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Bridging the Gaps in Your Knowledge Base

Sagar Patel

Vice President, Software Developer at BlackRock

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Problem

"My experience growing into an engineering leader was a unique one. I was a lawyer for many years until I decided to make the transition to become a programmer. I was a self-taught engineer without a computer science background. From a technical standpoint I faced many hurdles that most other engineers don't including having considerable challenges when implementing software and not knowing most of the technical details. As I grew into leadership roles I faced issues in management. Ideally, an engineer will go through a sequential process from IC to senior software engineer to leader, but I wasn't the norm. As a result, I needed to figure out a way to bridge the gaps that I had and do it without deep technical understanding."

Actions taken

"I began by writing down all the gaps that I could identify in my knowledge base. Then I compared those gaps to people who had done this before me. I started by talking to people who sat next to me, the folks that I had day-to-day interactions with. I leveraged these resources that were easily accessible to me but I quickly realized that there were limitations in this approach. So I reached out to others outside of my immediate circle. I networked with engineers and technical product managers in the industry, I went to meetups, and I talked to folks that had made a similar transition into leadership as myself - people coming from non-technical roles or those in technical roles but having gaps in their knowledge base. I then took the information they gave me, as well as the list that I made, and took action to fill in the gaps. Overtime I worked on adding the extra skills that I needed, whether it was ways I could improve my management style or having a better understanding of Agile methodology. I worked with individuals at my company who had the skills I wanted. I was also fortunate enough to have some leeway - from a technical standpoint - in that I could suggest new technologies for applications and then learn them. Additionally, after work and on weekends I spent a lot of time building or taking supplemental classes offered by third-party organizations in order to build out my knowledge and fill in the gaps."

Lessons learned

  • "Reaching outside of my organization helped me get a more well-rounded understanding of how to become a senior software engineer and then a manager. I think it's good to look within your organization but if you want to get more value than take a holistic approach by looking outside of your organization and see how others operate within different organizations."
  • "Networking is difficult. You either have a network already in place or you have to build upon what you have and the skills you have. Getting yourself out there in this industry is vitally important to not only getting ahead in your current position but getting ahead in whatever direction you want to take your career."
  • "Taking classes offered by third-party organizations was more well received by my organization than the things that I did to improve my skills on a day-to-day basis. This is because it showed initiative. It also helped me understand aspects from a broader perspective rather than simply from the viewpoint of the application that we were currently working on."
  • "It is incredibly important to stay on top of your learning. This can be done on your own, in a classroom setting, or you can learn from people within your community. In any case, it is vital if you want to progress at a rate that is faster than what your organization will allow."

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Sagar Patel

Vice President, Software Developer at BlackRock


Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementTechnical ExpertiseTechnical SkillsCareer Growth

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