We've just launched plato for individuals



Google Sign inLinkedIn Sign in

Don't have an account? 

The Power of Introspection in Career Growth

Team reaction
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Conflict solving

15 May, 2020

Tarani Vishwanatha, Senior Engineering Manager at Scribd, shared a story where he dealt with the conflict of an upset engineer that did not get a promotion he believed he was entitled to. He explains the distinction between being the most technical and being well rounded. Vishwanatha talks about the importance of being self-aware as it's essential to career growth.


I had an engineer set up an emergency one-on-one because he did not get promoted to technical lead manager (TLM) position over somebody else. I was surprised that he was upset about the situation, but he expressed much disappointment, especially because this new position would provide him with more career development opportunities. Furthermore, he might need to report to one of these new TLMs.

As a company, we announced the names of the people who received the TLM positions and described their accomplishments along with their new responsibilities. This was a time to celebrate these individuals in their new roles.

However, this one engineer came to me and expressed that he thought this was unfair. He did not believe the individual chosen over him was a poor engineer; Still, in his opinion, he felt that he was a better candidate to take the position because of his previous technical lead position at another company, and he had been with our organization for a longer time.

Actions taken

I recognized that I needed to wholeheartedly listen to this individual. You have to attempt to understand where the person is coming from because he was emotional, and had sincerely believed there is an injustice that has happened to him.

This engineer was by all intents and purposes doing everything right, and their accomplishments were significant. He improved site performance tremendously, shipped X number of features, and helped streamline the onboarding process. On paper, he seemed to check multiple boxes required for the new position.

To keep the conversation productive, I repeated the engineer's claims back to him to make sure I fully understood. I said, "Okay, so you feel you are more technical than XYZ? Noted. And then you feel you are entitled to this promotion? Okay. And now you feel that there are no more growth opportunities or a role for yourself?"

This situation was new for me, so I looked at it as an opportunity to learn as well, so we kept having conversations.

In our discussions, I tried to help this engineer become more self-aware and identify what he had control over. For example, we are in control of our careers. We should be sure to focus inwards in terms of where we want to take our careers. We need to ask questions like:

  • What do I need to do to get there?
  • What are the opportunities or possibilities for me to explore in my career path?

The moment he focused on the other engineer and not himself, he showed that he did not completely understand his situation. It is not apples to apples. Your career prospects are mutually exclusive and completely independent of the person’s growth who got promoted. Your career is not a chance game, and you, as an individual, are in the driver seat of your career”. This mindset was incredibly important for me to explain.

I told him, by being in the driver's seat, you need to dedicate time and energy to have clarity on how we can move on and proceed with your career growth. It is essential to have productive conversations around this topic. I reassured him that I wasn’t neglecting his career by any means.

Next, to address his valid concerns about whether this other engineer deserves the position, let us answer that question.

A technical lead is not just about being one of the best engineers. Tech leads excel in communication, leadership, mentorship, helping shape engineering roadmap, building industry-standard engineering best practices in the team, and project management.

I then brought up his past performance review, where we discussed that communication and project management were not his best competencies. He certainly contributed exceedingly well on some complex projects, and those projects had fantastic positive impacts on our business and customers. There have also been a few projects where the dates have slipped because of a lack of efficient estimation and breakdown of tasks. The value of his contributions was not overlooked or forgotten.

However, we are now talking about a very different role here, and for that role, do you believe you have the strengths? The expectations from a TLM are much more than technical contributions alone and they will be evaluated accordingly.

After giving this engineer enough context about TLM and providing a career path for more senior IC roles, I wanted him to think about how he wished to drive his career. Based on my observation so far, his career path is likely headed more towards a senior individual contributor. Despite this, if he wished to pursue a career on the management side, I was ready to provide opportunities where he can get a taste of people's side of things.

However, in facilitating that, he needed to work on improving certain skills which are mandatory. Overall, these discussions happened over a series of conversations.

Lessons learned

One of the biggest lessons I learned is that when a person is emotional and wants to vent out their frustration, it's best to listen patiently without any interruptions. After the emotions settle down, you can reflect back and start an objective conversation.

Asking open-ended questions, providing guidance on choosing the right career path, and giving honest feedback on performance, strengths, and learning opportunities really shows that you are the team’s champion in helping them advance their careers.

I have also learnt that setting aside 1 hour each month completely for career path/goals was necessary to avoid any surprises during performance reviews. I can now be more proactive in helping to identify growth opportunities based on each person’s motivation and interests. As a leader, I have understood the importance of improving the self-awareness of the engineers in my teams.

Another positive side effect of such a culture is it encourages everyone to celebrate each other's positive outcomes. Promotions, change in roles, new positions are indications of success and growth. By building this mindset into our company, there are no longer gaps in culture due to the lack of self-awareness and introspection.

Related stories

How to Help Your Reports Grow and Pursue Their Goals
27 September

Himanshu Gahlot, Director of Engineering at Lambda School, shares how he used his own learnings to support his direct reports and help them grow in their careers.

Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Career Path
Himanshu Gahlot

Himanshu Gahlot

Director of Engineering at Lambda School

Driving Clarity of Charter in a Large Organization
27 September

Jeffrey Wescott, Director of Engineering at Splunk, describes how he introduced clarity on ownership between four disparate teams by drafting a charter that precisely demarcated who owned what.

Team reaction
New Manager of Manager
Managing Up
Jeffrey Wescott

Jeffrey Wescott

Director of Engineering at Splunk

What Will Make You a Great Engineering Leader
27 September

Pete Murray, Principal Software Engineer at Electronic Arts, discusses what makes one a great engineering leader and singles out creating opportunities and motivating engineers as two key characteristics.

Personal growth
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Pete Murray

Pete Murray

Principal Software Engineer at Electronic Arts

How to Deal With Employee Conflict
21 September

Adam Bauman, Engineering Manager at Quizlet, recalls how he helped resolve a workplace conflict by centering his conflict resolution efforts on three key questions.

Conflict solving
Adam Bauman

Adam Bauman

Engineering Manager at Quizlet

When Shared Ownership No Longer Works
28 August

Catherine Miller, VP of Engineering at Flatiron, recalls how she fixed the problem of shared ownership and recurring common problems by creating a new team that took over the ownership of the common systems.

Team reaction
Dev Processes
Catherine Miller

Catherine Miller

VP of Engineering at Flatiron Health

You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.

Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.