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Career Courage - Key to Career Progression

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15 March, 2022

Nirmala Tatikonda
Nirmala Tatikonda

Software Development Manager at Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Nirmala Tatikonda, Senior Engineering Manager at GoDaddy, shares her take on progressing with her career when she felt stuck in her professional life.

Problem

Are you feeling as if you are not progressing as well as you should be in your professional life? In that case, you are not alone; we’ve all been there, and I believe my journey has made me “the seasoned professional” I am today.

Despite working for a decade in multinational companies I felt my career had kind of stagnated. My career was not progressing, and I felt I was working way harder than I was moving forward. I attributed the slowness to my pregnancies, raising 2 kids and external factors like the manager not giving the right opportunities or the organization not having growth opportunities. But by the time my kids were 6 and 10 years old, I felt the need to take the initiative to grow in my career and I did not want to leave any stone unturned.

If you can resonate with the above scenario, you may want to read about my best practices.

Actions taken

I started researching and analyzing how top performers approach their work? What is it that they do differently?

One of the key differentiating factors was career courage. This is one’s ability to set bold goals for themselves, aspiring to achieve something, instead of accepting an imposter syndrome. This was a realization moment (or some may refer to it as a discovery moment) for me, and now I think I have cracked the code, and I live by it.

I felt as if I started peeling an onion and discovered all the different layers 一 dream, learn, embrace change, communicate, and network. I think those were the missing pieces to the puzzle that were hindering the growth in my advancement. The bottom line was that it was the courage to bring in changes and to shape my career as I desired.

Here are the key areas which have helped me tremendously and can be great tools for any professional.

Be a dreamer

“If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It” - Walt Disney

Many of us are terrified to dream big or make a career plan for ourselves. We hear talks about the 3-year, 5-year career plans, but those are not easy to come up with in reality. What always triggers your mind is, “I don’t know if I will be able to do this!” This leads you to become hesitant to dream.

Here are a few things which may simplify this a bit for you. What would you like to do if there are no limitations? Take time to reflect on what you are doing and question if it still kindles joy for you. Think without any practical barriers.

Once you have identified that, set some tangible goals and start taking actions. Once you have made plans, make sure to revisit every six months because the reality might differ from what you have been dreaming about. In order to make it come to life, you have to adjust, even if that means working on more challenging projects. After a few months, you might be in a different phase of life, which might bring in other kinds of priorities. So, it’s best to keep having a conversation with yourself to be on track.

You Are What You Think

If I think that I cannot do something, then perhaps I cannot do it, and vice versa. Good things happen when you surround yourself with positive energy. When I observed the high performers, for them, anything was possible. They are not naysayers; instead, they get things done.

Continuous Learning

Not to sound like “victim mother,” but I always felt the time constraint. In tune, at times, you put yourself in the status quo, whereby you are hesitant to learn new skills only because there is no time. It is indeed hard to get through the 8-hours of work; hence unless the learning has something to do with your day-to-day job, you may feel that you don’t have the additional time to spare.

It became nothing but a bigger hindrance to my career growth. All you need is a growth mindset where you are willing to explore more. Notably, in the product and engineering management roles, you have to be on top of technology, and more importantly, your skill sets. I can certainly say that losing this learning spirit was one critical factor for my career stagnation. Therefore, if you lose the joy, the tech field will be very tough for those who choose to pursue it.

Review Periodically

Sometimes you can achieve your learning goals by bearing the type of work you might be doing. My suggestion would be not to do the same thing over and over every quarter. You might be helping the business by doing so, but you are not helping yourself. Ask for variety from your manager so that learning can be facilitated. If you are a little conscious and vocal about your willingness to learn, people around you would be helping you achieve that. I even identified my role models, someone I could look up to in the field. Seeing what they do can be a big motivating factor.

Embrace Change

It is very critical for professionals to be willing to change team, organization and company to align their career with their passion. This requires one to get out of their comfort zone.

Once I discovered the secret of courage, I quit my job in 2015 merely because I did not enjoy it anymore, and I took a 3-year long career break. Going through this exercise helped me to question myself: “do I enjoy what I do?”

Of course, quitting or taking a break is not always an option available to everyone. I had the privilege to pause myself. I kind of had a burnout 一 raising 2 kids and working a full-time job. I got out of my comfort zone; being too complacent or comfortable where you are, growth will not occur. So, I worked on a side hustle, which had been on my mind for quite some time. Although it did not work out as expected, I lived my life for a while.

The beauty of taking time off was that I could give my kids the undivided attention that they deserve. By the time they grew up old enough, I had decided on my comeback.

Networking

In order to thrive in your career, networking is one of the keys. I may not have done it very well, which led to the point of frustration. Eventually, building networks inside and outside of my organization helped because I could lean on someone to get valuable advice. Thus, finding a mentor, and staying connected with old peers, was all worth it.

Communicate

Effective communication is very critical to the success of teams and projects. But this skill is equally critical to an individual’s success too.

A lot of the time, you have to speak up for yourself. Mostly we are looking for other people to be our advocates, but that is not going to work; you have to self-promote yourself. Whether it is speaking in front of your team, or manager, you have to express yourself.

Use the power of ask (“Ask and you shall receive”). What’s the worst that can happen when you ask a question? You’ll hear a “no”, and that’s okay. It is often not a “no,”; instead, people try to find common ground. It may also open up a new conversation and lead to better ideas.

Lessons learned

  • Career courage - courage to dream, learn, embrace change, ask, network are very critical to one’s career advancement.
  • Do not blame external factors or personal situations for the lack of progress in your career, what makes you shine is how you continue to navigate through the tough situations. Oftentimes this is a sign that a change needs to happen on your end.
  • Set the boundaries. It is not always about being ambitious, but more than that. If your dream is to have an outstanding work-life balance, express it to others and focus on what you want to do.

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