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An Integral Career Progression Path for Engineering Teams

Career Path

18 August, 2020

Lakshmi Baskaran
Lakshmi Baskaran

VP of Engineering at SEDNA Systems

Lakshmi Baskaran, VP of Engineering at SEDNA Systems, shares how to develop a holistic career progression path by including three layers of professional competencies for engineers.

Problem

Most organizations build Career Progression paths that only align with organizational and business goals. The career progression paths only develop an employee’s skills in a very narrow and specific area of the business. As a result, we fail to develop employees who possess holistic skills and experience and can venture into different areas of the business.

For engineers who have spent around half a decade in coding and technical jobs, choosing how they want to navigate their careers is a very daunting task. Because they have been stuck with coding and development tasks for a major part of their career. When engineers are in the crossroads of making a decision to explore technical or leadership paths, they struggle due to a lack of enough exposure and experience. As a result, they make career decisions that turn out to be fatal.

Actions taken

When developing a career progression path for engineering teams, I encourage leadership and HR to consider three layers of competencies - Execution, Technical Competency and Leadership.

Execution:
Execution includes goals that will prepare the developer to deliver projects on time and within the acceptable quality. The expectations set on time and quality exponentially increase as the developer goes on a career path from junior to intermediate to senior. A senior or a principal engineer should be able to work on complex projects and projects that involve a number of unknowns, but still be in a position to deliver an outcome with the best possible quality and within aggressive deadlines. Goals that fall under execution will prepare an engineer to be organized and accountable.

Technical Competency or Functional goals:

The next layer relates to the technical competency or functional goals that prepare the developer to become an expert in the technology and business domains. Whilst execution is about delivering current projects, technical competency is about preparing an engineer to be technically and functionally competent for the current and future projects. Goals under Technical competency should encourage developers to participate in tech meetups and conferences, thus helping them to be current in technology. These goals should help adopt best practices within the team and the organization with a focus on improving team efficiency. For the most experienced engineers, goals in technical competency include being a subject matter expert on a technical or functional domain and presenting an organization’s expertise on that field in technical conferences. This prepares engineers to practice presentation and public speaking skills and helps them build a personal brand for themselves and for the organization.

Leadership:
The third layer empowers engineers to practice leadership skills whilst they navigate through the technical path in their career. Though there are many great engineers, very few of them are either willing or capable to navigate from a technical path to a leadership role. This is a result of the fact that most companies don't encourage people to experience and be exposed to different leadership skills during the early stages of their careers. The career progression path should provide every engineer with an opportunity to experience leadership at various levels of their career. For example, for a junior developer, it would mean providing opportunities to lead sprint demos or spring planning sessions, while for an intermediate developer it would include managing sprints, working with managers, and cross-functional teams to set expectations and address roadblocks. As an engineer grows into a senior role, s/he should be also mentoring other developers and leading key initiatives. Leadership is also about helping others in the team succeed. So mentoring and coaching is a key aspect of it. Goals at the Leadership level should allow for engineers to build a mentorship plan and execute them.

Lessons learned

  • A Career Progression path should be holistic and provide experience and exposure to an employee to prepare for technical and leadership roles in the future.
  • Career Progression paths should be tuned to align with the professional and personal goals of an employee.
  • Building a strong Career Progression path is a way of thanking your employees for them believing and trusting in you and your organization. It is not nice to have, it is a must-have.

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