a clear and compelling way—these are all important forms of communication that often lead to learning opportunities.
- Time Management: Being able to prioritize individual deadlines can lead to both personal and team success.
- Interviewing: Being an interviewer is a completely different specialization, yet hiring cannot succeed without good technical interviewers.
- Business: Understanding the impact, and its potential outcomes, of any given role can go a long way towards informing a person's daily decisions.
- Teamwork: A rising tide raises all ships. Learning how to multiply the efforts of our coworkers can go a long way towards advancing each of our careers.
An incomplete list of technology roles
So, what other topics can you discuss with your direct report in a career development conversation?
One major focus area is their role in the organization, identifying what they are doing now and what they would like to do next. Sometimes growth isn't about moving up the "vertical" org chart but instead specializing in a specific kind of work or moving laterally into a different domain.
Software engineering gradations
These levels/titles are generalizations (since every company is different) for the progression ("vertical") a person goes through as they mature and grow:
- Junior: Focused on implementation under supervision
- Senior: Able to independently gather requirements and run a project from start to finish
- Principal: Influence at the organizational level
There are too many roles related to technology to list them all, but here are some important specialization titles related to Software Engineering.
- Mobile Engineer: Sort of a specialist front end engineer (assuming you agree that the focus is on users), ideally having experience with both iOS and Android but usually specialized in one.
- Full Stack Engineer: Someone who can write/fix front-end and back-end code, often a generalist given the necessity of context switching between so many frameworks.
- Backend Engineer: Specializing in APIs, services, and often data storage (such as databases, files, etc.)—areas less focused on users.
These are common examples of technology roles supporting the running of software and services:
- Site Reliability Engineers (SREs): Automating monitoring and stability as applied expertise via code. (More on this here)
- DevOps: Automating the operations of systems and services (including monitoring, scripts and code writing, and so on), leveraging Dev skills with Ops experience. (This wiki page has some good info on this)
- Operations: Maintaining services/systems (hopefully still using automation and ideally transitioning to DevOps due to increased scale).
- System Administrator: A manual job of maintaining a small number of virtual or physical machines/systems.
Information has to be stored somewhere, which is where data roles come into play. This specialization has become even more prevalent with the exponential growth of "big data."
- Data Scientist: Someone who uses mathematical tools like statistics, in conjunction with software and "big data," to answer questions (or discover insights).
- Data Engineer: Someone who builds infrastructure and tools that enable "Data Science"—pipelines and warehouses, for example.
- Database Administrator (DBA): Someone who manages the data for an organization, often an expert in the tooling and optimization.
Sometimes, besides all the levels and specializations, there are changes in a Software Engineer's career track (significantly different responsibilities and focus) that are large enough to be considered a "lateral move." These can include:
- Architect: Larger systems are inherently complex and designing and communicating the interfaces, especially across multiple teams/services, is an essential "big picture" role. Having engineering experiences leads to designs with fast and effective implementations and prevents "ivory tower".
- Engineering Manager: People are non-deterministic—they cannot be debugged, and yet they are a part of every successful organization. Engineering Managers are individuals who take care of people, help build and keep a team running smoothly, and achieve company outcomes. This is a potential first step towards becoming a Director and eventually a Vice-President. Having engineering experience vastly increases credibility and the ability to estimate and deliver projects.
- Quality: Someone who methodically thinks outside the box and regularly breaks boxes, ideally the most valuable boxes first. Having engineering experience means awareness of common shortcomings in frameworks/code, certain boundary conditions, or real world scenarios (i.e. load).
- Security: Someone who thinks outside of the box, way outside, and finds ways to get inside of locked boxes. Having engineering experience allows for familiarity with architecture/framework/code flaws and automation of exploits.
- Product Manager: Someone with passion and organizational skills who drives a product forward into the world. Having engineering experience allows for clearer and faster scope/timing discussions, and the ability to help the team with design or debugging.
- Designer: Someone who champions the User and delivers highly desirable features and products through UI/UX. Having engineering experience allows for more effective collaboration and reduced time to market.
Having engineering experiences leads to designs with fast and effective implementations
Open conversations with direct reports about their direction and interests allows management to find ways to accomplish the company's goals while simultaneously develop their people.
If one of your direct reports is interested in learning more about cloud or serverless architectures, look for upcoming projects where they can work to gain experience leveraging AWS (or Azure, or Google Cloud). Having them not only code, but also contribute to internal documentation on the subject allows the organization to be productive, enhance capabilities, and pave the way for future engineering efforts.
