How to Motivate Your Engineers to Grow in Their Careers

Roland Fiala

Senior Vice President of Engineering at UserGems


Lack of Opportunities for Career Growth

Our company has always had a growth path for our engineers. However, this was limited to technical skills and accomplishments. Yet technical know-how is far from being the only relevant thing for career progression.

To support developers in their growth, you need to nourish their soft skills and personal development. Many companies lack in that area, which can lead to people feeling that they don’t have an opportunity to grow beyond their job description. Over time, this reflects negatively on individuals’ intrinsic motivation toward their work.

Supporting Your Engineers’ Career Development

Creating a Competency Matrix for Soft Skills

We already had a competency matrix for technical skills. Last year we created one for soft skills and published it in our confluence space. This document includes numerous action points related to values such as communication, empathy, ownership, and accountability. People can go through these pages to see and work on their gaps.

Furthermore, team leads and managers conduct regular one-on-ones with their reports where they bring up the competency matrix and work on a development path together. Here are some examples of the action points:

  • Leading projects within your team and in cross-teams.
  • Onboarding new people, both within and outside of your department.
  • Mentoring junior developers.
  • Facilitating technical collaboration between departments: handling a project that spans several departments.
  • Interacting with people from different backgrounds and with different skillsets: explaining technical issues to non-technical team members, or defining the broader business problem to a diverse group of people.
  • Speaking in internal and external workshops.
  • Taking ownership of the team’s overall velocity: unblocking problems other than your own.

Team members are encouraged to undertake each activity at least once. For example, if someone has never onboarded a new team member, they are advised to do so. This builds up their soft skills and helps them gain new perspectives in the context of their work, which is ultimately critical for moving up the career ladder.

Providing a Clear Growth Path

We motivate our teammates by implementing a leveling system. We have seven levels that span from Junior Developer to Developer, Senior Developer, Senior Developer Level 2, Staff Developer, Senior Staff Developer, and Principal Developer. This creates a strong motivation for individuals to reach the next level.

Recently, we built a new team and needed to create onboarding documents for our latest additions. Meanwhile, one of our developers was looking for an opportunity to move up a level. We asked him to create onboarding documents and a short presentation for our confluence page. This small side project allowed him to empathize with the newcomers and produce something that would help them transition to our company. By completing this action item, he was one step closer to leveling up in his career path.

Fostering Motivation in a Scaling Team

  • When a team grows from 10 to 30 engineers, you need to appoint team leads for structure. Often, many team leads will be inexperienced in leadership—this is inevitable. Competency matrices provide engineering leads with knowledge on how to guide their reports toward reaching their next career levels.
  • Creating a clear-cut leveling system is a great source of intrinsic motivation for individuals. People can see the levels ahead of them and the action items they must complete to reach those goals. This pushes them to progress in their journey.

Be notified about next articles from Roland Fiala

Roland Fiala

Senior Vice President of Engineering at UserGems

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyCareer GrowthCareer Progression

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