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Being Intentional About Your Career Growth

Personal Growth
Career Path

1 June, 2021

Swapna Savant
Swapna Savant

Director of Engineering at Headspace

Swapna Savant, Senior Engineering Manager at Headspace, uncovers how she became intentional about her career growth after spending years aimlessly learning about new technologies and being driven by getting-the-job-done mindset.

Problem

In the early days of my career, I was rather unconcerned with my career growth and was all about getting the job done. I was preoccupied with learning about the latest and greatest next technologies -- learning its ins and outs and then hopping on the next. I kept doing it until it felt aimless and tiresome. Back in those days, I never even thought of having a five-year plan. During one-on-ones with my manager, I would babble about these new technologies which made them believe that I was all about innovation and getting the job done. I had never mentioned becoming a manager or initiated a discussion about my career growth.

However, over the years, I became quite intentional about my career growth. I would draft a plan, revise it and talk it through with my manager every month. I want my manager to be cognizant of where I want to be, even if the opportunities are not there at the moment. I nurture relationships with mentors and sponsors who know what I want and what I am passionate about, and who would spread the word about me.

Actions taken

To begin with, I started to avidly read books about management and soft skills development. That provided me with some essentials of what I should be expecting if I ever choose the management path. At the same time, I was reaching out to various people on LinkedIn as I tried to better grasp different career paths. One of those LinkedIn contacts suggested that I schedule a meeting with a VP of Engineering of my previous company.

While that conversation became an eye-opening one, it didn’t start according to the plan. Some habits are hard to get rid of and though I was advised to talk about my career plans, I fell into a trap of talking about new technologies once again. At one point, they interrupted me, asking, “You are doing great at all those new technologies; isn’t that reassuring enough for you to want to consider becoming a manager?” This was my Aha moment when I realized that I was not asking the right questions all along. Then I put it plainly, “What would it take for me to become a manager?”

They gave me some concrete pointers that I started to work on from that second on. I started to prepare for a one-on-one with my manager meticulously. I wondered if a position was not available at that time, what I could do in the meantime to improve my competencies. My manager was rather supportive of the idea and started delegating me new responsibilities. I decreased my coding time to 50 percent, and I spent the rest of the time coaching other engineers, reviewing PRs, attending meetings, talking to product managers, etc.

From the moment when I started to engage with other stakeholders -- whether from Product, Sales or Marketing -- I also started to establish relationships with potential sponsors who appreciated my ability to explain complex technical problems in simple, non-technical language. That all led to my promotion in a short while. Once I became a manager, it didn’t take me long to ask what the next step would be. But as a manager, I was now the one who was tasked with coming up with the plan for my own growth.

I continued to have monthly conversations with my manager on my career growth. Not every one-on-one would be focused on my career, but I would spend at least 15 minutes monthly discussing it. I would also look at different opportunities outside of my team where my competencies would be needed. I would step in and take the lead, learn new things while brushing up my reputation. Being visible and gaining recognition is critical for promotion.

Lessons learned

  • Many people never become intentional about their careers. For some, it is always somewhere in the back of their minds subconsciously, but they never externalize it and become intentional about it. Others are overwhelmed with their 8 to 5 work and getting things done, and while doing so, they would put their career plans on the back burner. Whatever the case, people tend to become apathetic and bored at their job if there is nothing there for them.
  • You should find a way to initiate a conversation about your career growth. Regardless if a certain position is open or not, you should plainly express your intentions. If there are no opportunities, use that time wisely to level yourself up and be prepared when opportunities emerge.
  • I don’t do a five-year plan; I gave it a try, but I realized how much I would change within a year and how much my priorities and aspirations would change. So I will identify goals I want to achieve within the year, and though I will not always hit the mark, the satisfaction of striving would be equally rewarding. That also provides me with profound personal satisfaction -- every morning, I would be going to work because I personally have something at stake.
  • I dedicate weekly time to my career-related activities, and that keeps me motivated week after week. I am not sure if I would be able to thrive on a getting-the-job-done mindset. When I know that my career is heading somewhere, I am more available and eager to do things.

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