And, maybe someone on your team wants to learn more about interviewing, which is an important skill for leading and scaling a team. You can facilitate this by: Providing your direct report with materials on best interviewing practices (from both within your organization and from external sources); doing a role play interviewing session with them; having them silently observe ("shadow") existing interviews; and having them start pairing on resume screens, phone screens, and on-site interviews. Visibility into, or participation in the interviewing panel and the post-interview debriefs is also a valuable learning opportunity. Finally, use your 1:1s to review the new skills they have learned and how this contributes to the company's success.
Visibility into the interviewing process is a valuable learning opportunity
In an extreme example where an individual is pushing for a lateral move into a product management role, there are more than a few ways to help them. Here are some common and simple steps you can take: Set them up with opportunities to shadow an existing PM, have them run a meeting, get them to write up a project proposal (focusing on the value propositions over the engineering implementation), or simply have them practice public speaking by presenting to a larger, cross functional audience from the company. Remember: Their contributions, even outside of writing code, are still valuable to the success of the company.
Opportunities are not about guaranteeing success, but instead about providing value to the employee that they cannot buy or potentially find elsewhere.
Focusing on people is the most important aspect of management. Understanding how they fit into an organization and aligning how their individual careers (and skills) weave together to create a sustainable team requires investment. Spending dedicated time and having a shared vocabulary and a shared understanding is crucial to keeping good talent.
Developing your people creates a "stickiness"—a unique bond that creates a "win-win" environment—where their career progresses and the company has more skillful and motivated employees.
A Look At The Challenges They've Faced & How Their Companies Support Them
We know that the ratio of women to men in software engineering is overwhelmingly low. Scroll through just about any company's roster on LinkedIn and see for yourself. It's depressing.
If you're not in the mood to engage in that little experiment, just check out this PwC study that found that only 15% of employees in STEM roles in the U.K. are women, and that women hold a mere 5% of leadership roles in the tech sector.
However, we also know that diversity is the top priority for 78% of talent leaders. This is good news for us, because our goal at PowerToFly is to close these gender gaps as quickly as possible — and the more companies that get on board, the faster we can do that.
We partner with companies that are not only committed to diversity and inclusion, but to fostering a sense of belonging for underrepresented candidates once they accept job offers.
In the meantime, we know that the struggle for many women and other minorities in tech is still real, and that being a woman in this male-dominated industry is no cake walk. That's why we invited women engineers at some of our partner companies to share their experiences in their own words.
They shared some of the biggest challenges they've faced as women in tech and how they overcame them, as well as why they feel supported and enjoy working at their current companies.
We hope reading about these experiences will make other women in software engineering realize they're not alone in the challenges they're facing, and that there are lots of companies making strides to better support women in tech. We also hope that reading this will inspire more companies to follow suit, especially given that women leave the tech industry at twice the rate of men.
Hats off to these 7 women and to the companies that support their work!
What's the coolest thing Promptworks does to support women engineers?
"One of my favorite things about Promptworks is how all the female engineers support each other. Having an amazing group of colleagues to lean on, vent to, and seek advice from has been vital to me. As soon as I joined the engineering team, I felt immediately part of this amazing family of women who also have my back."
—M.K., Software Engineer at Promptworks
Want to join Promptworks' team of Women Engineers?
- Senior React Native Engineer
- Senior Software Engineer
- Contract Software Engineer
- Software Engineer
- And more!
More about PromptWorks:
Promptworks builds custom software for companies by creating amazing technologies that help achieve their vision.
Monthly work-from-home flexibility, Collegial atmosphere with family-style lunch twice a week on us, ergonomic work stations including seated & standing pair programming stations, 100% company-paid medical, dental, and vision insurance, 401(k) plan with company matching and more!
Why did you choose to work at Yelp?
"The best thing about Yelp is the culture. I had an amazing interview process which reflected how much Yelp values their employees. Once I got through, I received a welcome card from my team and AWE group and I still feel very loved at Yelp. Also, I love the people! They are very smart and innovative and Yelp gives us all the freedom to vent out our creativity."
—Supriya, Backend Engineer at Yelp.
Want to join Yelp's team of Women Engineers?
More about Yelp:
Yelp engineering culture is driven by our values: we're a cooperative team that values individual authenticity and encourages "unboring" solutions to problems.
Medical, dental, and vision insurance - 100% covered for Yelp employees, 401k program with company match, parental program: Bright Horizons, mother's rooms, paid baby bonding leave, well being and stress management resources, and more!
What's the biggest challenge you've faced at Ubiquity6 and how did you overcome it?
"One of the personal challenges I've dealt with at Ubiquity6 is imposter syndrome, which was definitely amplified by working with so many incredible engineers. Thankfully, my team is really supportive and I have been able to take ownership over some important projects. The combination of getting great constructive feedback while framing my mindset towards improvement has really helped build my confidence as an engineer."
