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Climbing Up the Engineering Ladder

Career Path
Personal growth

30 October, 2020

Bhavin Surela, Director of Engineering at Twilio, recalls his experience of climbing up the engineering ladder and emphasizes the importance of a proactive approach and being able to solve the most troublesome problems.

Problem

I climbed up the software engineering ladder all the way from an individual contributor to managing multiple teams and multiple managers. Growing rapidly in my career was something I aspired to and was willing to work hard for. I wasn’t the type of person who would wait for the time to be right but would rather take things into my own hands and solve the most troublesome problems my company was facing at that moment.
 

Actions taken

I started my way up by identifying the most troublesome problem that the company faced at that moment. You could solve a great number of problems but if those are not what is important to the business, it is very hard to get visibility, let alone recognition for the work that you did. What was troubling my then-company was how to migrate a monolithic application to microservices and how to further scale it.
 

After thinking about it for a while I came up with an actionable solution. I prepared the architecture and helped build the team that would be responsible to convert a monolithic app into microservices. At that time I was an individual contributor but I was given more responsibilities and was tasked to lead a team of 12 people.
 

I worked with my manager to make sure that I could stay hands-on and that required creating an ideal job description that would allow me to stay technical while being able to contribute as a leader as well. The fact that the team led by me solved an important problem made the leadership more appreciative and they landed me the responsibilities of a senior manager. Climbing further was much harder and the best way to do it according to me is through succession planning. Building a team that could function autonomously without you being involved. It is easy to think that by doing so you will take yourself out of the job, but as a matter of fact, I believe it is the most effective way for a person to be able to solve the next burning problem in the company. I hired a number of smart people and trained them to self organize. This allowed me to be involved to solve problems at the next level.
 

I was later promoted to a director role and was responsible for multiple teams and around 30 percent of Engineering. After learning more about that role, I decided to move to another company where I was able to repeat the process again.
 

Lessons learned

  • Learn about the most challenging problems your company needs to solve and build a team of people who could do that. Be proactive and offer your help to solve those problems.
  • When you are climbing up the ranks, support from your peers and different stakeholders is equally important as the one from your managers. Nurture those relationships and don’t burn the bridges with your peers as you climb to the higher levels of the company ladder.

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