Leveling Yourself Up: Keeping Up the Pace of a Rapidly Growing Company
Senior Director, Engineering at Snapdocs
When I joined my current company five years ago, the engineering team was totaling five people. Back then, we were hiring good engineers, preferably with founding experience, that had a “getting things done” mentality. That worked well for a while until the company started to grow and became an enterprise company with 100 people employed. We hired a number of senior managers, many of whom from large companies.
Everything changed overnight. Rather than standing by and watching changes taking place, I asked myself, “How could I level myself up to become part of those changes and keep up the pace of our rapidly growing company?”
It took me some time to understand that to be able to catch the pace of a rapidly growing company, I had to think six months ahead. I had inspiring conversations with mentors, including those on Plato, that helped me grasp where I needed to be. I was open to understanding what was next for me in the light of the striking changes the company was going through.
The fact that I was not afraid to project my growth six months ahead enabled me to stay with the company. Today, I am the only original manager who stayed with the company. Most of my teammates left because they were not a good fit anymore. Every six months, the company would transform itself into something entirely new, and its needs would change too. While the turnaround was enormous, that seems to be a standard for companies that grow at such a fast pace. Most often than not, people who joined the company in the earliest days were not able to keep up that pace. They would start to lag because they lacked the new skills the company would need every couple of months.
To stay relevant, one should start developing skills they don’t need at that moment, so they would already have them when they need them. Most of the new engineers came from larger companies with the mindset inherent to companies of that size. I am still around and thrive because I still get things done but with the mindset that evolved and with the new skills that I acquired. I didn’t have to redefine my personality and discard my “get things done” mindset, but I had to redefine its meaning and acknowledge the impact of the changed circumstances. So, for example, if I would identify some security implications, I would be willing to go slower than previously. But that was a result of enhanced awareness, new skills, ability to understand the wider scope and the impact on the business.
I should be thankful for the opportunities I was given being in a fast-growing company because that kind of environment made me more mature and helped me improve a variety of skills. I don’t think that I am slower or else; I just better understand the far-fetching consequences of certain actions and have skills to address problems. Adding on responsibilities and challenges makes me level up, and for things to be fun, they should be performed at advanced levels.
I used my own experience to help other people level up too. Currently, I coach one tech lead who is aspiring to transition from their IC role to a manager role. Though they are great engineer, they need to improve their people skills. I wanted them to acquire the mindset that as a manager, they are as successful as their team is. That person is a tech lead on a team of three that will double soon. I want them to think sometime ahead and project their role into managing six, not three people. With that in mind, their goal for the next sprint would be to enable their team. Two weeks would not be sufficient for them to achieve the goal which I set up with the intent for them to fail but in a controlled environment. That experience of trying and failing would allow us to have conservation based on a lived-through experience which is critical for engagement and growth.
- In most startups, you have so many things to do right here and right now, that a prevailing mentality is one focusing on getting things done. Rarely someone has time to focus on things six months ahead in any fast-growing environment. But not focusing on the future is the biggest mistake one could make because people should be thinking six months ahead, matching their personal growth with the company's growth.
- Talk to your manager or a mentor. Though they may not know what specific responsibilities you will be assigned in six to twelve months, they would likely know what would be the needs of the company. You can ask how you can contribute to those needs, but don’t make it a career progression talk. Instead, express your willingness to acquire new skills and be ready to roll your sleeves up. Those could be skills your company needs to hire for. In that case, you will have an unfair advantage because you will have inner knowledge of the company as an insider, which is something you can’t buy in the market. If you improve your skills, you will be the most qualified person to be hired.
- My philosophy around coaching is that I want people to learn by doing. I see my role in creating opportunities for people to do some things in a controlled environment where their failures won’t be catastrophic. I would have them work with a small team or small project, but I will set goals with expectations of a minor failure. By learning from that failure, I would have them grow. I don’t think people grow by reading books. I find emotions to be a critical component of learning that would motivate a person and allow them to understand the underlying causes that drive actions.
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Senior Director, Engineering at Snapdocs
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