—Robyn, Software Engineer at Ubiquity6
Want to join Ubiquity6's team of Women Engineers?
More about Ubiquity6:
We work with the design, infrastructure, and game engine teams to help guide the user through complex workflows involving spatial mapping, dynamic code loading, and game engine orchestration. Our challenge is to tie together all the different pieces of technology in a way that feels seamless to the end user.
Generous PTO, flexible work hours, work-from-home, remote positions, medical and dental benefits including family coverage, and more!
What's the coolest thing Verisign does to support women engineers?
"Verisign has been extremely warm and welcoming. Your opinions and ideas are heard irrespective your gender and position in the company. Verisign has a Women in Technology group which organizes monthly workshops and seminars, encouraging women to participate and demonstrate their skills. It is attended by the entire company and not just women. The company is full of empowering women who constantly motivate you to break the stereotypes and fulfill your passion."
—Shreyashi, Software Engineer at Verisign
Want to join Verisign's team of Women Engineers?
- Senior Engineer - Information Security Compliance
- Mid-level Software Engineer
- Sr. Infrastructure Software Engineer
- And more!
More about Verisign:
Verisign, a leader in domain names and internet infrastructure, enables internet navigation for many of the world's most recognized domain names.
Medical, dental, vision and prescription plans, traditional and Roth 401(k) with company match, basic life insurance, optional life insurance for employee, spouse or child(ren), home and auto insurance and more!
What’s one of the most impactful things One Medical does for women engineers?
"I recently attended a fireside chat with Sheryl Sandberg who pointed out that while there are increasing programs aimed at bringing women into technical roles, there aren't as many women being promoted. One of the most impactful things I see that One Medical does is actually hire and promote female engineers into both senior engineering roles and engineering management roles. Not only are they being promoted, but there is noticeable support before, during, and after the promotion. Growth and learning is a big part of the culture here, and I am excited to take part in such a fulfilling company."
—Vanessa, Data Engineer at One Medical
Want to join One Medical's team of Women Engineers?
- Senior Software Engineer (Fullstack)
- Principal Software Engineer (Fullstack)
- Staff Software Engineer (Fullstack)
- And more!
More about One Medical:
One Medical builds amazing end-to-end solutions to connect patients and our care team in new and innovative ways.highly collaborative environment, not only will you be partnering with designers and product managers, you'll also be sitting shoulder to shoulder with the doctors and nurses who deliver care daily to One Medical patients.
Top-notch dental, vision, and health insurance, paid parental leave, PTO, paid holidays, and sabbatical at 5 and 10 years
401K Match, One Medical membership for you and your family and more!
What's the coolest thing Fair does to support women engineers?
"Gender equity is a big thing at Fair. I once received a Fair-branded jacket that didn't quite fit right in the sleeves and waist. I tried to return it, but my boss wouldn't hear of it, citing Susan Fowler's leather jacket incident. Fair immediately offered to cover the jacket alteration costs for myself and other women in the company. I'm grateful to work at a place that values and includes its female employees as much as Fair does."
—Michelle, Lead Software Engineer at Fair.
Want to join Fair's team of Women Engineers?
- Senior Software Engineer - Search & Discovery Team
- Senior Platform Engineer
- Support Engineer
- And more!
More about Fair:
We are looking for highly motivated engineers interested in delivering the next level of innovation to product search and discovery at Fair. You'll be designing and implementing new search features and the systems behind them, including the integration of natural language processing, heuristics, and machine learning systems used to generate and rank search results. You'll work with microservices on AWS, multiple languages, and a great engineering team with a fun culture.
Equity incentives, 100% coverage of medical, vision and dental premiums for employees and their families, 100% paid parental leave for 4 months, 401(k) retirement plans and free lunch 5 days a week for every employee and more!
In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
"Coming from coding school, my background was not in computer science nor did I graduate from college with a degree in engineering, so it has always been a bit of a struggle to build myself up. I remind myself that everyone is going through a learning process. I have spoken to my mentor about having imposter syndrome when I first started working at Yelp. He let me know that even he has moments of imposter syndrome. It is easier to relate to somebody when you hear that they are going through the same struggles as you and it's a good reminder that nobody is here to judge you. I think it's great that even when you mess up you don't have to be worried about getting fired. Yelp has a very supportive environment. In times of adversity I try to calm myself down and realize that everyone makes mistakes and tries to learn from them to be better."
—Julie, Full Stack Engineer at Yelp.
Scroll up or click here to learn more about Yelp & how to join their team.
Want to see more great roles at companies committed to recruiting more women in software engineering? Check out our job board!
For us here at PowerToFly, 2019 is in full swing! We already have a slew of live and web events lined up for January not to mention our VIP Program (where VIPs can enjoy weekly virtual lunch & learns with women leaders) and new offerings such as career coaching.
