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Leveling Up Without Direct Support From Your Manager

Personal growth
Ownership

17 May, 2020

Summary CTO at Culture Purveyor Labs, Kisha M Richardson, who for the most part is self-taught, defines the parameters in which she was able to boost her career. Neither a lack of information nor the fact that she was pigeonholed by her first manager kept Kisha from realizing her professional reach.

Problem

I had hit a wall in my career. I was plateauing as a software engineer. I only had a solid understanding of one language and one framework in which to build things. I came to the realization that if I continued to limit myself with one skillset, my career would go nowhere.
 

I knew for certain that I wanted the opportunity to work on projects that would allow me to further explore the stack from architecture design to deployment. Still, I found myself struggling to leap. I couldn’t move without first understanding how to expand as a software engineer.
 

Actions taken

In an effort to understand my options, I began by sitting down with my manager to try and figure out how to level up. My manager was happy with my work and comfortable with where I was on the team. Honestly, he was a kind and thoughtful manager, but he was not sure how to support my ambitions. He figured I was doing well on the team, why rock the boat? However, when you are ambitious and enjoy the craft, you want to expand. You want to learn and do more.
 

After that, I compiled a short list of steps for what I wanted to achieve in a couple of years, without really knowing what it looked like.
 

Step 1: Level up - This meant learning new languages like Javascript and Elixir and developing a deeper understanding of different parts of the stack. Start where you don’t feel comfortable or strengthen crafting weakness by learning a new language or new libraries. Independent of my company, I sought out resources to do so in the form of technical and professional mentors who wanted to help me build a roadmap that would allow me to stretch. I attended events, built side projects to reinforce knowledge, and met with people who were at the same career level as my manager.
 

Step 2: Lead a new project - I wanted the ability to manage and lead a project end to end within 18 months. I did that in two ways. First, by seeking a project that played well into my investment banking skills. Luckily, the company I was working for needed to rebuild a segment of their financial system, and nobody wanted to do it. My manager at the time mentioned that I could do whatever I wanted, and so as a former banker, I decided to write the new API using Node, a new framework (for me), and Javascript a new language (for me). In addition to that, I decided to work on small, side projects outside of the company, treating them the same way as I would treat a project at work.
 

Step 3: Teach - I started to teach at General Assembly BackEnd Web Development during evenings, as both a way to give back and to really figure out what I didn’t know, thus forcing myself to continue learning.
 

Lessons learned

  • Developing a self-determined game plan to support your growth is critical, at every level of your career journey. I learned a new language and led my first project, which ended up being the most scalable and flexible project within the company. After earning the promotion, it felt like a domino effect, I successfully led another major project, which led to being offered the lead on larger and more complex ones.
     

  • At the time, I was a less experienced engineer, who was outperforming at work and wanted to expand my range as a Software Engineer. My manager was happy with my performance but felt like he would be setting me up to fail. He was sincerely trying to avoid setting me up for failure because he was not sure how he could support me given the framework and mandates he had  

  • So the lesson for me was to stay self-determined at all times. Develop your own level-up game plan.
     

  • The three steps I took ultimately led to solving the issue of growth and allowed for future promotions and opportunities. When you plateau, you have to get out of your comfort zone and force yourself to stretch.
     

  • Even when you have a manager that just does not know how to help you stretch in the ways you desire, try to seek mentors outside of your organization while taking steps through self-learning & projects. It will lead to tremendous growth.
     

  • One thing I would do differently, I would try finding a tribe of mentors sooner. On some level, I think I may have been afraid to illustrate that I didn’t know how to do something. I ended up waiting months longer than I should have. If I would have implemented those three steps of Leveling Up, Leading a Project & Teaching a bit sooner, it would have led to moving forward a little sooner. However, it is never too late to transform and change the trajectory of your career.


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