Craft or Context?: Simplifying the Career Path

Balki Kodarapu

Director of Engineering at Career Transition


Professional Tools or Bootstrapping a Career Ladder

Within the ten years of leadership experience, I only used formal career planning software for the past year. In the past, I used spreadsheets to formalize a clear career path, bootstrapping the process. Through my last three roles, multiple companies wanted me to start by formalizing a career ladder for the company.

Formalizing a Specific Career Path

Gaining an Understanding:

Around four years ago, I joined Plato to gain some insight into my career growth. I received mentorship from Robert Slifka, who was instrumental in sharing his experience and the private career path that he created. While his insight was incredibly helpful, I realized that the documentation he used was specific to his company, and I needed to create something specifically for my organization. Many career paths have hundreds of lines of text, and I felt it would overwhelm the engineers in our team, so I sought to create a simplified version.

Creating the First Draft:

Initially, I was carried away, as most people are, adding many tabs related to keywords. There were items such as collaboration, productivity, autonomy, and other major outlets for engineers. After some time, I finally came to a simplified version of only two tabs: craft or context. The craft was the ability to write code and the best practices related to the technical aspect of the job. The context was the way individuals worked with others and understood their alignment with the company. Context is equally as important as craft for the growth of engineers and allows managers to analyze team members' progression in these two key areas.

Implementing the Career Path:

During my one-on-ones with my team, I would almost always have the career path documentation open to identify where they were. We looked for opportunities to advance to the next level and used the documentation as a stencil for my team members to identify their goals and projects. Using this method, I promoted 3 individuals within that first company and grew them into their next roles.

Documentation for a Growing Team:

As mentioned, more recently, my company began growing rather rapidly. Managing the career path in a Google Spreadsheet became unwieldy, so I began looking for professional tools. At that point in time, I didn't know there were tools available for career development, but I found one called Progression App. My company purchased a subscription for this tool, and in the meantime, my company grew even further.

Moving forward, I brought my career development plan company-wide rather than just engineering. We became fully aligned using Lattice Grow, another professional development tool. While using a professional tool, I still use my two-pronged craft or context approach for career growth. For each discipline (Software Engineers, Site Reliability Engineers, Product Managers, Engineering Managers, etc.) my company has a specific career path based on this format.

Successful Outcomes:

After establishing a clear career path, I eventually promoted several engineers and highlighted their skills on my LinkedIn. Being able to recognize these engineers that I had supported was a proud day in my career, and I was happy to say that my career path was a success.

I used the framework to plan for promotion pitches. I would take screenshots from my career path and be able to explain their growth as well as why they deserved a promotion.

Dimensions of Growth

  • To manage a career path, you need to understand the dimensions of growth. As your career progresses, there are many things to think about; the first is the scope of the growth. The second is the time frame. Usually, juniors are thinking day-to-day while seniors are thinking about quarter-long projects. Size is the last dimension of change. Newer members work on tasks while experienced members focus on entire products.

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Balki Kodarapu

Director of Engineering at Career Transition

Leadership & StrategyEngineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionCareer LadderSkill Development

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