But before we jump too much into the new year, I wanted to take a quick look back at our final event of 2018, an evening of "cocktails and conversations" featuring some of New York's fastest-growing startups.
Hosted at Rise New York on Monday, December 17th, the evening included presentations by women leaders at Better Mortgage, a company using technology to change the way people finance their homes; Blockstack, a new world of apps that let you own your data and maintain your privacy, security and freedom; Chainalysis, their cryptocurrency investigation software helps law enforcement and financial institutions identify and stop bad actors who are using cryptocurrencies for illicit activity such as fraud, extortion, and money laundering; and RapidSOS, whose innovations are modernizing the 9-1-1 system, making it possible for first responders to get to you quicker than ever before.
Our attendees had a chance to network with each of our featured companies over wine and small bites at the start and the end of the evening. In between, our women tech leaders dove a bit deeper into their own career journeys, the history of their companies, the tech that they use and what they are looking for in potential team members.
PowerToFly is incredibly grateful to Rise New York for hosting us on what was truly an excellent end to 2018. See you this year!
Better Mortgage, a direct lender dedicated to providing a fast, transparent, and online mortgage experience backed by superior customer support. From their offices in New York City, they're using technology to change the way people finance their homes, for the better. Since their founding, Better Mortgage has funded $1.8 billion of loans
Blockstack, a new internet for decentralized apps that you access through the Blockstack Browser. With Blockstack, there is a new world of apps that let you own your data and maintain your privacy, security and freedom. Blockstack is a rapidly growing open source community with over 15,584 developers globally. It was co-founded by Ryan Shea and Muneeb Ali in 2013 at Princeton and the core team is distributed across the United States and globally.
Chainalysis, builds trust in blockchains between people, businesses and governments. Their Blockchain Intelligence Platform powers compliance and investigation software for the world's top institutions. Their cryptocurrency investigation software helps law enforcement and financial institutions identify and stop bad actors who are using cryptocurrencies for illicit activity such as fraud, extortion, and money laundering. With an intuitive graphical interface, Chainalysis Reactor enables users to easily conduct in-depth investigations into the source and provenance of cryptocurrency transactions.
RapidSOS, a multi-million dollar technology company developing transformative technology that saves lives. Their emergency technology platform links life-saving data from connected devices to 9-1-1 and first responders. RapidSOS' technology helps predict emergencies before they occur while also providing accurate locations and data to first responders.
A packed house!
PowerToFly CoFounder & CEO Milena Berry.
Shilpa Deshpande, Data Science Engineer at Chainalysis
Michele Martone, Head of QA Engineering at Better Mortgage
Lauren Javaly, Engineer Developer at RapidSOS
Our panel of women tech leaders.
Our panel took questions from the audience.
This will be a great event for Software Engineers, Cloud Evangelists and Technical Program Managers. If you would like to be considered for an invite, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Microsoft has partnered with PowerToFly to present an exclusive, invite-only event to hear from Charlotte Yarkoni, Corporate Vice President of Commerce + Ecosystems, and a panel of women leaders from the Microsoft Cloud + AI organization.
The event will take place on Wednesday, October 10th from 6pm to 8pm at The Collective, located at 400 Dexter Avenue North in Seattle.
Agenda (Subject to Change):
- 6:00pm - Check-In & Networking over Light Food & Drinks
- 6:20pm - Kick-Off from PowerToFly's Chief Revenue Officer Caroline Turner
- 6:25pm - Keynote Address by Charlotte Yarkoni, Corporate Vice President - Commerce + Ecosystems, Cloud + AI.
- 6:40pm - Panel Discussion featuring from Microsoft:
- Ashley McNamara, Principal Cloud Developer Advocate
- Angie Anderson, Director of Software Engineering
- Natalia Mackevicius, Director Program Management
- 7:00pm - Audience Q&A
- 7:30pm - Networking Continues
This will be a great event for Software Engineers, Cloud Evangelists and Technical Program Managers. to network with your peers and learn what Microsoft is building. You can follow our keynote speaker Charlotte Yarkoni on Twitter @cyarkoni and panelist Ashley McNamara on Twitter @ashleymcnamara.
About our Events: All RSVP'd attendees are welcome, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, or age. If you require assistance to fully participate in this event, please email email@example.com, and we will contact you to discuss your specific needs.
Unfortunately, PowerToFly and the company it is holding an event on behalf of cannot admit outside recruiters to that particular event. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this policy.
About Microsoft: Microsoft enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Through teamwork we create life-changing innovations that impact billions of lives around the world for the better. To learn more about our values and commitment to Diversity, Environment and Innovation click here.