Michael Bushong is currently the vice president of marketing at Plexxi, where he focuses on using silicon photonics to deliver SDN-based data center options. Mike is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 131 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

No one else will make your career happen

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One of my core personal beliefs is that good work is rewarded. I spent the first part of my career believing that if I worked hard enough and produced results, my career would take care of itself. People notice productivity, and by producing a stand-out body of work, I would certainly be promoted. But what I have learned is that careers do not make themselves, and leaving your career to chance is the surest way to bewildered disappointment.

Is good work really noticed?

The first issue to tackle is whether good work is really noticed. It is absolutely true that most managers (and all good managers) notice the good work that their teams do. In most of high tech America, the span of control (number of people under one person’s direct management) is somewhere between 4 and 10. With fewer than 10 direct reports, it is very easy to spot the standout work that A-players do. Even on a team of all standouts, it’s not that hard to see truly great work.

But career advancement requires more than just direct management support.

Once you get past the bottom layers of the organizational hierarchy, promotions are generally handled by your manager’s manager. A typical process might go something like this:

  • Your boss’s boss calls together her team to review performance.
  • Each of her team members submits a few names for consideration.
  • The room discusses the names, usually one-by-one.
  • There is a lot of focused discussion on the top and bottom names.
  • Next steps are identified.
  • Champagne bottles open (or they don’t).

The key in this process is that your career is discussed with more than just your boss. All of your boss’s peers are part of the conversation.

Don’t you just have to influence your boss’s boss?

Actually, no. Imagine that the average span of control is 8 people. If your boss has 8 direct reports, and is himself one of 8 direct reports, then your boss’s boss has 72 people in her organization. While it might be possible to track the accomplishments of 10 people, tracking everyone’s contributions across an organization of 70+ people is not practical.

Sure, a couple of exceptional contributors will be well-known, but unless you are one of those two or three people, you end up fighting for attention with everyone else in the organization.

So who do you really need to influence?

The answer here is that you need your boss’s peers to be aware of your good work. When that conversation of star performers comes up, you want other people to chime in on your boss’s behalf. You can expect that your boss will do his best to represent you, but if there is no support in the room because people either don’t agree or they don’t know who you are, there is not much your boss can do.

In fact, in most of these discussions, the vast majority of the candidates are introduced to a room that is flat and disinterested. The person’s manager goes through the details, but there is little engagement by anyone else. No one says no per say, but there isn’t a yes either. The questions then devolve into time-in-role, whether the person is a flight risk, and what projects are coming up for the individual.

Once the room starts talking about the time since your last promotion, you are pretty much done. That only ends with a timeline. Once you have served your time, you can be promoted again.

How do you change the dialogue?

There are two things that you have to do if you really want to change the dialogue: build relationships and socialize your results.

When I say that you need to build relationships, I don’t mean that you need to set up meetings. The workplace is already filled with a bunch of work transactions. Setting up a one-off sync meeting is a decent way to force a conversation around a specific topic, but it doesn’t really forge a relationship that persists past the transaction.

You need to be aware of who you need to be connected to, and you need to diligently cultivate the relationships.

One woman at a previous employer did this masterfully. Once a week, she had lunch with people across the organization (typically her boss’s peers). Every Wednesday for a couple of years, she would have lunch with someone. They would sit in the lunchroom and chat – about work, life, whatever. Over time, she would revisit the same people, effectively establishing a long-standing relationship with them.

Not surprisingly, when it was time to discuss promotions, she had tons of support. People knew who she was. They were personally connected to her career. And the lunchtime chats had afforded her the opportunity to highlight things she was working on and results she had delivered.

Treat your career with purpose

For many people in engineering roles, it feels a little bit icky to sell yourself. But try treating the problem like an engineering problem.

   If (hard work) {       if (invisible) {
         then (keep toiling unrecognized)
      elseif (not invisible) {
         then (get recognized)
   then {
      (get promoted)

The point here is that this woman had taken a hold of her own career and then driven it to the conclusion she wanted. You need to treat your own career with that kind of purpose. Assuming that good things will come is all fine and good, but you are actually doing yourself a disservice. Oddly enough, you might even be doing your company a disservice, as the best people might not be ascending as they need to be.

Published at DZone with permission of Mike Bushong, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Motaz Mohamed replied on Tue, 2014/05/13 - 9:29am

Great article Thanks  for that . 

But i would like to ask about how can the developer Would rise to the top management are there any methodology for that or only to do good work only 

Thanks . 

Mike Bushong replied on Tue, 2014/05/13 - 8:51pm in response to: Motaz Mohamed

To move from development into management, you have to show a couple of things:

   - A solid understanding of your development craft (it is difficult to move up if you are not at least proficient in your current role)

   - Awareness of the organizational and business challenges of the roles above you (if you don't show understanding of how the business works, it's hard to move up)

   - Leadership skills (communication, initiative, and ambition)

Assuming you can do this, then there are a few practical things to help move up. First, find a mentor somewhere above you either in your immediate organization or in another organization that works alongside yours. This is the single most important thing to do. Not only do you develop your skills, but you get a champion who will be vocal on your behalf as you come up for reviews.

Second, you need to devote time to honing your leadership skills. You would be amazed what power there is in talking about leadership topics and business books with your boss. Go and read Daniel Pink's book Drive, and then Dan and Chip Heath's book Switch. Talk about these with your management chain. That you are learning will not go unnoticed.

Third, volunteer for projects that have tend to be a little less sexy. Documenting onboarding processes, providing pointers to architecture, streamlining the bug triage process... these are all impactful, and they tend to get neglected. Doing things that make others more productive gets noticed, and when there are no expectations to get them done, you will by default exceed expectations. 

Finally, make sure you are talking to your manager weekly. You should talk about your career. Talk about where you want to be better. Make sure you get feedback. The act of asking for feedback also shows that you are interested in being a stronger employee. This gets noticed.

There are obviously a lot more things to do. I tend to blog on career topics on my Plexxi blog every Tuesday. Swing by www.plexxi.com and look at the Tuesday posts for a bunch of pointers. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are reserved for more technical and strategic posts.

Good luck!

Mike Bushong (@mbushong)


Raging Infernoz replied on Wed, 2014/05/14 - 5:08pm

This idea of Developer promotion being moving from Development to management is dubious; they are two different roles, and which can require completely different skills, and a migration compatible mindset and personality.

Developers can often be Introverts who don't network so easily, and managers can have to be or act as Extroverts which can be exhausting and stressful for introverts, so possibly less happy people if 'promoted' to this role.

There really needs to be a career progression path for Developers which does not require management biased roles, at most bridging roles e.g. I have an Introvert Engineering mindset, and find management tasks an annoying distraction, but I do try and bridge a little to make up for a limited number of bridging staff, and the resulting costly corner cutting.

Mike Bushong replied on Wed, 2014/05/14 - 5:59pm in response to: Raging Infernoz

I certainly agree that not every developer wants to be a manager, and that being a great developer does not necessarily translate into being a good manager. 

For those that want to make the transition, the point is that you have to show prowess outside your development skills. For many engineers, leadership is a soft skill that borders on common sense. Because it is intellectually easy to understand, people frequently underestimate the amount of time it takes to hone those skills. If moving into leadership roles is important to you (for whatever reason), you have to treat these skills with a bit more focus.

If I told you that you could get promoted if you learned Ruby, you would buy a book, write a Hello World program, and then practice. Leadership is no different. You have to learn it, put it into basic use, and then practice. 


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